How Software AG's chief customer officer is pushing the engagement envelope

As the CCO becomes more prevalent at the highest level in the boardroom, we speak to Software AG's own customer chief about the role

The chief customer officer (CCO) is becoming more prevalent than ever at the highest level in the boardroom.

A recent study by the CCO Council revealed 22 per cent of Fortune 100 companies already have a CCO on board, and 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted the role.

It’s not surprising such a role is gaining ground. The democratisation of information afforded by the Internet, along with the proliferation of social media channels, has given customers never-before-seen leverage with businesses. As a consequence, customer experience is increasingly at the heart of corporate value.

In response, companies are seeing the need for a new role to own the whole customer lifecycle. Moreover, the role of the CCOs is not just about fixing problems, but about accelerating growth.

Chief customer officers and similarly titled executives occupy a unique position from which to leverage customer and organisational insights in making strategic decisions, creating value, and inspiring groups of people inside and outside their companies, the CCO Council report found. They are ultimately responsible for customer retention, satisfaction, loyalty and engagement, stated goals for virtually every company doing business today.

“It’s important for a CCO to not look at customers in a silo, and not to interact with customers in a silo,” Software AG CCO, Eric Duffaut, told CMO. “An important thing to consider is that you can manage the entire end-to-end interaction with customers and focus on value creation. The only way you can do that is to make sure you have the full chain in command.”

Founded in 1969, Software AG is an enterprise software company with more than 10,000 enterprise customers across 70 countries. Duffaut joined as CCO in September 2014, and has since led the vendor towards greater customer centricity and connectivity.

For Duffaut, a CCO needs to align the company’s compensation plan to the goals the business wants to achieve. At Software AG, customer satisfaction is an integral part of the compensation plan, he said.

“What gets measured is aligned with your metrics, your performance measures and what you set out to achieve,” he said. “So if you want to walk the talk, you have to understand the key to customer success is and should be the ultimate goal.”

Being truly customer-centric is completely different to a traditional product-centric company, Duffaut said.

“If you’re just a product company, you’re very inside, rather than outside, centric,” he explained. “You need to make sure you align your organisation to continually seek and understand what your customers want to do. After all, we want to show that we’re not just a product, but an enabler of innovation. So the level of engagement with the customer should be completely different than just a transactional type of relationship.”

Duffaut said Software AG has devised a mobile app product called VIP customer, targeted to its top 100 customers at pilot phase, that enables customers to connect with its teams at the highest level, including at board level.

“This way, you can bring the customer inside the company, and make them one with the community, which again gives better insights and another level of connection,” he said. “This is where I think digital brings us to tighter integration, two-way communication and a constant dialogue with customers to have that partnership.”

A/NZ VP of Software AG, James Wooster, said since Duffaut joined the company as CCO, the business has spent a lot more time with its customers.

“In Australia, we’ve built tighter relationships, and to some extent, by asking really simple questions to the customer, such as ‘what are you really trying to achieve’ and ‘how do you measure success’,” Wooster said. “By doing those things, you build a level of intimacy where ultimately you become the honest broker and advisor to their business, and less of a software company just trying to sell a licence.”

Wooster said it is also important to get people to understand how to measure customer satisfaction. This, in turn, will trigger great change to the communications plan.

“It’s about delivering the customer benefits and value, so we can continue to build that relationship moving forward,” he added.

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