What are the skills of a CEM Leader?


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I was following an interesting and equally disappointing conversation on LinkedIn about what Customer Experience Leaders need to have. It was all most all about “Listening”. Man this is as old as talking. “Listening to customers” doesn’t say anything. Most would say “Of course we listen” – so nothing is achieved. And even if companies decide to “listen” -then what? WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO?

In my experience a CEM leader needs five skills:

1) High level team leader skills
The CEM leader needs to be able to get every single department leader behind the CE engagement – similar to a CEO

2) Strategy Skills
The CEM leader needs to be able to develop a Customer Experience Strategy that can be interwoven with every departmental strategy AND their execution plan.

3) Motivation Skills
The CEM leader has a motivation model in his/her toolbox that incents the team to create advocacy in the customer eco system. Be able to measure advocacy and incent all teams to measure customer advocacy as part of their performance model.

4) Social Skills
Similar to sales people the CEM leader needs to “live” in the places where customers interact with the company and be able to transform customer behavior into what I call “actionable alignment”.

5) Classic Management Skills
Don’t make the change but ensure the necessary change is happening.

You find those people inside Dell, Zappos, Apple, WholeFoods, UPS, Salesforce.com, Virgin… B2B, B2C, any industry, any price tag.

Coincidental, they are all successful. Do the test: Do you know ANY company in any industry around the whole planet that created a great customer experience but is not profitable? We all can find companies with great products that are not profitable, we find companies with
lots of cash in the bank that are not profitable, we find innovative companies that are not profitable, we find companies of any size that are not profitable, we find companies with the most skilled engineers that are not profitable, but I couldn’t find a single company with a great customer experience that is not profitable. Interesting huu ….

(my social map)

Axel Schultze
CEO of Society3. Our S3 Buzz technology is empowering business teams to create buzz campaigns and increase mentions and reach. S3 Buzz provides specific solutions for event buzz, products and brand buzz, partner buzz and talent acquisition buzz campaigns. We helped creating campaigns with up to 100 Million in reach. Silicon Valley entrepreneur, published author, frequent speaker, and winner of the 2008 SF Entrepreneur award. Former CEO of BlueRoads, Infinigate, Computer2000. XeeMe.com/AxelS


  1. Axel, I can only agree with your statement. It is easy for “CEM-managers” to say: Yes I am listening to my prospects, clients and other company stakeholders. But the essence of listening lies in the capability of turning what you have heard into a valuable experience for your stakeholders. And to do that you indeed need the skills as mentioned above. I would add the following important keywords for me: emotions (empathy), authenticity, creativity, positivity and a sparkling innovative culture / personality. You need to dare, do, then think and never give up.

  2. Axel, I also agree with your comments on the qualities a CEM leader must possess. However, what if we drill one level deeper? Should that leader have staff? And, if so, what kinds of skills would they have? Broad question, I know…but I would think some of the skills you listed above (namely social skills and motivational skills) would be critical, as well as the ability to facilitate discussions, manage projects and analyze customer data.

  3. #1 and #2 are most important in my view. Essential is the ability to influence finance spending (CFO & CEO) with strong strategic initiatives with solid business cases. CEM initiatives must be seen as revenue generators and not just as cost reduction areas.

    Too often Customer Experience Managers/Directors/Officers activities are focussed on “cost centres” (e.g. Care Centres and Care Channels being seen as cost rather than profit centres).

    Result: they are not given sufficient recognition or priority for CAPEX and OPEX expenditures as upside potential is not recognised fully. With the right CFO/CEO support and the right business case for revenue growth strategies (as well as cost reducing initiatives), they can deliver revenue uplift also.

    Back to #1 and #2 again – full CxO engagement backed by the right Customer Experience Strategy.

  4. Thanks for the great comments

    @Esther – I love your key words. Those are the true icing on the cake. But I guess what we have to accept that even less sparkling companies can create a very trustful and very successful customer experience. My tire dealer for instance is neither sparkling, nor very creative yet I travel 1 hour because he is the one I trust and he bends over backwards to make me happy – a real pleasant customer experience.

    @Ryan – you raise an interesting point. There are two schools of thought: 1) The CEM manager has a staff that operates in all departments and ensures a top CE. Obviously that cost money, overhead and now we are talking investment. 2) The CEM manager is a senior executive who works with the other executives like a CFO. He/she may have an assistant but that’s it. I’ve seen both. I believe starting with a one man show is more likely to get a major impact than with a team and discuss forever how big, what people, what tools… Once there is measurable success, both customer advocacy and positive financial impact – growth of that team goes without saying.

    @Andrew – not sure if I agree with what you are saying. Spending need to be decided by the VP and C Level and ultimately by the CFO – But if the CEM Manager has the skills I propose, he will help the department make the right decisions.

  5. Axel,

    I agree with your comments and 5 points. The only thing I would add is that, sadly, in order to get management buy in and sustain it, the CEM leader also needs to be able to make the business case and that requires the ability to think like the CFO. No wonder that there are not that many great CEM leaders around!


    Shaun Smith

  6. Axel,

    As a organization that design Customer Experience programs at organizations worldwide, we come across the frustrating issues you raised around “listening” and not doing.
    We advocate every time that the job needs to be action-oriented and results be measured.

    Your post, however, ignored a tough reality faced by CE leaders every day. They are called to become the silo-busters. This is a job the CEO fail to do and then delegates it to a lower level manager without much power, resources or executive support.

    Becoming a customer-centric organziation which deliver exceptional customer experience requires an enterprise-wide transformation. This transformation must be lead from the top. Any CEO that sends this job to a middle manager and think that he/ she got the job done is dillusional.

    For the CE Leader to be truly successful, he or she needs the skills mentioned above. But most of all they need the power to mandate change and not just to talk about it. The CE Leader should have the power or influance over those who have the power to break the silos and create an appealing customer experience.

    Additionally, the CE leader needs to have the power or influance over those who have the power to craft a startgey that raise the organization avove the boring sameness they share with competitors.

    Busting the silos and designing beyond expectations performance are critical capabilities to any customer experience stratgey success.
    Lior Arussy

  7. Axel, I agree and disagree with you. I love your 5 skill areas and I think they are fundamental. However, in my experience listening is a key component in developing and using these skills. As Covey said “seek first to understand then be understood.” In my experience there are very few good listeners around. Those people who are excellent listeners typically make excellent leaders, managers, motivators etc. It’s not just the listening but the ability to ask the right questions prior to good quality listening. Another great quote is that the purest form of commnication is to “listen without memory or desire” When people speak about listening to customers they often mean listenting through a prism of sales or at the least an intention to influence.

    Lior, I think you make a very good point. In my opinion Silo busting and restructuring as a response to the “democratisation” of the market will be a key feature of the new decade.

  8. Gentlemen – thanks a lot for the feedback I really do appreciate it. And while I have a bit of a different opinion I think this is an enormous valuable conversation. All my CEM experience is not from any consultant work but purely as a practitioner, so I’m amazed how convoluted and opinionated this CEM world is, full of theories and “ideas” rather than methods models and frameworks for proven success.

    @Sampson_Lee – I have to say I completely disagree. Not only a bit but I have an 180 degree opposite position. Over and over I see efficiency to effectiveness goals killing any attempt to a better customer experience. Take a moment please and listen to people at Zappos. Their tele sales team has only one goal – stay with the customer – there is ZERO “efficiency” just customer love. And likewise – I’ve seen what I call “the Intergalactic strategies” – the hell with it. Get to WORK with your customer – love them and make sure you do that in each department.

    @Shaun – If I’m in a company that NEED management buy in in order to build a better customer experience – I either leave withing 24 hours or try to convince the board to fire the CEO. 😉 No seriously – I don;t need executive buy in to do a better job with customers, I’m actually running the risk that I get fired if I don’t – or I’m in a culture I don’t belong to. And as such I’m happy to oppose because in such a company I can only win. Either because I can make a difference or I get fired and need to be thankful for it.

    @Lior – I know what you are saying and you reflect a sad reality. The sad reality however is that weak managers always hope to get “the power” – because they are weak. In my companies I always had one guidance to my managers: “You are not getting assigned ANY power or any responsibility – you have to take it”. If a manager doesn’t have the personality to lead – no assigned power will ever substitute that weakness. I agree that the CE leader needs to influence – but I disagree with “having the power”. If that pussycat can’t lead – to hell with him or her. Sorry for my strong language but this is one of the issues I see in management over and over again. Man we need leaders not assigned puppets on a string.

    @ Ray – don’t get me wrong. Of course is listening important. But please, that is a given it goes without saying. We need to overcome those attributes. It’s like saying “A scientist needs to have a brain”. The reason I was so ignorant about listening is that the answer is in too many cases “OK” – then now what?

    I don’t want to oppose just to oppose but I also don’t want to just agree to be nice. I believe this is a valuable discussion and the naked reality looks so bad outside that it may spark some ideas with others – not that I believe I’m all right, but at least have a very vocal position 🙂



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