Recently I wrote about a friend of mine, a Chief Customer Officer who was struggling with breaking through to her leadership colleagues the importance of taking action to improve the organization’s CX. Her frustration, I surmised, was rooted mostly in a lack of support from her CEO, who, although her heart was in the right place, hadn’t strategically lined out the proper role of the CCO and set those expectations in the first place. While that was a pretty specific instance, I’ve actually heard from a couple others who share a similar experience, so I figured I’d make a more general post about the proper care-and-feeding of your CX executives.
The advent and popularization of the role of the Chief Customer Officer is a great thing. I’ve certainly entertained initiations to be one myself, in fact, and do some work as a Fractional CCO. I’m grateful to see the excitement many business leaders are showing in the importance of CX in their organizations, and dedicating a role (and a staff and office) to Customer Experience goes a long way toward putting your money where your mouth is. But it can also be a hollow gesture if not properly executed and expectations not sufficiently set. So here’s a quick rundown of not why or that you need a CCO, but rather, how to install one:
First of all, understand that the whole role of having a CX professional on your leadership team is to drive improvements to your CX. That effort requires action, and the reason you put someone in charge of it is to oversee that action. It does no good to hire someone to simply track progress toward improved CX, and this is a mistake many business leaders make: They figure that, if they get someone to doggedly poke around the VoC enough that’ll do it and everybody will get on board with Putting Customers First! That’s not how it works.
There are three operational responsibilities for a Chief Customer Officer (and his or her Office of the Customer): Insights, Process Engineering, and building a Customer-centric culture. Right off the bat, leaders often recognize the need to shore up their VoC program: tightening up and bringing more exposure to survey results, seeking new venues for receiving their Customer feedback, building programs to walk in the Customers’ shoes, etc. They also understand and appreciate the need to build out a corporate culture program emphasizing the importance of Customer-centricity: campaigns, education and outreach, onboarding, etc. But that’s all too often where the deep-thinking stops…just doing those two things.
Many leaders who haven’t given it enough thought will consider the CX work all set up and ready to go if they’ve given sincere thought to their VoC program and made some effort to instill a Customer-centric culture. But that’s only two-thirds of the work that needs to be done to improve your company’s CX, and it actually leaves out the most important part: Doing something. All the surveys and listening programs in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t act on what you find. And culture programs will fall pretty flat if there’s not visible follow-through. Process Engineering to address the opportunities highlighted through your Customer Insights program is the heart of your CX efforts, and if you’re not doing it, you’re really wasting all the other work.
With that, you can probably see where I’m going: When you begin your search for a VP of CX or Chief Customer Officer, or whatever title you intend to use, you need to be dedicated to the work this person will be performing, and you need to be up-front from the beginning about what that work will entail—of the person filling the role and everybody else in the company. My friend (and others) suffer from the failure of her boss to set those expectations in the first place. That’s why (as I’d mentioned in that other article) she was greeted as “The Survey Lady” coming to “tell us what to do,” rather than a partner whose actual mission is to be involved in the whole constellation of enterprise-wide processes and their improvement. Forging that work on her own is unnecessarily encumbering if the expectation isn’t set before she even enters the role.
Regular encouragement and statements of support are great. Even calling out the “important work” your CCO and his or her staff is doing is very useful. But none of this is nearly as valuable as setting the expectations before you put someone in place. Whether you’re elevating someone from inside the organization or looking from outside to hire, before you even start down that road, you as the leader need to make sure your strategy is understood: You’re hiring a Chief Customer Officer to address your internal processes in order to improve your Customers’ experiences. His or her soon-to-be colleagues should be well prepared that the person filling this role will be knocking on doors inquiring about policies and processes throughout the entire organization.
That’s not an excuse for tyranny…the CCO doesn’t simply get to come in and start bossing the rest of the leadership team around. And I agree with Jeanne Bliss’s “Human Duct Tape” approach that it takes a huge degree of professional diplomacy to stitch together the work between silos. The CCO needs to be a collaborative teammate and recognize and appreciate the need to work cooperatively with the rest of the C-Suite. In those instances where an improvement requires coordination between different branches of your organization this skill is obvious, and it’s usually a great benefit to have a leadership sponsor for such work so as to keep competing constituencies working together. But mark my words: There will be times where the effort to improve Customer experience (i.e., the opportunity to improve processes) lies completely within the purview of just one other member of the leadership team. In that case, the CCO will have to tread lightly, but that peer will need to understand that it’s still the CCO’s responsibility to make that improvement. An agreement will have to be forged with regard to authority and who drives that project. But ultimately the success of the effort (measured in improved CX) needs to be owned by the CCO. That cannot happen if the owner of that process isn’t on board.
And that collaboration won’t happen if it’s not driven from the top and articulated long before it ever happens.
So by all means, get yourself a CCO, Head of CX, or EVP…But set him or her up for success by making sure your entire leadership team (the peers this new member will be joining) is aware of the charter and the goal of the work to be done.