Chief customer officer (CCO) and CX leadership hires are on the rise. Forrester reports that from 2014 to 2019, there was "explosive growth in CX leadership roles at the executive level. In 2019 alone, there were over 10,000 current job titles for CX executives (including CCO and CXO, or chief experience officer), versus fewer than 1,000 only five years prior.
My personal observations suggest that growth has even heightened through the COVID pandemic.
This seems like great news to someone who has been in the customer experience business for nearly two decades. Another indicator of progress: I have met — and worked with — a remarkable number of innovative and inspiring CCOs in the last couple of years. I’ve never been more optimistic about the ability to improve our own business outcomes by enhancing customer outcomes.
Why Am I Worried About CX?
But there is one thing, and it’s a big one, that worries me. Many customer experience strategies don’t gain the momentum needed to create a self-sustaining program. That momentum is essential to realize the full potential of investing in CX.
There are many ways momentum falters, but most can be categorized into five key challenges. Looking at these challenges proactively to failure-proof the strategy is the best thing we can do to truly integrate CX ideals and execution into the fabric of the business and create the right conditions for success.
Related Article: Use These Three Steps Toward Building a Better Customer Strategy
Key Customer Experience Challenges
A Fragmented Strategy
The biggest problem with a fragmented strategy is that it is, by definition, difficult to explain to employees, customers and investors. If the approach is not cohesive and well-articulated, many points of failure arise:
- First, there’s the inability to relate operational success (or failure) to the CX strategy.
- Second, if the strategy is not obviously interconnected across all functional areas of the business, it will likely be viewed as a more tactical or transactional effort with limited ownership and accountability.
- Third, the full potential of the strategy will never be realized without the multiplier effect of whole-company engagement.
It’s the chief customer officer’s job to outline a holistic approach to CX and then orchestrate the development and execution of the strategy across the entire organization. Every CX strategy must encompass customer engagement programs, customer feedback and insights, customer success, brand advocacy and customer-centered transformation. The level of emphasis placed on each of these capabilities for a given organization at different points in time will vary widely. But you can’t have a complete CX strategy without capabilities and programs spanning all five areas.
Lack of Leadership
There is no CX strategy without clear, unequivocal leadership exhibited consistently by the entire executive team. The shortcut response to this is to declare that “CX is everybody’s job” or “everybody owns the customer.”
In research I did last year, 33% of B2C organizations told me that “everybody owns the customer;" 44% of B2B organizations told me the same. This figure climbed to 60% for financial services firms and 75% for manufacturing companies.
These notions sound great superficially, but they just don’t work. Each executive in the organization must agree on their individual roles and how they will work together. The CCO’s job is to facilitate and orchestrate the vision, the strategy and the tactics. The role of the CEO is to sponsor and reinforce the holistic nature of the effort — and to hold the team accountable, individually and collectively. The role of each functional leader is to help communicate the integrated CX strategy and to drive the attainment of their operational objectives in realizing the strategy.
Think about each of these roles as having three distinct elements:
- Engagement and modeling the right behaviors — direct engagement with customers and the other parts of the organization to demonstrate effective cross-functional collaboration and focus on customer outcomes.
- Orchestration of each functional element of the CX strategy — continuous refinement of the strategy, execution of capabilities development, delivery of programs and tying performance measures to the overall objectives of the organization.
- Thought leadership — inspiring customers and employees alike through demonstrating how the organization’s expertise and innovation improve outcomes.
Related Article: 4 Ways to Make Your CX 'Sticky'
Inadequate Change Management
Change management is the cornerstone of any CX strategy and the core of the chief customer officer role. There are many definitions of change management and many arguments about the distinction between change management, transformation and transformational change.
I will keep it simple here with the description of change management from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) as “the methods and manners in which a company describes and implements change within its internal and external processes. This includes preparing and supporting employees, establishing the necessary steps for change and monitoring pre- and post-change activities to ensure successful implementation.”
I look at CX-driven transformational change, or change management, as having a few essential components:
- Continuously relating the CX strategy, and each functional component of that strategy, to the company’s overarching objectives — in other words, reinforcing why we are investing in CX.
- Ongoing communication, both internally and externally, on how the organization invests in CX, the incremental progress made and how the benefits of the investment are measured.
- Modeling the right behaviors with customers and within your organization.
Too Much Process and Too Little Action
One of my biggest pet peeves in the CX realm is the tendency of CX leaders to focus too much on vision and process and too little on tactics, transactions and business results. It’s easy to fall into this trap. I’ve certainly done it myself, repeatedly.
But, at all costs, we must err on the side of action, tactics and measurement. We obviously can’t forgo a strong strategy. Still, a great strategy is an utter waste unless its underlying transactional aspects are in place and are visible contributors to the well-being of the business.
In practical terms, this means focusing on achieving and capitalizing on early wins, attention to tangible and measurable results and constantly relating how the CX strategy contributes to incremental revenue. Every chief customer officer needs to be an evangelist, but that’s not the essential aspect of the role. Fundamentally, the job is about orchestrating the strategy in a way that yields obvious and constant alignment to the company’s objectives and makes everyone’s job easier, from selling to servicing to collecting revenue to realizing profits.
If we can’t assimilate the CX strategy into the natural transactional rhythm of the company, we will be forever pushing Sisyphus’ boulder up the hill.