The Case Against A Chief Customer Officer

Too many companies still give customer experience lip service. They do this by appointing a Chief Customer Officer or CXO. By hiring or promoting a Chief Customer Officer, or Chief Experience Officer the company makes it publicly seem like they understand customer experience and are working toward improving it, but this is often only a public gesture. The hire is rarely anything significantly impactful for the business. A business will often give this c-level executive some influence, some resources, and a pinch of authority across the business, but not enough necessary to impact real change. I once worked at a Fortune 100 company as an executive in customer service. There was a customer experience group that I never interacted with. When I asked my manager what they did, I was told they handled events for our best clients. There was no interaction between the experience group and the service group.

One person cannot pivot an entire ship without power, influence and resources. It is very hard if that CXO doesn’t have the full support of the CEO and the board. When the CEO is involved in customer experience, results are much better. The CEO must tie performance metrics to customer experience — across the entire business. And the CEO’s performance should be tied to customer experience as well.

While it seems that these CXO roles are good for the business, they put lipstick on a pig – a superficial superficial attempt to disguise the true non customer focused nature of a business. In fact these CXO’s are put in a very frustrating position when they are sold a bill of goods about impacting change, when the reality is they will never have the actual ability to impact major change. Appointing these CXO titles without operationalizing the customer strategy inside of your business can do more harm than good. I recall when I went to Amazon and took a private tour — meeting with senior executives — and I asked one VP who had been there many years who “owned” customer experience simply to see what he would say. He looked at me cross, and asked me to repeat the question. He then told me that everyone in the entire company owned customer experience, which was the right answer. I used to have a different position on this, but after spending time at Amazon I changed my mind.

The role of Chief Customer Officer, or CCO, has taken off in recent years. The last CCO survey in 2014 found that 22% of Fortune 100 companies have a C-level customer officer, with some industry leaders singing the praises of having a member of the C-suite dedicated to customer experience. However, Chief Customer Officers are not only not necessary to creating a great customer experience, they can actually detract from the overall experience and customer-centric culture. Here is the case against a Chief Customer Officer.

Many companies have appointed Chief Customer Officers to lead customer experience.

In many cases, CCOs are merely figureheads so that the company looks customer-focused.

CCOs often aren’t given any real power, such as access to a team or data.

Relying on a CCO can take some responsibility away from employees owning the customer experience.

For best results, the CEO should lead customer experience.

CCOs Are Merely Figureheads

As more companies compete on experience and a greater emphasis is placed on providing convenient, personalized solutions for customers, many companies feel the pressure to show they are dedicated to customer experience. They respond by naming a CCO for the appearance of having a customer-centric culture. In reality, a strong experience and a strong culture speaks for itself without fancy titles or corner offices. The problem with many companies reactively naming CCOs is that the officers don’t have real responsibilities and their positions are often more of a PR stunt than actual dedication to customers. The title may give lip service to customer experience without really intending to make a difference. There’s a reason why the average tenure of a Chief Customer Officer is just 29 months—they often aren’t given real work to do.

CCOs Aren’t Given Any Real Power

While CEOs, COOs and CFOs often have clearly defined responsibilities, teams and budgets to work with, CCOs are rarely given any of the same resources. Part of the lack of power is because the position is so new and is still being developed. In many organizations, customer data is siloed and not assigned to a single department. Without a specific team of their own, a CCO might not have access to the correct data to truly understand customers and drive an improved experience.

I am a firm believer that customer experience needs a leader and is most successful when owned by the CEO, someone who actually has power and resources to drive change. Research shows that 64% of companies with a customer-focused CEO are more profitable than their competitors and 59% of companies with a CEO who is involved in customer experience report higher revenue growth, compared to 40% of companies reporting growth without a customer-focused CEO. The same can’t be said for a CCO.

CCOs Take CX Responsibility Away From Employees

The topic of who owns customer experience is hotly debated and can fall to a number of people and departments. Companies with great experiences most often divide the responsibility between every employee in the organization. I once asked a senior Amazon executive who owns the company’s customer experience. He was confused by my question before revealing that everyone—literally every single employee—owns it. To him, the idea of a single person or even a small group of people being responsible for the entire experience of millions of customers was ridiculous and impossible. This coming from a company with a sole purpose of becoming the most customer-centric organization on earth.

In many cases, appointing a CCO actually lessens the impact of each individual employee. If an employee thought they had a role to play in developing the experience but then see that the company has put a C-level person in charge, they are likely to stop being so invested in the experience. Similarly, CEOs and other leaders who may have previously had some buy-in may hand over all responsibilities to the newly created position. Instead of having a culture where everyone plays a role in the experience, it can often end up with one person shouldering all the weight and not having any power or resources to actually make things happen.

Many companies appoint a Chief Customer Officer with the best of intentions, while others do it merely to keep up appearances. Whatever the reason, it is rare for a CCO to make a lasting difference in the overall experience unless they have the power and resources to engage the entire workforce. A Chief Customer Officer shouldn’t automatically be equated to a great experience, and companies shouldn’t think they have to name a CCO in order to develop their experience. The most customer-centric companies continue to be focused on operationalizing customer experience across the company. They can do this with creating the right culture, and ensuring everyone from the CEO down to the mid-line managers, are focused on customer experience and their performance metrics reflect that.

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Blake Morgan is a keynote speaker, customer experience futurist and the author of the bestselling book “The Customer Of The Future.” You can sign up for her weekly customer experience newsletter here.

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