Should the Chief Experience Officer Cease to Exist?

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The Wall Street Journal recently released an article called “Some Chief Experience Officers Want To Make Their Jobs Disappear” where they interviewed Chief Experience Officers and Chief Customer Officers from large corporations all over the country. Their conclusion? The role is likely not here to stay. In fact, it may quite possibly be on its way out!

Before I continue, I must lay controversy aside and point out that the article in no way casts a negative light on the role of the Experience Officer. Journalist Katie Deighton interviewed a number of executives for their perspective, but the most common thread was that the role is mainly transitionary while companies adapt into a customer-centric operation. It argues that many CXOs and CCOs foresee potentially becoming obsolete as they execute their jobs properly.

But this article, as expected, was met with plenty of controversy. MYcustomer.com’s Neil Davey seems to voice the disagreement of many practitioners in the Customer Experience community in his latest blog post. One statement reads, “It’s a laudable ambition, but cloud cuckoo land, and dare I say it, either a little bit arrogant, or a little bit naïve…”.

But James L. Heskett, Emeritus Professor at Harvard University ponders in a recent HBS article whether customer experience isn’t everyone [in the organization’s] responsibility, and if this is the case, then shouldn’t everybody be encouraged to regularly test the customer experience? “Does it take a CXO to remind us of that?” –he asks.

Joe Pine, author of The Experience Economy, seems to agree with Prof. Heskett and with the WSJ article. In response to the article’s publication, he wrote on LinkedIn that he agreed with Katie Deighton’s position; that the CXO role may indeed rightfully go away as the focus on experiences becomes infused throughout the organization.

Do companies need permanent Chief Experience Officers after all?

The question that remains on my mind after these contrasting opinions is, do ‘experience’ executives in fact deserve a permanent seat at the table? Is there a solid, measurable benefit to having a full-time customer warden on the C-suite? What is the job of The Experience Officer anyway? Let’s ask the experts.

In the HBS article mentioned above, Prof. Heskett also writes that the typical charge of a CXO is to sensitize all employees to the customer experiences associated with their organization’s products or services.

Jeanne Bliss has long been the pioneer and leading expert for Chief Customer Officers. In a publication dating back to 2012, she highlights the direct and indirect responsibilities of this executive and how the cross-departmental tasks are front and center to the role. She states that the main job of the Chief Customer Officer is to be a change agent inside the organization.

Joe Pine and his associate, Jim Gilmore built on this description to define the CXO, or Chief Experience Officer and wrote, “The CXO position can be imagined by rolling up a Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Customer Officer into one position. This executive should have total responsibility for developing all revenue- and profit-generating experiences offered to paying customers.”

My personal take is that the job of Chief Experience/Customer Officer is used interchangeably within today’s organization and their job should be to conduct all the moving parts of the organization so that they align to the customer’s benefit. They should lead the initiative to connect the customer journey to each department and oversee the initiatives to map out, design, and implement experiences that will provide customers with the most value.

The nature of this role itself requires a leader that is high enough in the chain of command to defy management, challenge broken processes, and eliminate red tape. At times, depending on the organization, a C-level executive dedicated solely to the task is in fact the most equipped person to get the job done. But this isn’t necessarily true for all companies.

Back to Joe Pine’s earlier comment, can you imagine Disney, or even Amazon, having a CXO? Probably not, because customer centricity is already built into their culture and processes. They don’t need a warden making sure customers get the focus they deserve.

But I would argue that high-touch companies like airlines, telecom, financial services, etc. that were not born as customer centric organizations need a CXO to be a transformation catalyst. They should use leadership as much as possible but not shy away from a firm pulse when old, product-centered habits persist and overlook customers’ needs. A great example of this is Comcast. A couple years ago, the media giant nominated a Chief Experience Officer to oversee a massive overhaul in their operation and put customer centricity at the heart of the organization. It seems that the efforts have been paying off, as internal customer experience KPIs have been steadily improving.

Is a Chief Experience Officer right for your company?

There is no one-size-fits-all option. Companies should choose the most appropriate alternative according to their reality and needs. Consider these 3 primary scenarios for a CXO or CCO role.

1) Consider a full-time CXO/CCO if you are:
– A high-touch organization where multiple variables could cause a breakdown in the customer experience.
– An organization that was born product-centric where founders and leadership consistently pigeon-hole customers into their new products and features instead of building products and features around customers’ needs.
– An enterprise organization with numerous customer profiles, products, and markets.
– In an industry that caters to customers with constantly changing expectations.

2) Consider a transitionary CXO/CCO if:
– Customer-centricity is a budding concept in your organization, and you have a leadership structure in place capable of taking on these tasks once the concept is infused into the organization.
– The customer journey can be easily mapped and maintained without frequent changes in customer expectations.

3) Consider not nominating a dedicated CXO/CCO if:
– You are a small to midsized company with a restricted budget and less resources at your disposal, or if you are a brand-new organization that is building from the ground up.
– Customer-centricity has been an integral part of your organization since day one, or if you have long upheld these values – in other words, if they are so deeply rooted in the organization that every moving part is already organically fueled by customer centricity.

The Chief Experience Officer is an agent of change –and change is constant.

The most important thing to remember is that regardless of the title, whether it’s an executive position or not, the job needs to be assigned to someone. Everything always starts and ends with the customer; they’re the reason any company exists. So, call it Chief Experience Officer, VP of Customer Experience, or Sr. Director of Consumer Insights, the job and responsibilities remain the same.

The Experience Officer is charged with the responsibility of, like a maestro, weaving departments, processes, and teams together to keep the entire company on track with customer’s needs.

But if the job is already done, you may ask yourself whether you need a permanent executive at the helm. You can easily answer this by looking at other departments in your organization. Would you fire your Chief Product/Technology Officer once the product is ready? Would you fire your CMO once your strategy and ads are up and running? No, you wouldn’t. Why? Because change is inevitable, and the constant nature of innovation makes it imperative to continuously update your value proposition to attend customers’ ever-changing expectations.

Final considerations

I would like to end this piece by quoting Prof. Thales S. Teixeira who said in an HBR article from 2019 that disruption is a customer-driven phenomenon. In other words, companies don’t drive innovation; customers do. So, I challenge Customer Experience leaders, whether you’re a CXO, a CCO or any other title, to be the catalysts of customer-driven organization.

You have a unique opportunity to bring the voice of the customer into the boardroom and to every other room of your company and drive the change customers need and expect. If you get that job done right, you will be an essential and permanent part of your company’s success.

References

Katie Deighton, “Some Chief Experience Officers Want to Make Their Jobs Disappear,” The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2021.

James L. Heskett, “Do Companies Really Need Chief Experience Officers to Know Their Customers?”, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, July 5, 2021.

Neil Davey, “Should CX leaders be aiming to make their role obsolete?” MyCustomer.com, July 2, 2021.

Jeanne Bliss, The Chief Customer Officer Job Description, CustomerBliss.com, May 8, 2012.

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, Wanted: Chief Experience Officers, Event ROI, 2006

Jeff Toister, “One Year Into Comcast’s Massive Customer Service Overhaul”, Customer Think, June 16, 2016.

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater & Every Business a Stage (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999).

Thales S. Teixeira, Unlocking the Customer Value Chain: How Decoupling Drives Consumer Disruption (Currency, 2019).

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