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You’re Not a Real Chief Customer Officer, Are You?

Friday, September 24, 2010

“I don’t think I can get budget approval for that.”

Wait a second. You’re telling me that you are a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), ostensibly a member of the C-Suite, the ultimate authority on customers and the one establishing customer strategy at all levels of the company, one of the most well-respected and honored employees, with the explicit mandate of the CEO to improve customer loyalty—and you don’t have $2500 in your budget? Nor can you get approval from your C-Suite peers to attend the most valuable CCO event in the world?

Excuse me?


The Chief Customer Officer Summit is two days of learning, sharing, & creating new best practices with the most forward-thinking, experienced CCOs in the world. It is the only event where CCOs can gather without being inundated by vendors or ladder-climbers clamoring for attention. It is an unparalleled opportunity to learn the best practices that others have paid millions to learn and deploy. It is one-to-one time with the likes of Jeb Dasteel, the Chief Customer Officer Council’s 2009 CCO of the Year. All of which equates to drinking from a firehose long enough to ensure your customer and personal success.

And you can’t afford $2500 for this?

In recent years there has been an increasing number of CCO appointments. On the surface this may seem like a wonderful indication of a strengthening corporate customer focus. However, some of these are a lie.

As I’ve monitored and worked with these new appointees, I’ve found that many companies, particularly in the small- and mid-cap markets are appointing a CCO who is but a figurehead. They are designed to look good but are without the power, authority, and executive support to effect any real change. In fact, these figurehead CCOs actually do more harm than good.

As defined at the 2009 Chief Customer Officer Summit, CCOs may be known by many titles, but the CCO is “An executive that provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.” In the broadest terms, the CCO is responsible for profitably aligning the company’s deliverables with strategic customer needs and values. To do so, the CCO follows an iterative process of understanding critical customer issues and goals, assessing the business and customer impact, and (re-) aligning the company deliverables and processes to meet them.

Customers are beginning to understand the promise of the CCO role. They are beginning to hope that the CCO will help navigate and even remove the obstacles companies erect in front of customers. Customers are beginning to respond to requests for feedback and embrace overtures to closer relationships and partnerships. In most cases, customers are becoming more loyal. However, figurehead CCOs are falsely raising hopes, only to dash them on the rocks. Their customers walk away jaded, or even swearing never to trust again.

These figurehead CCOs have the title perhaps because executives decided they could generate more revenue or boost profits if they had one, so the CCO title was simply added to an existing job description. Yet, the title did not come with a budget for customer experience improvement, nor for personal development to gain expertise in the new role.

Despite having “Chief” in their title, these figureheads are not peers of the C-Suite. They are not the ultimate authorities on customers, nor are they developing strategy at the highest levels of their company. They don’t have the explicit and vocal support of the CEO that gives them organizational credibility and clout that gives them the ability to improve processes in the customers’ best interest.

They are essentially overpaid customer service reps with a fancy title, unable to help customers beyond feel-good slogans and empty promises.

This has got to stop.

If you have the title without the authority, you owe it to your customers, your employees, and your shareholders to either step aside and stop damaging customer trust, or quickly grow into your role and earn this credibility and authority to truly make a difference for your customers.

Ways to become the ultimate authority on customers include attending the CCO Summit, open to all CCOs or equivalently titled executives. In addition, you can view the CCO Council webinar hosted by IIRUSA describing the first steps the CCO must take to become credible. Finally, the article "The Secret Weapon in Building Customer Strategy: The Chief Customer Officer” is another excellent resource. If you are truly serious about becoming a real CCO, consider membership in the CCO Council.


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Categories: Chief Customer Officer

Losing the Trail

Friday, May 21, 2010
The mountain trail I had been climbing suddenly ended. I looked hard at every tree, turning in a slow circle, hoping to see the familiar yellow blaze on a tree that would mark the way forward.  As I started to cool down, the perspiration on my shirt began to freeze, and I felt the cold start eating at my exposed fingers and ears.  I had lost the trail.  

I was hiking in the White Mountains and had been following a well-traveled trail, clearly marked with yellow blazes on trees.  As I went further into the backcountry, I noticed more trees bearing the blazes had fallen down during the severe winter ice storms.  I wasn’t concerned because I could typically make out other signs of travel, such as a worn path, crushed leaves, or cut branches marking the trail others had traveled before.
Now I was lost, and the only hope I had was to retrace my steps, looking over my shoulder every few feet in hopes of returning to familiar territory.  I was racing against time and the cold.  After a time, I recognized the familiar yellow blaze on a tree.  Relief flooded through me.  I peered off into the distance and saw far away the next yellow blaze in a much different direction than I had taken previously.  Clearly, many other people had missed this marker and had mistakenly gone down the same wrong path. 

I was lucky.  I had followed in the footsteps of others who’d been equally lost, and I’d been able to return to familiar territory and once again find the correct path forward.  

How many of you are trying to navigate the poorly marked path towards customer loyalty, and find yourselves unsure where the next trail marker is, or worse, following what appears to be a well-trod path that leads you further and further away from you desired objective?  What are the consequences to your customers, your company, and you personally when you have to backtrack and reset, having experimented at customers’ expense and finding that you’ve lost the trail?

Are you merely a fire fighter, running from one customer crisis to another?  Or do you have a clear-cut strategy in place to prevent them from arising in the first place? Do you know what needs to happen after you’ve developed a comprehensive survey program?  Or how about if you find yourself in a customer crisis?  Do you have a response plan in place?  Do you know the critical steps to creating a stellar customer experience? 

Many executives have been able to reach their positions by “figuring things out” yet, at the C-Level, there simply isn’t room for this approach, and the consequences of taking the wrong path can be severe.  

As a CCO or customer executive, you need to find a way to abstract yourself from the inevitable day-to-day crises, and develop your long-term strategy.  This strategy needs to be grounded in reality and proven best practices.  

Such a comprehensive plan prevents you from wandering, and helps ensure you are focused on the right activities.  It proves to your CEO and your board that you are competent and deserve to be entrusted with the company’s most valuable assets: the customers. 

The members of the Chief Customer Officer Council have created the Chief Customer Officer Roadmap, which, like the yellow blazes on the trees, clearly marks the path you need to follow in your path towards creating a strong customer focus and engendering intensely loyal customers. It contains nearly 100 critical activities that you as the CCO or Customer Executive don’t necessarily need to own, but that you do need to ensure are implemented and sustained within your companies.  

The Chief Customer Officer Roadmap is broken down into a number of categories, and there is a loose, top-to-bottom and left-to-right progression.  The Roadmap also provides a rough priority order of activities in each section.  

More details on the CCO Roadmap are found on the CCO Council website

The CCO Roadmap enables you to focus on the most important activities first, and over time, broaden your horizons to better serve customers and deliver stronger corporate results, while saving you time because you don’t have to experiment at customers’ expense as you follow trails that lead nowhere and cost you precious time as you backtrack to familiar territory.  

If you haven’t already, please join us on the CCO Council so you can benefit from the invaluable experience of those who have blazed a clear trail for you to follow.  

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Categories: CCO Council | Chief Customer Officer