Retail Customer Experience: The CXO: Why the Time is Now for Customer Experience Officers

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Jun 21, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

With so many organizations struggling to effectively manage all of the customer touch points and the resulting experiences in today’s multi-channel, multi-device, multi-national world, many category-leading organizations — like USAA, Allstate, Dunkin Donuts, Cigna, and Oracle — are dedicating a single executive in charge of their customers’ experience.

Most companies lack a defined customer experience strategy and building one often requires integrating across traditionally stand-alone departments. While organizational silos have been developed over the years that foster operational efficiency, this has unfortunately come at a cost to the customer experience. Organizations today cannot build channel-specific customer experiences. Smartphones are already multichannel devices that allow customers to phone, email, chat, browse, text, and in some cases, videoconference.

Retailers can learn from the direct-to-consumer approach the insurance companies are taking with customer experience strategies. For instance, imagine the operations inside a typical auto insurer. From an operational view, when a customer gets into an accident, the agent is dispatched, the claim needs to be reported and processed, and the policy needs to get reviewed and updated. The customer is touched three different times from three different organizations. There is an agent experience, a claims experience and a policy experience.

Now imagine the same scenario from the perspective of a customer who has just gotten into an accident. They are probably anxious and uncertain about next steps — especially if this is their first accident. This is where a Customer Experience Officer would step in to the picture, ensuring the customer’s needs and expectations are met and their interaction with the auto insurer is seamless and they have all their questions answered in a timely manner.

Successful customer experience officers will start with their firms’ overall strategies, which define competitive positions and set customer expectations of the brand. Using that foundation, it is critical to understand each customer touchpoint, the organizational department accountable, and the experience delivered.

To build this strategy, there are five primary steps for companies to consider:

  • Analyze your customers’ journeys as they interact with your organization
  • Identify moments of truth for each interaction
  • Assess the customer opportunities, trends and risks
  • Develop a list of initiatives that address the scenarios
  • Kick off a pilot program to build momentum and capture a quick win

Companies need to adapt and change their view from the inside out, to outside in. This will likely pose a daunting challenge to organizations; appointing a CXO is simply the first step.

Discussion Questions: What do think of the promise and the practicality of establishing a ’customer experience officer’ role for companies? What’s the most effective way to structure such a job?

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22 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: The CXO: Why the Time is Now for Customer Experience Officers"


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Nikki Baird
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Nikki Baird
9 years 10 months ago

I know the debate goes back and forth – the CEO should own the customer experience, or “everyone” should own the customer experience. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work. You need someone who can FOCUS on the customer experience – who can cut through organizational bias and silo thinking to deliver a great experience. I think a CXO should report to the CEO, and should have a team pulled from each of the organizations – merchandising, supply chain, eCommerce, stores, marketing, finance, and IT. These people should be process people, business analyst types. And they should do exactly what this article says: identify the major customer journeys as they engage with your company, identify the major pain points that exist in each of those journeys, and fix them.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Appointing an executive to oversee the customer experience is an oustanding idea, but only if the appointed executive is capable of doing an oustanding job in this role, and if he or she is able to muster the right support from the organization as a whole. This endeavor needs to be taken very seriously as one of the most important functions and roles in the entire company.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
Am I getting this right? Because company departments aren’t aligned and barely talk with each other and because sales agents, etc. aren’t taking responsibility for treating the customer insightfully…we’re going to add yet another piece of bureaucracy, yet another department and assign the job to someone. Will we ever learn? We did this with the quality movement too. Employees weren’t concerned about quality issues so we appointed someone in charge of quality. Now all employees can relax because someone in corporate is handling the problem. This is like painting a rusty car. Looks like a good idea at first but it won’t be long before the truth will be self-evident. Doing this is an admission to the entire marketplace that your customer orientation stinks. We all play lip service to the ideal that “Everyone regardless of position is responsible for the customer experience.” but haven’t a clue how to build customer-centric organizations. Here’s a hint: it starts with the management level that hasn’t met a customer in years. The acronym is CXO – the ‘X’… Read more »
Julia Staffen
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Julia Staffen
9 years 10 months ago

The introduction of the customer experience officer role into an organization is absolutely necessary, especially in today’s retail landscape. Customers interact with many facets of the organization when purchasing products – online, via social media sites, on the phone, in person – and the customer has to have an experience that is representative of the brand at each touch point. I agree with Nikki that the CXO should report directly to the CEO but should work with a team of people who represent the different functional groups within the organization – marketing, retail operations, eCommerce, etc. The CXO will have the challenge of drawing many (and often conflicting) customer paths into one but will have the birds eye view of the organization and how it works as a whole that many organizations lack today.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 10 months ago

I think most organizations already have a Chief Experience Officer. It’s their CEO. The problem is many CEO’s do a lousy job of taking ownership of the experience in their stores. If they don’t own it, no one else should be expected to.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I have always maintained that one of the biggest roadblocks to a great in-store customer experience is the fact that no one’s paycheck depends on making it happen. In most retail organizations it’s nobody’s job to be the customer’s advocate, and it just doesn’t make sense. The benefits in sales performance and customer loyalty from investments in smart hiring and training are proven, witness Apple. The purchasing of customer facing technologies that enhance, not destroy personal interaction need to be part of someone’s job description. Currently, these types of purchases, if made at all, are a side show of the operations, design, or construction budgets and are viewed as costly niceties even when ROI is proven. Elevating the customer experience to a C level endeavor is a move in the right direction.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Ian and Doug have it right. It’s the CEO’s position to ensure the organization has a unified customer experience, and for him/her to hold the rest of the senior team responsible for executing it. Seems to me if it takes a Customer Experience Officer to make it happen then it’s nothing but lip service.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I think this is a great idea. Earlier this year, Safeway appointed someone to be in charge of customer loyalty. This sort of thing has always been “everyone’s job,” which meant “nobody” took any direct responsibility for it, so it got done half-assedly at best. Customer experience, loyalty and retention is vital to any organization long-term, and focusing on it in an organized way should pay for itself many times over, if it is done right.

Dan Frechtling
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
Two-thirds of consumers use digital means to shop, according to Booz. Half of all shoppers consult their phones while shopping in-store, according to Arc. Julia makes a good point. In a multi-channel world, mobile, web, phone and in-store interact to form the total customer experience. Yet most still operate in silos. The challenge today is to deliver high full service and self-service. While it can be tempting to ride off in all directions, retailers need to get better before they get perfect. It begins in the store, in the full service arena. It’s nice if UX navigation is consistent between the mobile app and the home page, but not if the in-store navigation leaves shoppers flummoxed. Getting the right cross-functional pieces in place isn’t easy. It takes a person, not an initiative. The individual overseeing the customer experience effort needs to master customer insights, business process, interactive channels, and good team coaching. It may take a CXO, CMO, CEO or even a lower level executive with influence and determination. It’s not the title that matters,… Read more »
Dean A. Sleeper
Guest
Dean A. Sleeper
9 years 10 months ago

I have to agree with Messrs. Percy, Stephens & Fleener…every executive needs to drive every team to create and ensure the experience. My sense is that isolating this specific role would lead to a lack of empowerment. Maybe companies who are struggling in this regard need an Experience Coach to give them a boost…but if every chair isn’t worried about this every day on every topic…there is no hope.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

If everyone in the company is supposed to focus on the consumer, it is easy to assume “someone else is doing it.” But who is sitting in the meetings asking how does this affect consumers or how will the consumers react to that? Who is pulling together those insights from every department to get a full picture of the customer experience? Too often these questions do not get answered and the coordination does not happen. A Customer Experience Officer makes sense.

margrette vanderburg
Guest
margrette vanderburg
9 years 10 months ago

This is adding another management position that should be handled within the management area. An area that would bring a better relationship between retail and the consumer is the training of courtesy, sincerity, and tone in conversing with consumers. Eliminating the need for the consumer to be directed to several people needs to be examined. I have been in retail/customer service for 50 years, so my opinion is not coming from that of management but from the opinion of a consumer.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 10 months ago

Selling instead of telling. That’s where a Customer Experience Officer must be an expert (CXO? At least they avoided using CEO). This position will have the mandate and imprimatur of the top officers, but cooperation from peers and downstream operators will often not be forthcoming. This is common: The top brass blesses something, but the worker bees do not exactly jump to support it. Customer Experience Officers can become the typical anachronism, “responsibility without authority.” Training, enforcement, and review will be critical, so CXOs will need some authority along with an engaging inter-company sales pitch to be successful.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The Chief Customer Officer will be successful if he/she actually goes into stores and sees how they’re working. I’m always amazed at the number of retail executives who say they shop in their stores…then correct themselves and admit that their spouses do.

Doug Pruden
Guest
Doug Pruden
9 years 10 months ago

If there is to be a Chief Customer Officer, that individual shouldn’t be responsible for improving the customer experience. That task is too daunting for any one individual or team to be responsible for without the full support and participation of the entire organization. What they should be in charge of: 1) Finding out where the company needs most to allocate its resources to improve the TOTAL customer experience and getting the CEO to support that work. (When we try to “fix everything” as so many companies do we end up not applying enough time and money to any one element to correctly fix anything). 2) Representing the interest of customers when changes to corporate policies and practices are under discussion. 3) Structuring a process that thrusts the voice of the customer before those leading the organizational silos and all senior management.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

OK, how many more times will this topic be addressed? Multiple companies, retail, CPG and other industries have Chief Customer Officers (nice gig, btw). However, this approach seems to dump all of the failings of the other lines of business in the organization onto the poor soul who has to retroactively pick up the pieces. Far too few of these executives proactively see the shortcomings of their companies’ customer experiences because they rarely play the part of the customer. Quite simply, they should do multiple shopping trips either online or in stores to see the real world. Then they need to take decisive actions to remedy shortcomings and create compelling offers for the shoppers.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 10 months ago

I think this is a pretty misguided idea. The customer experience is a core component of a company’s mission and strategy. It must inculcate everything the organization does. To create a staff function with primary responsibility for customer experience is to remove the responsibility for customer experience from line managers who ultimately have P&L responsibility. I agree with those who’ve said that customer experience is something that a CEO has to assume personal responsibility for.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 10 months ago

We’ve come a long way from the 1990s when plenty of merchants waded into e-commerce waters by working hard to keep their store operations separate from their online operations. Sadly, it’s an indictment of the industry that it took this long to get to the CXO point. Regardless, the CXO has arrived, and it’s a position that’s long overdue. Today’s tech-savvy, multichannel consumers shop and interact with brands in multiple ways. Ideally, the CXO will maintain a high-level view of the customer experience and help ensure consistent and quality interactions.

My only note of caution is that retailers don’t create the CXO position and fail to empower that individual with the ability to effectively work with staff across the brand and effectively implement change. As Rick accurately notes, appointing a CXO is just the first step. One of the key steps to follow will be managing some of the egos that may hamstring the CXO’s effective operation.

angiretlwire dixon
Guest
angiretlwire dixon
9 years 10 months ago

“Customer Experience” seems to be this decade’s “Management by Objective.” Whatever business model the current successful retailers (like Apple and Starbucks) use, is considered the correct model. Then Wall Street and investors start bringing the subject up in quarterly conference calls. Hence, the need for a CXO.

In the last several years, the magic solutions have included: “Uniform Customer Experience,” “Localized Assortments,” “Units per Transaction,” “Lowest Price of the Season,” “Raise Average Retail,” “Narrow and Deep,” “Unique Product Mix,” “Improve Customer Service….”

The reality is, there is no one-size-fits-all business model. CEOs just need to figure out their stores’ niche, relative to their competitors (and an adequate amount of sales people on the floor wouldn’t hurt either).

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

It will take years of trial and error to get this concept up to a normal speed. It is something that should have been started years ago. But I guess industries are not ready until they are ready. Sometimes this is too late. The customer experience is the lifeblood of any industry. To not address it as such is insane.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The time is not now to create another step in the management tier of companies for a “customer experience officer.” All officers, management and staff need to be focused on and sensitive to customer service (nee customer experience)every day. Disecting and siloing this “customer service” as a partition to the organization only provides for an excuse for employees to decrease their customer awareness, and hold back on maximizing the utmost care in managing and communicating the customer’s needs to everyone around them, including management, staff and the officers of a company. The better communicated the customer’s needs, the larger the opportunities the company has to respond and fix these. Success has proven time and time again that it is through offering incredible customer service that companies grow and thrive in all environments.

Dan Stanek
Guest
Dan Stanek
9 years 10 months ago

The CXO shouldn’t be necessary, but it really is. It needs to be senior enough to ride above the silos of online, marketing, stores, and supply chain. It should be the CEO or COO, but realistically they do not have the time necessary for CX strategy.

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