Don’t abandon your Chief Customer Officer

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I was recently speaking with a friend who’s a Chief Customer Officer.  She was in good spirits but nonetheless was lamenting a bit about her colleagues:  “It’s like I feel I have to defend my existence sometimes,” she said.  Oh, boy, have I been there.  My career has included time within PMOs, BPM/BPI organizations, and of course CX.  Some organizations approach these sorts of disciplines as nice-to-haves, often because it’s fashionable to put effort (or appear to do so) into these sorts of things.  At the end of a lean quarter, or if temporary business enthusiasm simply starts to ebb, you find yourself on the chopping block.  No matter how poorly sales go, it’s never sales they come looking to get rid of.  But our sorts of ‘ancillary’ organizations are often in the crosshairs.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t mean it that way.  She didn’t feel her job was on the line or that her team could be cut because people didn’t see the value.  That’s a relief.  But more frustrating for her was that she found it difficult to gain traction and buy-in for her CX improvement efforts.  She has the support of her boss, the CEO, who often speaks of the importance of CX and why having a Chief Customer Officer is so valuable.  But whenever she attempted with her peers to institute a change or to improve something in what they did in order to improve their CX, she ran into continual pushback.

Now, Jeanne Bliss likes to call the Chief Customer Officer “Human Duct Tape” (she even titled her podcast such), and she advocates that a CCO (or if you want to call it, the CXO) needs to be an expert in bringing people together, bridging between silos, and forging buy-in from other executives and process owners.  Jeanne knows (and champions people to address it) that a Chief Customer Officer needs to be well versed in human interaction because so much of what he or she needs to accomplish entails working with and between other organizations, often in spaces where someone else owns and has responsibility for their own part of the business.  It’s where this friction often occurs, between organizations, that Jeanne sees the greatest need for someone to come in and smooth things over on behalf of the Customer.

I bring that up to emphasize that it’s very important that the CCO be a person with great negotiating skills and a dedication to and knack for forging consensus and working with other people.  My friend is all those things.  But why was she having to constantly prove herself and feel like she was pushing the same rock up the hill all the time?  It didn’t take much digging to find the root cause.  Her responsibilities centered mostly around her company’s VoC program.  In her tenure she’d made great strides in that area, moving the organization beyond simply collecting NPS data and reporting it out, but delving deeper into more informative survey methods and also seeking more robust vehicles for determining the Customer perspective outside of surveys (Walking in the Customers’ shoes, some social media listening, and other market analysis, for example).  And she had a bit of CX culture on her plate too: outreach, awareness, education, and the like.

But one thing missing from her charter:  Doing anything about the Customers’ experiences.  Her boss had dedicated his full support to her job, but he’d defined it way too narrowly.  NPS wasn’t improving (fast enough for my friend’s tastes, at least) because, as we know, you have to act  on what you find if CX is to be worth the effort.  It wasn’t a lack of support; it was a lack of foresight and strategy.  Without Process Engineering (or at least in some way taking responsibility for improving CX) as part of her job description, whenever she approached any of her colleagues on the leadership team with ideas of what to do to improve the Customer experience, it was always “The Survey Lady” coming around to tell us to change something.  She was charming and very persuasive.  But because it hadn’t been understood upfront that her job was to improve CX, she never really had the authority to make it happen.  The fault was in not setting the proper expectations from square one.

Now, this isn’t to absolve her from being congenial and take into consideration that, yes, other people own their own processes and parts of the business.  She’s still obligated to be professional and collaborative.  Often times her initiatives will branch between different divisions, so it’s good to have someone outside of both (or all three or four, depending on how wide-ranging the effort is) groups steering the work.  But sometimes, she identifies work that needs to be done within the purview of just one of her colleagues.  Surely in these instances, it would serve her well to proceed with grace and collegiality.  All her efforts should be done in coordination with and as a team including all her peers.

But if it isn’t made clear by the CEO when you hire a Chief Customer Officer that, yes, he or she is going to come play in your back yard a little bit, and that, yes, you’ll be expected to play along, there’s going to be hurt feelings, frustration, and possible meltdowns.  Saying, “welcome our new Chief Customer Officer whom I’ve hired because we need to be more Customer-centric,” isn’t going to be nearly enough.  You need to finish up that introduction with, “and goodness, am I excited for her to dig into all of our processes, identify where they’re causing pain for our Customers, and work with you and your teams to improve what we do.”  That’s a good start.

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