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PHOTO: Andrew Malone

An effective customer experience program depends in no small part on having the right manager to lead the way. But what qualities should that manager possess in today’s business environment?

Customer Experience Leadership Demands Interdisciplinary Thinking

“Customer experience is truly an interdisciplinary field. It includes aspects of user experience (UX), customer service, sales and marketing,” said Ellen Mullarkey, vice president of business development for the Messina Staffing Group. “The best CX managers are people who can think in an interdisciplinary way. Like a UX manager, they must understand what it feels like for a customer to interact with the product and the brand. Like a salesperson, they should understand the problems that the product solves for their customers. And like marketing and customer service pros, they should understand how a company acquires and retains its customers.”

“The most transformational CX initiatives take the view that customer interactions span multiple systems and departments,” added Chad Meley, vice president of solutions marketing at Teradata. “It follows that one of the most important qualities of a CX leader is the ability to drive cross-functional alignment and collaboration. CX leaders must unite people from different teams or functions in an organization on a common set of customer-centric goals.”

Because CX is something that companies are just now starting to think about as a separate department, only a select few college graduates plan to go into customer experience, according to Mullarkey. “We’ve placed a number of people into CX roles who formerly worked as marketing managers, customer success managers, and even sales team leaders. The one quality that they all shared was that they cared about their customers and they had a background in leading and inspiring teams.”

CX leaders adept at marshalling different departments to work together towards a common goal are key to driving sustainable, high-impact business outcomes from a customer experience initiative, Meley added. “The most effective CX leaders possess skills in informally influencing others and fostering the breaking down of silos in all their forms.”

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CX Managers as Agents of Change

Customer experience managers need to feel excited about change, and be ready to compete creatively, said Whitney Wood, marketing director for NICE. “Companies that continue doing what they’ve always done aren’t likely to rise to the top, so you’ll have to translate your enthusiasm for innovation into one of your central roles: as a change agent within your company. In short, be ready to rally the troops. Functional leaders are likely to need some convincing that big changes are warranted.”

They also need to help stakeholders dive deep into CX insights, so they can confidently invest in the change that’s needed, according to White. “The big picture helps you make a case for why, but functional leaders need specifics if they’re going to solve operational challenges of replicate their successes at scale.”

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Adept With Customer Data

A CX manager needs the ability to both collect the right data points for customers, such as search behaviors and shopping habits, as well to derive insights from this data to create the single view of the customer, said Chris Bergh, CEO of DataKitchen, Inc. “Once a single view of a customer is created it is important to also understand how it changes over time, which is mapping the customer journey. One of the key talents in such a team has to be a team of customer data curators who are responsible to understand trends and newer data points and how to incorporate these into the mapping of the customer journey.”

Recognizing shifts in where key data points can be found is another critical capability, Bergh added. Any conversation about customer behavior without including current and new data points fails to present a complete picture.

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CX Managers Need Excellent Listening Skills

“You need to be able to put yourself in the mind and shoes of the customer or end user and do your best to understand their experience — both good and bad,” said Michael Stahl, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of HealthMarkets. “I don’t think it’s easy to grow or improve or expand without that ability. Additionally, you need to be able to listen — to the customer(s) and to your employees with direct contact with the customers. Having the ability to listen objectively and fully to gain all the information needed is a critical skill set for any individual in a managerial role, but especially one directly involving customer experience.”