The CEO’s Guide to Setting a Chief Customer Officer Up For Success

In a recent post I wrote about a Chief Customer Officer who was struggling to break through to fellow members of their leadership team about the importance of taking action to improve the organization’s CX. As it turned out, that CCO’s frustration was rooted mostly in a lack of support from the CEO, who, although their heart was in the right place, hadn’t strategically lined out the proper role of the CCO and set those expectations in the first place. This is a specific example, but not the only one of its kind, so I figured I’d make a more general post about the proper care-and-feeding of your CX executives.

The advent and popularization of the role of the Chief Customer Officer is a great thing. It’s great to see the excitement many business leaders are showing in the importance of CX in their organizations, and dedicating a role in the C-Suite to Customer Experience goes a long way toward putting your money where your mouth is. However, it can quickly become a hollow gesture if not properly executed and expectations not sufficiently set. There are plenty of articles that talk about why and when you need a CCO, but this post will focus on how to install one.

Understanding the Three Operational Responsibilities of a CCO

First of all, understand that the whole purpose of having a Customer Success professional on your leadership team is to drive improvements to your Customer Experience. That effort requires action, and the reason you put someone in charge of it is to oversee that action. It does no good to hire someone to simply track progress toward improved CX, and this is a mistake many business leaders make. They figure if they get someone to doggedly poke around the voice of the customer (VoC) enough that’ll do it and everybody will get on board with Putting Customers First! Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it works.

The Three Operational Responsibilities of a Chief Customer Officer

  • Insights
  • Process engineering
  • Building a customer-centric culture

Right off the bat, leaders often recognize the need to step up their VoC program: tightening up and bringing more exposure to survey results, seeking new venues for receiving their Customer feedback, building programs to walk in the Customers’ shoes, etc. They also understand and appreciate the need to build out a corporate culture program emphasizing the importance of Customer-centricity: campaigns, education and outreach, onboarding, etc. However, all too often the deep-thinking stops after doing those two things.

Many leaders who haven’t given it enough thought will consider the CX work all set up and ready to go if they’ve given sincere thought to their VoC program and made some effort to instill a Customer-centric culture. But that’s only two-thirds of the work that needs to be done to improve your company’s CX, and it actually leaves out the most important part—doing something. All the surveys and listening programs in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t act on what you find. Not to mention, culture programs will fall pretty flat if there is no visible follow-through. Process Engineering to address the opportunities highlighted through your Customer Insights program is the heart of your CX efforts, and if you’re not doing it, you’re really wasting all the other work.

Setting and Managing Expectations for a Chief Customer Officer Before Day One

When you begin your search for a VP of CX or Chief Customer Officer, or whatever title you intend to use, you need to be dedicated to the work this person will be performing, and you need to be up-front from the beginning about what that work will entail—of the person filling the role and everybody else in the company. 

Going back to the CCO mentioned (and others) in the beginning of this post, they suffer from the failure of their boss, often the CEO, to set those expectations in the first place. That’s why (as I’d mentioned in that other article) they were greeted as “The Survey Lady” coming to “tell us what to do,” rather than a partner whose actual mission is to be involved in organization-wide processes and their improvement. It will be unnecessarily encumbering if the expectation isn’t set before the CCO even enters the role. 

Regular encouragement and statements of support are great. Even calling out the “important work” your CCO and their staff is doing is very useful. Yet, none of this is nearly as valuable as setting the expectations before you put someone in place. Whether you’re promoting internally or looking from outside to hire, before you even start down that road, you as the leader need to make sure your strategy is understood—you’re hiring a Chief Customer Officer to address your internal processes in order to improve your Customers’ experiences. Their soon-to-be colleagues should be well prepared for the person filling this role to be knocking on doors and inquiring about policies and processes throughout the entire organization.

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Collaborating with the Rest of the C-Suite

Of course, none of this is an excuse for tyranny. The CCO doesn’t simply get to come in and start bossing the rest of the leadership team around. I agree with Jeanne Bliss’s “Human Duct Tape” approach that it takes a huge degree of professional diplomacy to stitch together the work between silos.  The CCO needs to be a collaborative teammate and recognize and appreciate the need to work cooperatively with the rest of the C-Suite. In those instances where an improvement requires coordination between different branches of your organization this skill is obvious, and it’s usually a great benefit to have a leadership sponsor for such work so as to keep competing constituencies working together. There will be times where the effort to improve Customer Experience (i.e., the opportunity to improve processes) lies completely within the purview of just one other member of the leadership team. In that case, the CCO will have to tread lightly, but that peer will need to understand that it’s still the CCO’s responsibility to make that improvement. An agreement will have to be forged with regard to authority and who drives that project. Ultimately the success of the effort (measured in improved CX) needs to be owned by the CCO. That cannot happen if the owner of that process isn’t on board—and that collaboration won’t happen if it’s not driven from the top and articulated long before it ever happens.

So by all means, get yourself a CCO, Head of CX, or EVP, but set them up for success by making sure your entire leadership team (the peers this new member will be joining) is aware of the charter and the goal of the work to be done.

Originially published by Nicholas Zeisler on Zeisler Consulting blog. Republished with permission. Check out Nicholas' new book, 'We're Doing CX Wrong...And How To Get It Right' today!

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