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This article is part of our Essential Guide: Customer service technologies revolutionize CX engagements

The C-suite case for hiring a chief customer officer: 5 elements

Delivering world-class digital customer experiences has become job No. 1 for companies. Nemertes' Robin Gareiss makes the case for putting a chief customer officer in charge.

Customers possess unprecedented power and influence, thanks to social media and web rankings. An inflammatory tweet, on-the-spot video or series of two-star Google ratings can cause customers or prospective customers to look elsewhere. At the same time, a glowing, five-star review or complimentary Facebook post can bring new customers by the droves.

As a result, the C-suite is focused heavily on continuously improving customer interactions -- and that, in and of itself, can create confusion among the C-level executives: If creating a great digital customer experience is essentially every chief executive's job, who ensures this objective is met?

Who owns DCX?

Companies with successful digital customer engagement typically have hired a chief customer officer who possesses ultimate responsibility for all customer-facing activities and strategy. The goal is to maximize customer acquisition, retention and satisfaction.

About 40% of organizations have a chief customer officer or someone with a similar title. That's up from 25% only one year ago, according to Nemertes 2018 Digital Customer Experience and 2019 Intelligent Customer Engagement research studies.

The organizational structures vary widely, but unless the chief customer officer is empowered to make changes -- and sometimes overrule the chief marketing officer, head of sales or other executives -- digital customer experience will suffer.

When a company truly puts the customer first, all decisions, large or small, are considered through the lens of the impact they have on the customer. For example, one financial services company will not buy any new applications unless those supporting them can document how they will affect customer relationships.

Five key success criteria

Companies with successful digital customer engagement typically have hired a chief customer officer who possesses ultimate responsibility for all customer-facing activities and strategy.

There are five key points that successful companies adopt in order to put the digital customer experience first:

1. Carefully architect the executive culture when hiring the people who will be driving the company's digital customer experience strategy. It's imperative to look as much at personality as at education and experience. How well do those under consideration for a C-suite job fit into the existing culture (or the planned culture, if one of the goals is to change it)? A good chief customer officer is not easy to find. Look for someone with the right mix of assertiveness, analytical skills, empathy and intelligence.

2. Use data. The chief customer officer's best weapon is to utilize customer success analytics. Done right, that data will easily guide everything from product development to marketing initiatives to technology deployment. If the CIO wants to deploy a new self-service knowledge base, but customers are adamant that they want to speak to live agents, the chief customer officer should be able to make a case that the "self-service" portion of that knowledge base may not be needed, even though the knowledge base itself is. Similarly, a chief customer officer who insists on using AI-based chatbots for advanced functions may find resistance from a CIO who can demonstrate through usage data that customers aren't yet using chatbots even for basic functions.

Preview: Spending on customer engagement
technologies 2020-2021

Enterprise investment in technologies related to initiatives on digital customer experience is rising -- 74.6% of organizations plan to increase spending on customer engagement technologies in 2020 and 77% plan to increase spending in 2021, according to Nemertes Research's upcoming 2019 customer engagement research study.

3. Map an escalation path. Inevitably, even the most carefully designed executive team will have disagreements they can't solve on their own. The path may be simple: Escalate the disagreement to the COO or CEO. Or it may not be so predictable. For example, a handful of companies in our research give the chief customer officer the final word on any disagreements because that person has the most important interests at heart: the customers'. Even though they all are part of the C-suite, the chief customer officer actually has some authority over everyone else.

4. Constantly check and double check assumptions. Customers' demands and expectations are ever-changing, sometimes driven by new technologies, other times driven by a new competitor's capabilities. It's imperative to regularly survey and interview customers, and track their sentiment, while also keeping an eye on the competitive climate.

5. Stay updated on the latest DCX technology. Technology is the linchpin in any successful digital customer experience (DCX) strategy. However, the technology that enables DCX often falls under different business units or slips through the cracks entirely. An individual or team of people (depending on the size of the company) must stay apprised of the latest DCX technology innovations and associated providers for contact center, CRM, customer service, customer engagement management and customer success analytics.

Delivering a solid customer experience is crucial for several business metrics -- increased revenue, decreased costs, improved customer ratings, more efficient processes and more. The right C-suite with customer-focused priorities -- and a chief customer officer or other empowered CX chief in place -- will make sure those metrics all head in the right direction.

Next Steps

Who are the leading customer experience management vendors?

Customers surveys, done right, improve contact center CX

Machine learning can improve customer experience: 4 use cases

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