Who owns the customer experience in retail?
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
Should the emerging CXO role — chief customer experiencer — own the customer experience in retail? If so, I think they’ll have to dethrone the CMO.
Marketing historically has been in charge of advertising the promotions and deals that merchandisers secured from vendors, and not much else. But omni-channel retailing has made marketing much more important. One of the first things retailers wanted out of omni-channel was to "present one face to the customer." At the most basic level, it comes down to what they are promising their customers, and how that is different from what everyone else out there is promising. That’s marketing.
Also because of omni-channel, marketing became important in its own right as the de facto owner of customer data. Whether because of loyalty programs or voice of the customer, or a catalog history, or even just third party-sourced customer segments, marketing kind of had the most customer data on hand. And when the goal is putting the customer at the center of the enterprise, that kind of has a galvanizing effect on the holder of that data — making their capabilities more important by default.
Who’s their competition? The CEO is the shepherd of the customer experience, but as for the individual ultimately responsible for making sure that said customer experience is realized? Well, who knows the most about the customer?
What about the channels? It wasn’t that long ago that stores actually knew the most about customers and e-commerce owned digital marketing. But focusing on the transaction — which is what channels are designed to do — leaves out an awful lot of the customer experience that happens long before the consumer steps foot in a store or navigates to the retailer’s e-commerce site. So which group has the largest view?
To be fair, there are a few retailers out there where the CXO or VP of omni-channel is truly focused on customer experience — defining it, and eliminating cross-channel conflicts or misalignments that get in the way of it. But I find them to be a pretty rare breed. Most tend to be glorified integrators. The job description calls for aligning channels and technology so that whatever brand promise is made, the retailer will someday be positioned to execute on it.
And most times, they are an itinerant VP, one without much staff, and operating half by executive decree ("You will do what she says") and half by persuasion.
And at the end of the day, which resources will this individual rely on the most, both in understanding where to focus first, and in checking to make sure their efforts are paying off in terms of actually improving the customer experience? Who is best positioned to answer those questions? Marketing.
Do you agree that marketing’s role has grown to claim ownership of customer experience at retail? Do you imagine a CXO doing things a CMO cannot or complementing the CMO’s role?