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Should the CMO be the Chief Customer Experience Officer?

This post can also be seen on Inside CXM.

Given the rapidly evolving role of the CMO, it may be a natural extension for a CMO 2.0 to assume primary responsibility for customer experience management in an organization. Before assessing the merits and cautions associated with such an expanded customer responsibility, it’s worthwhile to first understand the market and structural drivers that are causing companies to rethink how customer experience is managed and who “owns” the customer experience.

In the always on, wirelessly connected, information rich world we live in, the customer is completely in charge of who they engage with, how and when. And their expectations of how they will be served—i.e. exactly in the manner they wish or they will go elsewhere—have risen to such a level that companies have no choice but to transform their entire approach to customer experience in order to attract and retain customers. This dramatic shift of power to the consumer has significant organizational ramifications, and companies are rethinking every aspect of how they deliver an optimal customer experience, from the technology they deploy, to their culture, value systems, business process, staffing and training philosophy and practices.

One thing is clear: having a fragmented organizational approach to delivering a unified, tailored and contextual relevant customer experience won’t work. Companies need to orchestrate all customer touch points across organizational silos and find ways to deliver experiences that demonstrate a connected approach rather than a disjointed one. Keep in mind, the customer never asked for a disjointed experience; it’s just that most companies are organized along functional lines (i.e., sales, marketing, services, support, finance, etc.), so it’s naturally difficult to have a coordinated, cross-functional approach that enables the organization to holistically manage the customer experience across the entire customer journey, from pre-purchase to post-purchase.

There are various organizational approaches that companies are adopting to attempt to solve this operational dysfunction. Some companies have appointed a Chief Customer Experience Officer or a Chief Customer Officer. These executives typically have either specific organizational responsibility or operate in more of an advisory role. In the former case, the “customer experience owner” who has staffing and budgetary resources is much better equipped to drive the organizational changes required to effect meaningful change in how customer experience is managed. In the latter case, an advisory position that has the mission to drive customer centricity and optimize the customer experience, but lacks staffing and budget, will struggle to effect change even if the individual is part of the senior executive team. This may depend in a large part on the influence or personal power of the individual chartered to “own” customer experience. However, without direct control over people, budgets and systems, the gravitational pull of functional imperatives to, for example, do what’s right for sales, marketing, or service inhibits the advisory executive’s potential impact on customer experience.

What’s a company to do when there is no designated company-wide customer experience owner? It is still possible to begin the journey towards customer centricity by aligning functional objectives across two or more functions, such as sales, marketing, and services. Someone needs to at least own the cross-functional responsibility to ensure that goals and benchmarks are established, and regular measurements (such as continuous or periodic tracking) are taken to record progress against the stated objectives. In many companies, since marketing owns key elements of the customer experience (e.g., communications, Web, social media, customer loyalty programs), it is a likely group to lead the effort to align functional groups and drive initiatives to integrate customer experience management. Customer experience ownership is a journey that has to start somewhere, and it often starts with one person raising their hand to tackle the inherent structural impediments of functional organizations vs. customer -centric ones, and to drive change that improves customer experience in every interaction.

Just because marketing is now empowered if not expected to drive more of the customer experience to help support customer acquisition, expansion, loyalty and retention goals, are they necessarily best suited to become the chief customer experience officer? I believe so. As one CMO I spoke to recently put it: “I need to prescribe the ideal customer experience at every touch point—Web, call center, product, store, etc.—regardless of organizational reporting structure, so I’m providing leadership and guidance on how to drive a better customer experience, so our company can optimize every interaction.”

There are many roles other than the CMO that could assume responsibility for becoming the de facto chief customer experience officer, including the COO, head of Sales or Service. The CMO, however, is in the best position to take on this responsibility due to the increasing influence they have on the entire customer experience across all touch points. So CMO, the opportunity awaits you and the question is, are you ready to take it on?


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More Stories By Grant Johnson

A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™

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