Who Owns the Customer Experience?

Nov 11, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

Whether it is a chief customer officer, chief omni-channel officer or another C-level executive, retailers are debating the advantages and disadvantages of assigning an owner of the customer experience.

A group of high-level retail executives discussed this and other omni-channel and marketing issues during the Retail TouchPoints RoundTable event in New York City in September.

A marketing director for a women’s specialty apparel company questioned the benefit of having a C-level customer experience executive.

"That person could be rendered ineffective because they don’t really have financial accountability. They have a position in name but they are not held accountable for profitability. It should be part of everyone’s job description."

To further dissect this issue, Steve Rowen from Retail Systems Research presented results from the firm’s recent Marketing Study. RSR found that retailers are all over the map when it comes to the owner, or owners, of the customer experience.

Close to half (43 percent) of retailers give the chief marketing executive responsibility for the customer experience, along with the CEO (38 percent) and the VP of Stores (35 percent). As many as 25 percent of retailers now have a title called chief customer experience officer, up from eight percent in 2012; and 35 percent said they have no explicit owner.

In his assessment of the topic, Mr. Rowen asserted: "What you end up with is this sort-of mishmash of people who kind-of have a toe in the water … but the left hand doesn’t always know what the right hand is doing. If you don’t have someone who has this catch-all title, that is familiar with what it’s like to shop you as a customer, then that’s when you have problematic inter-channel issues."

What are the advantages and disadvantages of assigning an owner of the customer experience? Who should bear the most responsibility and oversight over the customer experience at retail? Does omni-channel reach make such oversight more vital?

Join the Discussion!

30 Comments on "Who Owns the Customer Experience?"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dick Seesel

The place to start is a clear definition of “customer experience.” Is it the type of “high-touch” service expected in a luxury or near-luxury retailer like Nordstrom? Is it the smooth integration of the in-store and e-commerce process into an “omnichannel” vision? Is it the overall branding message of the retailer? And – let’s not forget – the merchandise content is the most visible sign of any retailer’s “customer experience.”

So the entire idea of “customer experience” is a hot buzzword right now (like “omnichannel”) without a clear definition of its meaning. If a retailer can make up its mind about what the concept stands for within its four walls, then it makes the most sense to assign primary responsibility to the C-level executive with the budgeting authority to make it happen.

Matt Schmitt

Having a designated owner of the customer experience puts a retailer in a position of strength. A customer experience owner can focus 100% on “walking in the shoes of the customer” and working with various teams as an advocate. Omni-channel efforts compound the complexity and need to be assessed through the eyes of the customer.

The big question is what is the right level of management and accountability for this role? With 25% of retailers having a C-level Customer Experience owner, the benefit is they have a seat at the table and an active voice.

Marge Laney
3 years 11 months ago

My focus is the fitting room, which is the focal point of the customer experience, and the biggest pain point – from the customer point of view – in a brick and mortar apparel retailer. Generally speaking, Design owns the fitting room customer experience and has no financial accountability for the outcome of their decisions.

Yes, there are fitting room service strategies that are developed and implemented by operations, but they are most often guidelines only and have no financial performance goals that are accounted for and compensated. As a matter of fact, most of the behaviors that are compensated work at cross purposes with good fitting room service.

I agree with the retail executive cited in the article. Until someone’s paycheck depends on the financial performance of the fitting room, not much is going to change for the better.

Robert DiPietro

Funny that 43% give customer experience to the CMO, last I knew that is not who is responsible for running the retail stores and where the majority of transactions happen. I would traditionally give the responsibility to the VP of stores and tie it to the bonus metrics, but retail is anything but traditional anymore. In today’s multichannel or omnichannel experience, customers start the majority of in-store purchases by doing online research. The online and in-store experience must match up. As the shopper evolves, traditional org charts need to evolve and hence someone (the Chief Customer Experience officer) must own it. They can cut across business units and ensure a cohesive experience for the customer.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

CEO = “The Buck Stops Here.”

Said another way, the great consumer-centric organizations have great leaders who focus on the customer first. To weave consumer experience into the fabric of an organization requires all of the C Suite, but the CEO sets the tone, strategy and accountability.

CEO = “Chief Experience Officer”

J. Peter Deeb

Retailers need many C-level people to be accountable for the customer experience because that experience is a combination of logistics (being in stock), Marketing (the right offers), Operations (stores merchandised correctly), and Finance (profits keep the doors open). Can one person or department be the conduit for information and analysis? Absolutely, but the final responsibility for holding this together is the CEO or COO!

Zel Bianco

Given the fact that the customer experience should be seemless regardless of what channel is being used, I think the responsibility has to be on the shoulders of the Omnichannel officer. I also agree that they need to have P&L accountability.

Jeff Hall

It is not surprising that companies are challenged in deciding who “owns” the Customer Experience, as the answer is more nuanced than simply assigning it to a chief customer officer and assuming the issue is solved.

Without exception, our work has shown the most successful, consistent and resilient brands can trace their performance back to an unwavering commitment coming from the CEO. Customer experience commitment and expectations need to cascade downward from the CEO and across every facet of the organization.

Customer Experience delivery touches nearly every aspect of organizations, requiring customer touchpoint clarity, accountability, and measurement, in order to drive continuous improvement. Assigning these responsibilities to a c-level role and support team often makes sense, however, the customer experience is ultimately owned by every employee.

The challenge is for everyone to understand their customer experience role, how their role interfaces with others, and to be held accountable for the company’s customer experience success.

Tom Redd

This is a tough challenge and a top issue among retailers. First, the retailer’s brand is most responsible. Next, the operational elements under that brand share the overall responsibility.
I see the change in retail customer experience ownership happening – and the internal retail structure changing as this issue gets bigger and bigger.

Key to all of this is information that is common relating to the products, location, promotion, movement, and sale. The old model of lots of silos will not work – but before the technology cranks up the retailers must be internally “Omni-Responsible.”

Wrapper: The Retail CEO is liable for the experience – end to end, but is not always “responsible.” Meaning the CEO takes the hit if the exec team members are not performing.

Ken Lonyai

Debbie’s article truly solidifies what I talk about all the time: most businesses don’t value CX enough to really embrace it and have someone accountable for it. EVERY employee is responsible for CX because it only takes one faux pas, at any stage of customer interaction, to destroy it. Having a C-level person with teeth that oversees CX and can change the course of business and processes to meet customer needs is the only way CX will ever be effective.

When the myths that surround Steve Jobs are stripped away, the one thing that sticks is his vision of customer experience that permeated product design, packaging, and Apple Stores. He was top dog so the message made it to the lowest levels in the company. Most CEOs don’t get it and focus on cost cutting and profits and then wonder why Amazon is mopping the floor with them. Either they need a CX awakening themselves or they need to bring in someone high level who gets it and then stay out of their way.

Kate Blake
Kate Blake
3 years 11 months ago

The whole company owns the experience – from the product designer, to the visual merchandiser, to the IT guy who makes sure the register program can handle the business, to the person who makes sure the shopping bags don’t leave your hands stained. And the staff who man the store and sells the merchandise and brings back the feedback is invaluable to the whole organization so the circle of retail life is complete.

Ed Rosenbaum

Once again we are looking to assign a single position of responsibility for the customer experience. My position is there can not be a single person responsible for this. It will always be the person in front of the customer who has this responsibility. Whether it is the waiter in a restaurant or a sales person in a retail store; it is that person who is responsible.

Okay, so we want to assign a corporate person whose job is responsible for a customer experience; when in fact he/she can’t be because he/she is not in front of that customer. He/she can’t control what happens when the customer is having a good or bad experience. My thinking is, if we want a corporate position, make it an ombudsman position reporting only to the CEO. This person can control and assign all necessary action to the department involved and follow up to assure the ultimate customer is/was satisfied when all is said and done.

Roger Saunders

The owner of the customer experience is everyone in the organization. The employee handbook has to clearly state that the consumer is in charge of the business. This isn’t a structural issue. It’s a strategic issue that has to be executed in the tactics of every department.

By helping each associate, be they in Store Operations, Merchandise, Marketing, Allocation, Finance, the Executive suite, or the Board of Directors, Retailers are better positioned to help every associate understand that “This business starts and finishes with the consumer in mind.”

No need to create another department. This is retail, not the Federal Government.

Doug Fleener

While I believe every executive is responsible for the customer experience, it is the CEO that needs to ensure that all roads lead to the best possible experience.

Great in theory until you get internal politics and channel conflict in play. I see it all of the time. The problem is that many of the small details that trip up the experience will never make it to the CEO.

I believe you want and need a Chief Experience Officer who reports to the CEO. His/her role is to not only ensure a great experience in each and every channel, but also to work out the small details and conflicts between marketing, design, stores, web, etc. That’s where the wins and losses happen.

Ralph Jacobson

Here’s a simple thought: Whether you are in a CPG and/or a retail organization, if you’re not helping the shopper/consumer directly, you had better take responsibility to help the person in your organization who is!

Yes, there should be “one throat to choke” in the organization for shopper experience responsibilities. And, yes, this should be a C-level post. If the consumer is not put in this high of a priority in the eyes of management, then that organization “has bigger fish to fry.”

Todd Sherman
Todd Sherman
3 years 11 months ago

(Okay… getting on the soapbox….)

The short answer is that everyone owns the customer experience.

The longer answer is that everyone owns the customer experience. But to deliver it effectively requires C-level ownership (maybe the CEO?) to provide clear direction and inculcate a company-wide commitment to carry it out. It needs to be ingrained everywhere in the corporate culture such that each every group understands the mission and has clear guidelines and strategies to help drive their thinking and delivery.

Whether it’s the sales associate on the floor, the group designing the online payment process or nightly cleaning crew: everything contributes to the customer experience. Assigning it a single person is only the very beginning of the beginning. Necessary, but not nearly sufficient.

(Getting off the soapbox now….)

vic gallese
3 years 11 months ago

Boy, I guess you can call me “old school” on this one! I was surprised not to see the VP of stores even on your list of choices!

The store execution is where it all either works or doesn’t: signage, displays, service, cleanliness, checkout speed, etc. Yes, it takes great merchandise, solid marketing and exciting/sustainable merchandising plans and a reliable supply chain. Drum roll for the CEO, please.

Cast my vote for the VP Stores with the CEO ultimately bearing the accountability for a vision and keeping everyone playing nice.

Jesse Karp
Jesse Karp
3 years 11 months ago

One of the core challenges with implementing a true omni-channel strategy is that there is often not one person in charge of the customer experience and channels become misaligned. The CMO is not necessarily the correct person to own the entire customer experience because omni-channel programs extend far beyond core marketing functions. While each executive needs to be responsible for individual customer experience, there needs to be one officer to ensure consistency and seamlessness throughout the organization.

Whether this be the CEO, Chief Omnichannel Officer or another party who brings it all together, there does need to be one person responsible for the coordination of the collective experience.

Ian Percy

Kate has it exactly right. Back when we were running around talking Quality Assurance you could always identify the companies with the biggest quality problems because they had a Director of Quality Assurance. The same thing will happen with the “customer experience.”

What happens of course is that employees see that someone “owns” this role which means “I don’t have to worry about it.”

I’d also like to suggest that we drop the word “own.” Customers are not inclined to be owned by anybody. You ‘own’ you, your attitude, your decisions, your caring, your awareness, etc. You do NOT own a customer.

Bill Davis

In my view, ownership of the customer experience has to start at the top or it’s likely to get watered down. Apple’s customer experience is off the charts because Steve Jobs/Tim Cook made sure Jonathan Ive’s and teams’ designs were integral in every product. Nordstrom is another example where the customer experience is central and starts at the top with the Nordstrom family members running the company.

Delivering an exceptional customer experience is a clear difference maker. The challenge is defining and delivering an exceptional customer experience as 95%+ of companies aren’t doing it today. Omnichannel is all about delivering an exceptional and consistent customer experience across sales channels so given this covers the entire footprint of the retail operation, my belief is the CEO has to be the primary driver or assign responsibility to someone and back them up 98%+ of the time.

Phil Rubin
3 years 11 months ago

There is one essential executive responsible for the customer experience, especially in a retailer: the CEO. The customer experience isn’t limited to (a channel like) stores, much less online or any other touch point. It’s not simply a marketing function either as in retail the merchants are also highly accountable for what a customer sees and feels with the brand.

A survey of loyalty leaders – companies who deliver a great customer experience, are customer centric and out perform their competitors – presents compelling evidence that it takes people with names like Bezos (Amazon), Drexler (J.Crew) and Nordstrom to set a priority around the customer experience. Anything less fails.

saravanan logu
3 years 11 months ago

In my view, having a C-suite person for customer experience is very critical to the success of retailer, given the complex path-to-purchase the customer takes in the omni-channel world. While Macy’s has appointed that Chief omni channel office and few retailers chose to divide the responsibilities among few c-suite execs. It may become obsolete, in 3 to 5 years, when retailers truly start to execute the omni-channel strategy and realize that they are the providers of not just products but also the GREAT customer experience.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
3 years 11 months ago

The CEO should own customer responsibility along with the CMO and frankly every other executive. Behavior flows down and if the C level is always talking about the importance of customer experience, employees will follow.

A position of Customer Experience sounds good, but I have to agree with the Marketing Director mentioned in the article. Everyone should care and if this role does not have direct financial responsibility, it makes it hard for them to get things done.

Lee Peterson

I thought that was the CEO’s job. After all, what’s more important?

Back in the day, when we did a floor set that was to go out to all stores, our CEO stalked that entire process, examining everything from quality of product to marketing to store design to store associates. We (and she) were also REQUIRED to be in stores twice a week.

It’s just a little more complex now. Why, the CEO might actually have to look at Instagram!

Vahe Katros

There can be hundreds of new and existing customer experience initiatives and the problem is going to get bigger, so leadership/ownership makes sense.

The skills, methods, and culture are new and complex (or simple: the perpetual state of beta) so I guess I am leaning towards a hands-on person that knows how to build things vs. a cheerleader. Technology facilitates the experience, so this is a major hire.

Mark Burr
3 years 11 months ago

I had seen this article when it was published. The same sentence stands out now as it did when I read it originally:

“It should be part of everyone’s job description.”

A responsibility assigned to no one is a responsibility that belongs to no one. Simply being part of a everyone’s job description equates the value of the customer experience to just showing up. Just as with the “CEO” that is responsible for everything, the leaders below the CEO are responsible for something. Specifically defining this role is essential. In today’s marketplace, consumers have too many choices and multiple channels of opportunity for nearly every product and service they can imagine. Creating this role or elevating this role puts the focus on customer experience which is the greatest factor in a customer’s loyalty decision.

Sure, it can be part of everyone’s job. However, it requires a leader specifically charged with defining the process in which the desired experience is managed, nurtured, and maintained – day in and day out.

W. Frank Dell II

Just the act of naming a Customer Experience position is a cultural failure for any retailer. In retail, everyone’s job should be focused on the customer experience and it makes no difference for a store or internet transaction. If the buyer is out-of-stock, the customer cannot buy. If a warehouse picker makes a mistake, the customer cannot buy what he or she wants. If the checkout person has a problem, then the trainer failed. The primary parties are President, Marketing, Merchandising, and Store Operations, but everyone else in the company must provide support.

Arun Channakrishnaiah
Arun Channakrishnaiah
3 years 11 months ago

As many others have pointed out, the ultimate responsibility falls with the CEO. That said, the number of channels has proliferated and with the spread and adoption of internet, impacts (both negative and positive) can be almost instantaneous. If the CEO of a retailer is spread thin, it is best to have a dedicated individual focus on omnichannel.

While a lot of focus (as it should be) is on the customer/sell side of the equation, the proliferation of channels has occurred on the supply/buy side too, and while it is a good idea to ensure that every employee owns “customer experience,” the changing face of retailing mandates some kind of an “oversight” authority who is responsible for framing the “rules of engagement” as well as monitoring progress (and making adjustments if there isn’t progress).

Jerry Gelsomino

I equate the Customer Experience to Corporate Reputation Management. As an instructor of the subject, I tell my students the Chief Executive must be ultimately responsible to all stakeholders for the company’s reputation…the same conclusion of marketing gurus, academics, etc. I would therefore suggest the same holds true for Customer Experience.

Christopher P. Ramey

The issue is the execution and power. What’s lost in the discussion is that store operations manages and controls salespeople. But, customer experiences are about all touch points. So marketing is an integral piece of the puzzle too.

The key is getting marketing and operations in-sync. In my corporate experience I’ve learned that executives caught between company silos (for example, marketing and operations, buying and selling, etc) get slaughtered.

To fully implement a customer centric culture may require a new business model. Revisit everything – consider the client as the most important position and then structure your business backwards.

One other point, we’ve recently seen creative and marketing executives rising to presidency. Two examples are Burberry and Crystal Cruises. The importance of these moves can’t be understated. They reflect the importance of the topic at hand.

It also likely illustrates that marketing will ultimately be responsible for customer experience.


Take Our Instant Poll

Who should bear the most responsibility and oversight over the customer experience at retail?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...