May 26, 2006

News & Opinion: Do You Need A Chief Customer Officer?

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:43 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Some CEOs are considering the creation of a C-level position to drive the action for customer experience and customer profitability. However, beyond the notion that its a good idea, not many know how to structure the Chief Customer Officer role and its place in the organization. Here are some thoughts to help you proceed.

Suggesting a CCO may seem frivolous to leaders who believe they already focus on customers. Theres often a proliferation of tactics and projects underwaythe problem is they dont amount to anything significant for customers. So first decide: will leaders be okay with someone (other than themselves) driving consensus on customer strategy and deliverables? You may be saying, We have consensus now. Im sure that youve had some good meetings, but how much of it stuck? When they were over, did everyone return to their respective corners and business as usual? Getting company alignment is tricky. You may need someone full time to ensure it exists for your direc tion with customers.

What about sustaining the work? After the first and second meeting of what I call the funky task force on the customer work, people start to lose interest. You know these meetings. The kick-off has forty people at the table, some who clamored for an invite. One month later, six regularly show up. And the person who got the job to run the task force layered on top of his/her regular job? Well, theyre losing interest fast. Driving this work needs hard-wired participation. Do you have headcount and staff time commitments to drive it forward?

Now to the roadmap and action plan: lets discuss the sticky wicket of how to move past the hoopla of meetings and empty commitments. Do you have a central roadmap that everyone follows on how youll drive the customer work and measure progress? I didnt think so. How about consistent metrics everyone agrees to? We have metrics galore in our companies and of course the customer is now on our scorecards. But these are typically neither clear nor connected down to the operational level. Roles and responsibilities and holding people accountable are a slippery slope in the customer work. This is about the hand-offs between the silos. Most companies need a task list that clearly states what each part of the organization will do and when to get the priorities accomplished. But most dont have one. Do you?

Is funding customer projects like pulling teeth? This may be due to duplicate spending across the organization. Everything is pitched as an individual program from inside the silos. At planning time these investments are often vulnerable in the first round of budget cuts. Why? Because each project shows up as a one-off tactic. Theres rarely an annual plan for understanding and managing customers as a key corporate asset - determining how many were lost and why and pooling resources to keep and grow profitable customers. Why? Because its no ones job to do this job.

And finally, does the hoopla have any chance of sustainability as things stand now? Are leaders committing to customers, but not changing the metrics or the motivation to realign business priorities? Is the back-up position still about counting sales but not counting customers? For what actions are the most Atta-boys doled out? The customer work will not emerge as a priority of the organization until peoples success and career paths are tied to their accountability for how their actions impact customers. How far along are you with this? Are you heading in the right direction?

Most leaders wouldnt refute that any of these actions are important. They want them to happen. Theyve always wanted them. Their failure has been in assuming the company could miraculously defy the l aws of the silos to make them a reality. Separate motivation, the metrics and the mechanics have stayed firmly rooted in each silo. And they will continue to stay there until someone duct-tapes the silos together in a unified and executable customer plan. Is it time you established a Chief Customer Officer to connect your company for customers?