I’ve worked with several clients recently to define a chief customer office role and function. This got me thinking about what’s important in shaping this role—whether it’s a new position or an existing one.

The role of a chief customer officer (CCO) is not a new or unique concept. According to Gartner's research, most companies have someone working in this capacity. Only about 10% of those surveyed lacked either a chief experience officer or a chief customer officer. But there's a wide variance in approaches to the role, and in many cases it continues to evolve as companies explore how best to situate and empower CCOs within the organization.

A recent article in Forbes questioned the overall relevance of the role, arguing that in many cases it’s there simply for “lip service” with insufficient authority to drive real change. From my own work, I believe it’s an important role — and critical in our evolving marketplace. I do agree with the author though that the role requires the right support, authority and resources to achieve the intended impact.

The Growing Importance of a CCO or CXO

The pandemic accelerated a shift to a digital business model for many companies — or at least pushed them further along in the journey. It also created a dramatic shift in consumer expectations. The companies that use digital well are setting the standard and shaping expectations for all. That means businesses of all types must be well-attuned to how customers feel about their interactions and be prepared to adapt quickly.

Independent of the pandemic, business models have been moving toward subscription or “as-a-service” relationships for some time. This isn't limited to the high-tech and software sector, either. It’s permeating other industries such as manufacturing, where organizations such as Rolls-Royce, Michelin and Nissan have adopted product-as-a-service (PaaS) models. These models have more customer touchpoints across the journey — from sales and marketing to installation and service. That means more organizational functions have a hand in shaping a customer experience that ultimately leads to renewal. Companies not only need to coordinate customer experience across these functions but also must be purposeful and proactive about leveraging these touchpoints to shape and strengthen the relationship. That’s where the CCO comes in.

Related Article: Who Should Lead Customer Experience Efforts in Your Organization?

6 Traits of CCOs: Crafting the Role for Maximum Impact

In "Key Responsibilities and Challenges for Customer Experience Leaders," Gartner studied five distinctive types of customer leadership: functional leader (reporting to a member of the C-suite), decentralized leader (with CX responsibility for a particular business segment), hybrid (a transition between the two previous roles), influencer (a peer in the C-suite but without P&L ownership), and tiger team (a small steering committee of C-Suite executive team members with limited budget or resources). According to the survey, nearly half of companies (44%) have a functional leader, while just over a quarter (27%) employ a hybrid approach.

If I've learned anything from my work with clients, it's that there is no one-size-fits all formula for the CCO role or where it fits best in an organization. The right type of leadership depends on company structure and culture. That said, regardless of structure, certain key principles can set up the role to maximize its impact.

1. Strong Organizational Awareness

While the role is typically tasked with driving change, a leader must understand how to do that within the constructs of company culture and operations. That requires a clear understanding of where the organization is today with respect to customer experience, where the barriers to progress reside, and what the leader will need to do to guide the organization and move the meter.

2. A Vision for the Role

You will need a clear vision for the role and a North Star of the desired customer experience to help people understand where the organization is going and how their work contributes to that. The vision should be strongly aligned with business strategy, culture and values and should be fully and visibly supported by senior leadership.

Related Article: How to Measure Your Customer Experience Maturity 

3. Influence Across Functions

Delivering a consistent customer experience across channels requires the support and participation of multiple functions. Getting all of those functions onto one page is one of the key responsibilities of the CCO role. You will need to communicate a CX platform that gets attention and rallies others in support of a common objective. This will require messaging tailored to their specific goals and interests.

Learning Opportunities

For example, how can customer experience help the sales organization improve its ability to sell? How can it help the product team develop a better product? Having a strong brand for the role will be important for building influence, so applying effective brand building principles may be useful, particularly for a new role or a leader new to the organization.

4. Listening Capabilities 

Most companies have capabilities in place for listening to customers. Not all of those are formally deployed and managed or connected to a central CX initiative. It’s important to first understand how the company is listening to customers. Where is it surveying or capturing feedback and data? If you’re just getting started, leverage what is in place: existing customer surveys, interviews, focus groups, advisory boards or online communities. Don’t reinvent the wheel if processes are in place. Harness those first, then look for ways to improve or build upon them.

5. Metrics That Tell the Story

The CX function must use data to tell a compelling story about the customer from one end of the relationship to the other. You will need to establish a mix of metrics that include both transactional information as well as relationship-based insight, such as effort, sentiment and loyalty. Additionally, it is important to know which metrics resonate with your organization. For example, if Net Promoter Score is commonly used and discussed, then keep it.

Related Article: How to Measure Customer Experience Beyond Net Promoter Score

6. Decisiveness

Today’s marketplace moves fast. New competitors emerge, customer needs and expectations shift suddenly. All aspects of the business need to be more agile, but agility is especially critical for the CCO role.

Aim to make the CX function an example of agility for other parts of the company. Build your team and plan using agile principles. Collect and report insight — even if initially simple — in rapid sprints. Take a minimum viable product approach to developing new support tools and processes such as an employee dashboard for tracking CX metrics or an internal landing page that outlines your vision and what’s to come. In a fast-moving environment, it is better to get something out there fast than to waste time perfecting all the bells and whistles, which leaves you with a solution that's no longer perfect by the time it’s finished.

The Beginning, Not the End, of the Customer Experience Journey

If your organization doesn’t currently have a CCO or customer leader, should you? The answer will depend on structure and current circumstances. Certain events or indicators warrant establishing a customer leadership position — or reviewing an existing approach with an eye toward making the role and function more effective. Such events can include rapid growth, a decline in or below-industry performance on a key metric such as NPS, or a significant change in the business model, particularly to more digital or subscription-based customer relationships.

In any event, it’s important not to view this as a static role. Establishing a leader is the beginning of the journey, not the end. It won’t change things over night, so set realistic goals and review and update them regularly. In line with that, take a phased approach to implementing change that can begin demonstrating impact, even if small, sooner. Finally, recognize the more adaptable an organization is to change, the more successful this role will be. Employing proven change management practices and expertise early on can help get the role off to a productive start.

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