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Companies need to nail down chief customer officer role 

Companies need to nail down chief customer officer role

Companies need to nail down chief customer officer role 8/16/2011
By Donna Fluss


What is the chief customer officer (CCO) in charge of? If your CCO can answer this question, she may have a fighting chance of surviving and possibly succeeding in this position. If your CCO can’t answer that question, I suggest that it’s time to update her resume, as it’s very difficult to succeed when the job is not well-defined.

The concept of a chief customer officer is not new, but it is a great one. The challenge is that most companies already have many organizations and managers who are charged with ensuring that customers are satisfied. The relevant parties include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Marketing: responsible for understanding and meeting customer needs and wants.
  • Sales: responsible for selling customers what they are willing to buy.
  • Customer service/technical support: responsible for addressing customer inquiries and problems.
  • Product development: responsible for developing the products customers want.
  • Market research: responsible for identifying customer needs and wants.
  • CEO: responsible for creating an organization that is customer-centric and responsive to customer needs.

At a minimum, a chief customer officer is responsible for getting the siloed customer-oriented departments to put political interests aside and put the customer first. Enterprises have undertaken many initiatives to prioritize customers. They’ve invested millions of dollars in initiatives such as CRM, customer experience management, voice of the customer, Six Sigma and quality assurance. But companies often were disappointed with the results. This is because executives and managers are rewarded for meeting their goals, and the groups mentioned above do not share common goals.

OK, let’s put aside the cynicism resulting from years of watching the inner workings of typical enterprises. At a high level, this person can be a major change agent if empowered with the following responsibilities:

  • Managing all customer-facing activities — requiring all customer-facing groups and functions to report either directly or indirectly to the CCO.
  • Influencing goals and compensation for managers of all customer-facing departments.
  • Making changes to products, processes, policies and systems, and re-allocating resources as necessary to improve the customer experience.
  • Accessing and creating, if required, systems that provide information about customer behavior, profitability and satisfaction.
  • Accessing relevant and timely competitive information.

If the CCO is going to be taken seriously, she needs to report to either the CEO or chief operation officer of the corporation and be politically skilled and adept at getting people with conflicting agendas to work together. But this is the easy part of the job. Customers should be the focal point of every company or corporation. In enterprises that are truly customer-centric, every employee is empowered to be a customer advocate. All policies and processes must prioritize customer needs over everything else, with the exception of profitability. These companies have a clear mission and goals that put customers first and reward their employees and executives for “doing what it takes” to keep customer satisfaction and retention high.

I applaud organizations that demonstrate their commitment to customer needs by creating the position of CCO. This strategy is commendable only if the CCO position is empowered to provide an outstanding customer experience. However, if the company’s objective is simply to use this position to put a good face on business as usual, it will be detrimental to the organization, customers and, of course, the incumbent.

Therefore, I encourage enterprises to build a customer-centric culture that puts customers first and rewards all employees for being customer advocates. (It is a given that a structure should be put in place with checks and balances to make sure that all employees are doing the right things for customers.) All customer-facing departments must share a common set of goals and objectives. If having a chief customer officer moves the organization in this direction, the role will be highly beneficial for the corporation and rewarding for the individual. But just giving someone the title without making the necessary cultural and organizational changes is a formula for failure, as has been proven many times in the recent past.

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