Are you a customer complaint officer (CCO)? Or a chief customer advocate? If so, you are doing your company and your customers a disservice.
Many people believe the primary role of the chief customer officer (CCO) is to be a customer advocate, or perhaps even a customer complaint officer (CCO), dedicated to solving customer problems. Nothing could be more damaging to the CCO or the organization than this perception. A customer advocate title implies the executive will always side with customers, regardless of the business impact. Effective handling of customer complaints is a critical process within the organization, but if the CCO owns it exclusively, it invites the wholesale abdication to the CCO of all customer responsibility. There are three reasons why a CCO is not a complaint officer or advocate.
First of all, customers are simply not always right, no matter what popular literature might advocate. If customers had their way every product, service, or interaction would perfectly meet all their needs—for free. In our efforts to pacify customers, we’ve trained them to complain and get a credit. If they ask for it, we’ll give them a coupon. Let’s face it: we’re not in the business of continually giving away our products or services for free. To do so would be foolish & irresponsible to our shareholders, employees, and ultimately, our customers. Sometimes the most valuable thing the CCO can do for the business (and for the customer) is gracefully say to a customer, “No.”
Secondly, the CCO role is so much more than complaints and advocacy. Executives make trade-offs. Underlings blindly champion causes, irrespective of the consequences. An effective chief customer officer’s primary duty is to help the organization drive profitable, customer-centric growth by balancing current & future customer needs with business objectives. To do so, the CCO has to have not only an intimate understanding of customers’ needs, wants, and desires, but also the strategic priorities of the business. Understanding which, the CCO can make the strategic tradeoffs required to balance long-term customer value with short-term costs. To achieve these goals, the CCO must be involved in strategy, culture improvement, customer prioritization, retention, acquisition, and even innovation.
Third, the CCO must inject the customer perspective into executive discussions so every strategic decision answers the question, “what is the impact on the customer?” If the impact is positive, leverage it. Customers can’t appreciate what they aren’t aware of. If the impact is negative, find ways to mitigate it. For JetBlue, on-time departure was the key driver of customer satisfaction. Yet to fix airport/traffic/weather delays was prohibitive or impossible. They found that having the pilot come out of the cockpit and address the passengers caused satisfaction scores to nearly completely rebound to those of on-time departures.
To be an effective CCO, you must remain strategic. Complaints are everyone’s job. Set up closed-loop issue resolution processes and help the experts retain ownership of correcting and preventing further complaints. Balance customer needs with business needs as a peer of the executive team.