Organising for customer focus
As customers we rightly rant when we hear the dreaded phrases like “Sorry but that’s not my job”, “You need to speak to another department” or “Can you just give me your details again.” It seems that no one has thought too much about what it is like to be a customer. In truth, many haven’t.
The responsibility for customer focus has become an area of discussion in many companies. Whilst there are many options, the two leading candidates are the appointment of a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) and the extension of the role of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
The CCO is a relatively new corporate role but growing rapidly. A search of LinkedIn returns over 27,000 names with posts in industries as diverse as retail, technology, water supply and banking. My own company has a Chief Customer Officer.
No one has done more to champion the cause and understanding of the role of the CCO than Jeanne Bliss, author of Chief Customer Officer and Chief Customer Officer 2.0. Her work is a must read and it is one of her recent blogs that spurred me to write this. Jeanne describes the CCO role as having the following four functions:
- Establish metrics for defining relationships with customers
- Influence cross-company agreement on how to deliver greatest value to customers
- In partnership with leaders, drive accountability through cross-company data and metrics
- Clarify a common approach and process for driving the work across the organization
Some CCOs have dedicated teams, others have small, staff teams working to influence the rest of the organisation, leading projects rather than owning the delivery resources. Most have responsibility for the end-to-end customer experience, even if that is delivered by other functions. It seems that many have yet to convince their bosses of their of the value they provide: the Chief Customer Officer Council report that they have the shortest job tenure of any in the suite, with an average of 26 months!
The CMO on the other hand points out that much of the critical work of customer focus is marketing. It is about selecting the right markets and customers to serve, identifying the right people to sell to and communicating the brand promise at all interactions. Marketing is also extending its reach beyond customer acquisition to embrace communication with existing customers, driven by the need to secure the revenue value of retention, upsell and positive word of mouth.
Recent research from the EIU suggests that marketers see themselves as the executive responsible for customers. “Slightly more than one-third of marketers polled say they are responsible for managing the customer experience today. However, over the next three to five years, 75% of marketers say they will be responsible for the end-to-end experience over the customer’s lifetime.“ Of course, they would say that: few would forecast a diminishing role for their profession. There is however little doubt that the role of marketing in company success is growing in importance with an increasing focus on how to engage customers at all stages of their lifecycle.
Marketing is already seen as the custodian of customer information, insight and communication; all vital capabilities for driving engagement. Lead generation has spawned lead nurturing – regular, context-based communication, combining subject-based and product specific content. This is exactly the approach needed to help customers exploit the product/service they have purchased. It is natural therefore to place the responsibility for customers here.
One variant, suggested by Ashley Freidlin of Econsultancy is the role of the Customer Director (for Americans, read SVP) to whom marketing, sales and service all report. The Customer Director works alongside a peer responsible for Operations and back office functions. Ashley suggests these roles report to a Board level CCO and Chief Operating Officer respectively. At some time, customers touch almost all parts of the company, so putting everything relating to customers under one executive seems to me a bit like having a CEO reporting to a CEO! That apart, this approach implicitly recognises the importance of a consistent approach across the complete customer lifecycle.
It is interesting to note the roles that do not figure highly when responsibility for the customer is discussed. The heads of sales hardly ever figure nor does service or operations; yet all can rightly claim to have a vested interest. Renewal and upsell is still seen by most companies as a sales function with sales people owning the original sale and the ongoing management of the ‘account’. Operations, by which I mean the people delivering the products and services, have a significant influence on the quality of the customer experience. This first hand experience of the customer makes them well placed to be the customer champion.
Where do I place my vote? I genuinely don’t think it matters.