Chief customer officer: Threat to the CMO, or the ultimate modern marketer?

Why the role of customer chief is becoming so important, and whether marketers should be afraid or looking forward to it flourishing

Why NBN chose a CCO over a CMO

Repositioning and relabelling the role is arguably what has been done at NBN through the appointment of chief customer officer, John Simon. The company, which once had a CMO, has now brought together product, brand, marketing and sales under one team centred on customers and the community.

“More and more, companies are recognising that to succeed they must place the customer at the heart of everything they do,” Simon said. “Ultimately, to meet and indeed exceed customer expectations you must have the end-to-end view.

“Importantly, customer centricity is a core part of our company’s culture. Knowing our customers, and listening and acting on their insights, is the responsibility of all teams and mangers at NBN.

“Organisations will create structures and titles that suit their businesses. Our structure enables us to best serve customers and the community by integrating, end-to-end, the functions of brand and insights, demand generation, channel and market management and product lifecycle management.”

While some CMOs could very well feel threatened by the appearance of a chief customer officer, Forrester’s head analyst on customer experience, Harley Manning, said he’s yet to find any who’ll admit it.

“I've not run into any CMOs who've admitted to feeling threatened by the rise of chief customer officers. What I have seen is a lot of marketers who are intrigued by the emerging field of customer experience,” he said.

As an example, he pointed to a recent an analysis of the 1000 attendees of the group’s Customer Experience Forum NYC, where the second-largest function represented after customer experience professionals was marketers.

“What I'd add to that is CMOs are stewards of the brand promise. But often that promise goes unfulfilled,” Manning continued.

To help demonstrate how marketing and customer experience can complement each other, he pointed to America’s largest telecommunications company, Verizon, where the head of customer experience reports to the CMO. The pair branded their CX improvement initiative ‘Broken Promises’.

CMOs are stewards of the brand promise. But often that promise goes unfulfilled

Harley Manning, Forrester

In this instance, CX leaders brought together more than 50 sources of customer feedback and found that that roughly 14 customer issues, such as having to call the call centre more than once, were driving 60 per cent of customer comments, things that

The two teams them worked together to systematically address these issues. Manning said the program created between US$200 and $300 million in cost savings and drove a spike in Verizon’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index) data. The score for the DSL business for example, went up 11 points year-on-year, and in the wireless space it went up 8 points.

At GoDaddy, both the CCO and CMO report directly to the CEO, and work together on ensuring customers are the first and last thing the business thinks about.

At HCF, the CCO and marketing teams work closely together, its CCO, Stephen Nugent, said. He positioned the customer experience teams as the custodians of the “fifth P in marketing: People”.

“We also have a say in product, promotion, price and place, and we work collectively and catchup with marketing on a weekly basis to make sure what we’re doing is effective with customers,” he said.

“Customer-centricity is there across the organisation; it’s a matter of what we’re doing and understanding what that means across the board.”

Owning the customer experience role

For those marketers looking to improve their ownership of end-to-end customer experience, Manning said the most important thing is to plan from the outside in.

“Start by making sure you understand the customer’s perspective,” he advised. “Don't just look at quantitative data – do some in-depth interviews with customers to understand the context for why they come to you and when. Then document what you've learned in personas: Models of the key behaviours, attributes, motivations, and goals of a company's target customers, created from primary research with real customers and taking the form of a vivid narrative description of a single person who represents a behavioural segment.

“You should also use that same data set to create customer journey maps: Visual representations of the series of interactions between a customer and a company that occur as the customer pursues a specific goal.

“Once you have that solid understanding of the customer and their end-to-end journey, you'll be able to guide all the various parts of the organisation around how to create a seamless, omni-channel experience for your customers.”

As part of her coaching process, Bliss outlines five major aspects of ensuring the chief customer officer role is successful and impactful in an organisation. The first is “checking egos at the door”.

“For this person to be successful in this role, they have to recognise their higher purpose is supporting the organisation and operational areas in being more successful,” she said. “This is by uniting them, giving them perspective and enabling them to improve experiences in a manner they haven’t done before.”

The second thing Bliss pointed out is that the most successful customer chiefs often come from inside the organisation. This is because they already have a proven track record of running successful operations, and a high level of credibility with employees and executives.

“The challenge if you bring in someone else or with marketing taking up this role, is that the traditional marketer hasn’t run billing or been in the field, so understanding the complexity and ability to unite those silos may not be there,” Bliss said. “There will be an appreciation for it, but the understanding and ability to connect the nuances of multiple operations doesn’t exist.”

A third major ingredient is holding relationships with the senior leadership team.

“A lot of times someone gets appointed into organisations and becomes the beggar, asking the rest of the team to pay attention to the figures,” Bliss commented. “They need to have strong and honest relationships that they can talk about things frankly. That only happens at that peer level.”

At a more tactical level, chief customer officers then need to be able to see comprehensively across the whole organisations and help inform customer-led strategy in all areas.

“In many cases, customers are the only ones seeing the whole organisational chart today,” Bliss said. “The role of the customer chief is to first get that whole perspective on the customer journey, but then break that into pieces and focus the organisation to make the starting point of customers tangible.

“This also helps prevent the company from trying to boil the ocean, and helps to create the focus that helps the company prioritise work to be done.”

Jeanne Bliss’ top 5 on being a chief customer officer

  • Honour and manager customers as assets of the business

  • Align around customer experience

  • Build a customer listening path

  • Proactive experience reliability and innovation

  • Unite the organisation with one-company leadership, accountability and culture

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