Planning Your Customer Experience? Listen To Your CEO!


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If you are like many other customer experience professionals, you are probably wrapping up your 2009 project schedule and are already planning your 2010 projects and resource allocations. As you plan for 2010, you are likely evaluating your progress over the prior year to determine where you should focus in 2010. Let me offer some pithy advice – listen to your CEO!

A recently released customer experience management (CEM) study by Aberdeen Group illustrates the performance of best-in-class organizations against other companies. One of the key success factors of best-in-class organizations is their high level of CE sponsored initiatives. 40 percent of all best-in-class organizations reported CEO sponsorship of CEM initiatives while only 11 percent of the other organizations reported similar CEO sponsorship. In fact, the study found that a majority of non-best in class organizations have their CEM initiatives sponsored by a VP of Customer Service rather than the CEO.

“My CEO does not want to sponsor or be involved, he wants me to make this thing go away.” This and similar comments were shared with me throughout the duration our semi-annual CEM Certification program ( While disappointing, this comment illustrates a basic truth. The CEO does not generally perceive a CEM strategy and related initiatives as a strategic driver to success. These CEOs view CEM as a solution to address broken processes and outdated technology without his direct involvement. Other CEOs also do not view the CE as strategic to their organizations but do so out of a perception that CEM is all about smiling and acting cheerfully. CEO reluctance to directly sponsor and be an active advocate for the customer experience sends a powerful message – CEM is not strategic and will not do anything to help us meet our top and bottom line targets.

If your CEO is someone who doesn’t place a premium on the customer experience, your 2010 planning should be focused on fixing broken processes, delivering CE training to employees, and increasing customer satisfaction scores. You will be expected to address the customer experience while keeping a low profile and keeping any organizational disruptions to the bare minimum. Without a mandate from the CEO, you will be unable to drive true CE innovation such as breaking down silos or designing CE centric products and services. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a CEO who values CE initiatives and recognizes their importance to the organization, your charter will be radically different. You will be expected to drive organizational change or at the very least, to create competitively differentiating products and services that will increase your customer base or increase the business that existing customers currently give your organization.

During the course of numerous research and consulting engagements, we have come across many customer experience professionals who refused to internalize the mandate from their CEOs. As a result, these professionals failed to understand their expectations, utilized resources inefficiently and had little to show for their efforts.

If you do not have a strategic CE mandate but are seeking to raise your CEO’s commitment and advocacy to the customer experience, let me offer you some advice. Focus on the economics. Although you may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with economics, it is critical to establish a firm business case and return-on-investment potential for any CE initiative. C-level executives generally speak one the language of finance (revenue, profitability, shareholder value etc.) and you must learn to speak this language if you want your CEO to be on board with your CE aims. Only when the CEO and his direct reports understand they are losing business daily by not enhancing their customer experience will he listen and eventually sponsor your efforts. Utilizing an economics of relationship model, we were able to demonstrate to a credit card company that they were leaving a maximum of $3 million on the table from customers choosing other cards over theirs.

Take your cues from the CEO’s commitment to the customer experience in order to plan appropriate and realistic projects for 2010 and beyond. While we all seek executive sponsorship, it is better to hope for the best but plan for the worst. If your CEO offers to actively sponsor the customer experience, strap yourself in for a wild, fun and demanding ride. Good luck on the journey!

Lior Arussy
One of the world’s authorities on customer experience, customer centricity, and transformation, Lior Arussy delivers results. His strategic framework converts organizations from product- to customer-centricity. It is drawn from his work with some of the world’s leading brands: Mercedes-Benz, Royal Caribbean, Delta Air Lines, MasterCard, Novo Nordisk, Walmart and more.Arussy is also the author of seven books, including Next Is Now (May 2018)


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