Why a Chief Customer Officer Is Good for Companies and Profits

Jeanne Bliss
Posted: 11/30/2009

CEOs no longer need to be convinced of the importance of developing relationships with profitable customers and keeping them around. What they need now is a way to accomplish this feat. Some are considering the creation of a C-level position to drive the action. However, beyond the notion that it’s a good idea, not many people know how to structure the Chief Customer Officer role and its place in the organization. Here are some thoughts to help you proceed.



Suggesting a Chief Customer Officer may seem frivolous to leaders who believe they already focus on customers. There’s often a proliferation of tactics and projects underway…the problem is they don’t amount to anything significant for the customer. So first decide: Will leaders be OK with someone (other than themselves) driving consensus on customer strategy and deliverables? You may be saying, "We have consensus now." I’m sure that you’ve had some good meetings, but how much of it stuck? When they were over, did everyone return to their respective corners and business as usual? Getting company alignment is tricky. You may need someone full time to ensure it exists for your direction with customers.

What about sustaining the work? After the first and second meeting of what I call "the funky task force" on the customer work, people start to lose interest. You know these meetings. The kick-off has 40 people at the table, some who clamored for an invite. One month later, six regularly show up. And the person who got the job to run the task force layered on top of his/her "regular" job? Well, they’re losing interest fast. Driving this work needs hard-wired participation. Do you have headcount and staff time commitments to drive it forward?

Establishing a Chief Customer Officer

Now to the roadmap and action plan; Let’s discuss the sticky wicket of "how" to move past the hoopla of meetings and empty commitments. Do you have a central roadmap that everyone follows on how you’ll drive the customer work and measure progress? I didn’t think so. How about consistent metrics everyone agrees to? We have metrics galore in our companies and of course the ‘customer’ is now on our scorecards. But these are typically neither clear nor connected down to the operational level.

Roles and responsibilities and holding people accountable are a slippery slope in the customer work. This is about the hand-offs between the silos. Most companies need a task list that clearly states what each part of the organization will do and when to get the priorities accomplished. But most don’t have one. Do you?

Is funding customer projects like pulling teeth? This may be due to duplicate spending across the organization. Everything is pitched as an individual program from inside the silos. At planning time these investments are often vulnerable in the first round of budget cuts. Why? Because each project shows up as a one-off tactic. There’s rarely an annual plan for understanding and managing customers as a key corporate asset—determining how many were lost and why and pooling resources to keep and grow profitable customers. Why? Because it’s no one’s job to do this.

Customer Work Emerging as a Priority of the Organization

And finally, does the hoopla have any chance of sustainability as things stand now? Are leaders committing to customers, but not changing the metrics or the motivation to realign business priorities? Is the back-up position still about counting sales but not counting customers? For what actions are the most "Atta-boys" doled out? The customer work will not emerge as a priority of the organization until people’s success and career paths are tied to their accountability for how their actions impact customers. How far along are you with this? Are you heading in the right direction?

Most leaders wouldn’t refute that any of these actions are important. They want them to happen. They’ve always wanted them. Their failure has been in assuming the company could miraculously defy the laws of the silos to make them a reality. Separate motivation, the metrics and the mechanics have stayed firmly rooted in each silo. And they will continue to stay there until someone duct-tapes the silos together in a unified and executable customer plan. Is it time you established a Chief Customer Officer to connect your company for customers?

Jeanne Bliss
Posted: 11/30/2009

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