Should the Chief Customer Officer Be The Hub for Buyer and Customer Insights?

Tony Zambito

Tony Zambito

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Photographed from the air on 26 September 2004
Photographed from the air on 26 September 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 2003, the role of the Chief Customer Officer has gone from numbering under 30 to numbering in the thousands today.  While still new and evolving, this role holds promise for significance in building true customer-centric businesses.  An interesting development during the past ten years is counterintuitive.  The role sounds logical for large enterprises.  According to Curtis Bingham, the Executive Director of the Chief Customer Officer Council, the largest concentration of CCO’s has been in mid-size companies.

Bob Thompson, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of CustomerThink, recently covered Forrester’s report on How Chief Customer Officers Orchestrate Experiences by Forrester Principal Analyst Paul Hagan.  One of Paul’s key findings is the primary role of the Chief Customer Officer as the orchestrator of customer experiences. Bob echoed a concern I have also.  Despite Paul Hagan’s report noting 85% of CCO’s sit on executive teams, I believe they do not yet have the “necessary clout” as Bob stated.

The Clout

In the new digital age, the Chief Customer Officer can play a central role in two big areas.  One, be the organization’s core buyer and customer insight function.  Two, be the organization’s principal map builder of the buyer and customer journey.  In addition to being the orchestrator of customer experiences, it can create the hub for executive teams to develop the spokes of buyer and customer insight-driven strategies.

The outcome for Chief Customer Officers is they will have the necessary clout in organizations to propel real change.  While customer experience should be one of the main elements of this role, I also believe it can evolve to a new level of prominence.  How ?   By being the key to buyer and customer insight executives hunger for.

A New Charter

Chief Customer Officers can be pivotal in redefining how companies should map the journey buyers and customers can take with their organization.  Note I use the word map.  This means truly understanding the critical paths to purchase and repurchase which are taken from the buyer and customer’s perspective.  Aligning as well as innovating new engagement strategies based on buyer and customer insights.

Chief Customer Officer Hub
Chief Customer Officer Hub

This represents a new charter for Chief Customer Officers.  What can happen often, with good intentions, new customer journeys and touchpoints are established with a focus on experiences.  They may not be well grounded in deep profound buyer and customer insights.  And, they do not represent a hub and spoke connection to strategies.  New customer experience programs are announced with trumpets yet after the meeting – everyone goes back to their way of doing business. Yes, there are metrics.  But metrics have a funny way of sometimes trying to force compliance.  No doubt a continuing source of frustration.

Strategic Mandate

In Bob Thompson’s commentary, he mentions Forrester’s call for a strategic mandate:

Forrester says one precondition for success is a “strategic mandate,” which means “the executive team must define the purpose for appointing a CCO, build customer experience into the company strategy, and adopt companywide customer experience metrics that correlate with key business performance outcomes.”

I agree with Bob, it is a mouthful.  It is a focus however on one element of the CCO purpose.  Customer experience.  This is also the place where I have a different view.  This focus is faced with the difficult challenge of “build…into.”  What do I mean?  It means you have compartmental thinking of various strategies taking place.  The CCO struggles with attempting to get inside each of these strategies and implanting customer experience.

My perspective is one of a hub and spoke imagery.  The hub of the CCO function informing and offering the connective means for each department to plug their spoke of strategies into.  Strategies related to marketing, sales, support, and operations are informed by continual deep buyer and customer insight.  Good customer experience is the result.  The hub serves as the common insights and communications platform for knowledge about buyers and customers. To me, this is real clout and a real purpose.

Credibility

Credibility is going to be a major issue soon if not already.  Buyers and customers are being bombarded daily with the new fondness of content marketing.  I believe for those not doing it effectively, which are many according to several reports, it is chipping away at credibility rapidly.  The Chief Customer Officer role and function, as the hub of insights and informing knowledge of customers, can shape insight-driven customer strategies related to marketing, sales, support, and operations.  Which the byproduct becomes experiences buyers and customers marvel at.  This is what will help companies to restore credibility being lost.

(I am tackling a tough topic here.  I welcome further conversations with CCO’s, CMO’s, and CSO’s to offer help and gain further perspectives.  Please share this widely – it may offer the perspective a CCO and his/her peers have been seeking.)

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7 thoughts on “Should the Chief Customer Officer Be The Hub for Buyer and Customer Insights?”

  1. This is a very interesting post Tony. Part of me wants to say, “What problem are we trying to solve with a CCO?” Somehow, it seems like putting a CCO in place is a “fix” to a more fundamental problem about communication, alignment, collaboration across the organization. The hub spoke example seemed to reinforce this in my mind. Every function of the organization has a role, directly or indirectly, in the customer experience, and in creating/delivering insight to the customer. If we are breaking down silo’s, if we have a culture oriented around the customer, if we are all working together. aligning around common goals and strategies, shouldn’t this be part of the fabric of the business, with the top executive team working together for a common goal.
    It seems like we are injecting a new layer, perhaps a new bottleneck, in being truly customer focused and responsive.
    I know I’m not responding directly to the great issues you and Bob raise, but you’ve gotten me to thinking why are we doing this anyway. Would love your thoughts. Regards, Dave

    1. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your insightful comment. As I stated in the post, I was tackling a tough topic. My thoughts gravitated towards a new charter and hub/spoke concept due to trying to answer the question you raised. What problem are we trying to solve? As I see it, the CCO role is yet to have clout as Bob mentions and I believe it has to do with trying to be an injector into existing structure. Kind of like being the 3rd wheel.

      The problem we are trying to solve is how to get enterprise-wide customer strategies in place that are aligned and synched. I see the CCO role and function as the knowledge and innovation center of customers and buyers. It helps to solve another problem – who does the gathering of important buyer insights and does the continual research needed? I see this could be the place where they help facilitate marketing, sales, and etc. be informed about buyers and customers. As opposed to a layer, a resource center the organization is plugged into for buyer and customer knowledge. In my post about who should build buyer personas – this helps solve that problem also. A central repository and research center for buyer personas.

      I also see the elevation to a senior role important. If we truly want executive involvement to reshape organizations to customer-centered, you have to provide the value of deep and informing insights about buyers and customers. This is more welcoming, in my opinion, than saying we need to provide better customer experience and here is our latest program. Hard to get people to change with programs. But insights based on real qualitative research can make it compelling.

      Thanks!
      Tony

      1. Tony, this is really a difficult issue. I think the rise of the CCO, however, is really addressing the failure of the organization to truly align around the customer, collaborating/innovating with customers and within the organization.
        Imagine if we had a truly customer centric culture, strategy, and organization, with values and strategies driven from the top management through the organization. We would have product development teams truly engaged with customers and early customer involvement through the design/development process, likewise sales, marketing, customer service, manufacturing , etc would all be aligning around similar objectives and goals. We would have active “listening/learning” programs in place in all our functions and mechanisms for sharing (I do believe there are some interesting challenges in making information visible and available across the organization–here’s where a resource center fits in, but is it an organizational function or an embedded capability/technology.
        I think there is no inherent reasons the current functional structures can’t work together to execute the customer strategies effectively. (A possible proof point is to look at small entrepreneurial organizations that is really customer centric, the structures/processes work)..
        I do think the CCO position is an important way to help organizations fix all that is going wrong. I think the popularity of this function is largely a recognition the organization isn’t working as it should be. So the CCO becomes the lightning rod for transformation and systemic change/restructuring.
        I would tend see the CCO role as purely a transition role, focused on embedding the customer centric processes, mechanisms, collaboration, alignment and information sharing into the organization. But I would tend to say the CCO will be in place for 2 years and their task is to get the organization working the way it should, working themselves out of a job.
        After all, who needs a 3rd wheel.
        So, I’m not really in disagreement of the urgency of the function–too much is broken in too many organizations. I think they need to have huge clout (Klout?), but if they do their job right, they should get the organization working the way it should and work themselves out of a job.

        1. Dave,

          Great interesting perspectives here. My logic is following a different path. I believe what is wrong could be inherently due to structure itself. We are going through such tremendous market and buyer dynamics related to behaviors and technology. Which calls for different strategies – which are customer-centered. Sometimes, existing structures canot support new strategies. They require new structures and roles. I believe we may such a case here.

          What I see in the hub and spoke concept, I have seen work well in some industries. For example, some large professional services firms, like E&Y, have business knowledge centers where all of the analysts and specialists can tap into to get the latest information they need. I see the CCO not so much as a new role with a layered organization but becoming this hub of buyer/customer knowledge, insights, and experience expertise which helps inform the rest of the organization on how best to deliver the optimal customer-centered performance. It solves the issue of the inability of such functions to devote dedicate resources to understanding buyers/customers to the extent it should nor does it have the expertise. New dynamics now call for new levels of expertise in buyer/customer research, insights, and experience.

          Perhaps, the CCO role has been incorrect from the start – getting pigeon-holed into customer experience. It is how I see it. It can be, in my mind, the focal expertise center for the business organization to have a continual knowledge source about its’ buyers/customers – which in turn informs how to align and deploy true customer-centered strategies.

          Good discussion Dave – as we keep saying – this one is not an easy one.

          Thanks!
          Tony

          1. I think you’ve hit on a lot of important points. In the back of my mind—though I’m really struggling with it—I’m wondering if businesses have become so complex that our traditional structures just can’t support what we need to do.
            Developing centers of competency, developing new roles like CCO’s might just be the critical step in helping our companies become much more effective and consistent in executing on the customer experiences we want to create.
            Thanks for going back and forth on this Tony.

    1. Hello Michael,

      Thank you for sharing and appreciate your mention of me in the article as well. Thee CCO role is certainly evolving and I bet we can share more about it in the near future.

      Thanks,
      Tony

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