Where does your company stand on customers? Does the voice of the customer make its way up the executive level and influence strategic direction? Have you determined that you need a C-Level position dedicated to creating a customer experience and driving customer strategy throughout the organization? If you don’t know or have had concerns regarding these important questions, then it might be time to consider adding a chief customer officer (CCO) to your C-Suite.
One cannot just post a job listing and hope for the best. In this case, the lack of a standard definition of the roles and responsibilities of the CCO creates hiring challenges for CEOs and Boards of Directors. Additionally key characteristics of successful CCOs are still emerging. In order to create the right career path, it is critical for the CCO to understand what is needed to be successful. CEOs and Boards of Directors should use these characteristics as part of hiring criteria.
The CCO is the company’s change agent and as such spends most of his or her efforts “selling” customer centricity. The ability to influence both internal and external stakeholders is the single most important characteristic of the CCO. The CCO spends her or his time convincing others that changes being proposed will positively affect the success of the company. Until the CCO has a track record of achievements, the ability to influence others will determine the ability to increase revenue and profitability.
Above all else, the CCO must have leadership skills, including the ability to influence others. Confronted with limited resources and some skepticism it is critical that the CCO be action oriented, have analytic skills to evaluate data, make conclusions, and turn them into programs. Negotiating agreement on initiatives requires good listening skills; solutions must be collaboratively developed in order to ensure buy-in across the organization. The CCOs’ advocacy for the consumer must be unwavering. Putting the customer front and center while balancing fiscal responsibility will keep the CCO focused on his/her mission.
When asked what experience a CCO should possess, one of the most successful CCOs stated that her broad understanding of business, especially operations, is her greatest asset. It gives her credibility and the ability to identify opportunities for customer improvements. Often organizations promote the “head of customer service” into the CCO role and while that individual may know customer service it is only a small part of creating a customer centric organization.
Personality and Fit
A critical criterion for CCOs is personality and how it fits within the culture or the desired culture of the organization. At the executive level of the corporation, CCOs must be able to leave their egos at the door. Collaboration with colleagues and department heads and the ability to influence them will be critical to success. Strong-arming or using Positional or Borrowed Authority will marginalize even the best formed programs. This collaborative approach must be balanced with the ability to project a strong presence and authority. The reality is that until the CCO is able to “demonstrate value” there are skeptics who will constantly challenge the role of CCO. A CCO must be “thick skinned,” able to de-personalize the skepticism, and defend a position that may not be popular or have negative short term financial implications. For example, if a product release is known to have significant flaws, the CCO must be willing to delay the release even though it may result in a negative cash flow.
C-Suite executives and board members must carefully consider the characteristics of the successful CCO. The key is not to just put a warm body in the position with a goal of driving customer strategy. Careful consideration of personality and skill sets with reasonable expectations and timelines will put a new CCO in a position for success. Without incorporating the characteristics discussed above the potential for hiring the right person diminishes.
*This article is excerpted from The Bingham Advisory: Eight Imperatives for the Chief Customer Officer, available for free download from the CCO Council website here.