Does your company need a chief customer officer?

Tags: business management

Maybe you need a C-level executive to push the customer rock up the hill. Maybe you don't. Jeanne Bliss provides an 11-point assessment to help you decide if your company is ready for a CCO.

A question for CEOs and other company/plant leaders: Do customers experience your company the way you want them to? If you're like most of your counterparts, you probably have to answer with a reluctant “no.” Despite our best intentions and our most fervent lip service on the subject, most leaders have a sneaking suspicion that customers aren't shouting our praises from the rooftops. They may even be slipping out the back door. Question is, how far do you want to go to change that depressing reality . . . to really, truly focus on the customer?

Are you ready to appoint a chief customer officer? That's the burning question at the heart of a new book by Jeanne Bliss. “CHIEF CUSTOMER OFFICER: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action” (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint) explores why so many customer efforts crash and burn, helps readers come up with the metrics to drive strategic customer management, and provides an exhaustive review of the CCO role.

“There's a lot of talk going on now about having a 'chief' to own the customer effort," writes Bliss, who has served in such a capacity for five large U.S. market leaders. "Sounds great, right? Well . . . maybe. Don't put your money down until you know what you're buying and how it can fit inside your organization and how hard you have to work to make it a success. This is expensive real estate in terms of commitment and time and people and changing how people work."

In other words, Bliss doesn't hard-sell you on hiring a C-level executive to "duct tape" your disjointed silos together in the pursuit of customers. She simply urges you to think long and hard about the issues surrounding such a decision. That, in and of itself, will get you customer-focused in a way you've never been before.

Here, excerpted from her book, are 11 questions that will help you determine whether or not you're ready for a CCO:

1. There is someone in our company who clarifies what we are to accomplish with customers.
__ YES, there is __ NO, there is not
Implementation tip: These agreements need to be established in partnership with the functional owners across the organization. It is really important to make sure that the CCO or executive leadership does not do this in a vacuum and then try to "throw the brick over the wall" to the leaders to rubber-stamp. That brick will be tossed back so fast you won't know what hit you.

2. There is a clear process to drive alignment for what will be accomplished.
__ YES, there is __ NO, there is not
Implementation tip: "The best leaders I've worked with drive people into discussion by going around the table and asking each to state his or her commitment or dissent," writes Bliss. "These leaders make it OK to disagree if someone is not comfortable with what's being proposed. In fact, they seek it out. Getting dissent out in the open is critical in this work. It is the dissenters who spread more dissent after the meetings that tear the workplace apart."

3. We have a roadmap for the customer work and know where progress will be measured.
__ YES, we do __ NO, we do not
Implementation tip: This needs to be a group effort. Bring together a team of people with at least one person from every operational area. This group needs to get into the ramifications and work involved in getting the priorities done. They must be ensconced enough in the operation to understand the implications and complexities of getting the work done so they can stage it realistically. They may also need some positive prodding to ensure that they don't talk themselves out of every proposed idea.

4. Clear metrics exist for measuring progress that everyone agrees to use.
__ YES, they do __ NO, they do not
Implementation tip: Start with the "Guerrilla Metrics." (NOTE: See Chapter 5 for creating metrics that line up to drive strategic customer management.) Get everyone counting on their toes in the same way. Just getting going with the "guerrillas" is going to take a huge amount of effort. Focus on these and add more when you're ready.

5. There is real clarity of everyone's roles and responsibilities.
__ YES, there is __ NO, there is not
Implementation tip: This is about the handoffs between the silos. Make sure that there is a task list that clearly states which parts of the organization must come together to get the priorities accomplished. Too often, these goals are kept lofty and high, and people aren't made accountable for their completion. Reward individuals only when the group has accomplished the entire task. Be firm about timelines and tasks and responsibilities, and ask the pointed questions in reviews that uncover specifics for how the tasks are being accomplished.

6. People really participate and care about the customer work.
__ YES, they do __ NO, they do not
Implementation tip: You need to get a commitment from each operational area in terms of the amount of headcount time they are going to contribute. Create a formalized team where 25 to 50 percent of people's time from areas throughout the company is dedicated to the customer work. When these company-wide contributors are doing customer work, they have a reporting relationship with the assigned leader for that project. To make participation stick, however, requires the commitment of the senior leadership to whom these people report and to create a partnership with them. Form an alliance with the vice presidents of each operating area and agree to what will be done with them. Let the marching orders to your virtual team come from their direct supervisors. Have the supervisors make it clear that they sanction and praise the new role they are having in the customer work. Finally, make participation in the customer work a privilege.

7. Appropriate resources are allocated to make a real difference to customers.
__ YES, there are __ NO, there are not
Implementation tip: Hand waving without investment won't get you anywhere. The key here is to have an organized annual planning approach that dedicates time to the customer objectives and customer investment. The chief executive needs to be personally involved. To achieve success, specific actions with defined parameters of what needs to be accomplished must be identified. There needs to be oversight on reviewing the annual plans as they come in to make sure that the investments for the customer effort aggregate up to the achievement of complete efforts in resolving customer issues and advancing the delivery of the customer experience. This is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but at least in the first few years of doing this work, this needs to happen. Otherwise you'll continue to have cobbled-together investments that drive partial improvements in each area but don't connect in a real and meaningful way at the customer contact point.

8. There is an understandable process for people to work together.
__ YES, there is __ NO, there is not
Implementation tip: This work is as clear as mud. It starts with a high-level frenzy that in the blink of an eye has people going back to business as usual. The process for how the work will be defined, reviewed, executed, and rewarded has got to be laid out clearly.

9. The work is considered attainable.
__ YES, it is __ NO, it is not
Implementation tip: "There's a term that people used a lot at Microsoft: 'boiling the ocean,'" writes Bliss. "And this is something that can easily happen in this work. Our frenzied enthusiasm gets away from us, and we talk about the end 'nirvana' state rather than the steps to get there. I've been called a lot of things in my career, and 'blue-sky girl' and 'ocean boiler' were definitely in there. What I learned is not to abandon strategy but to dole it out in bite-size pieces. You need to know the end game. But then you need to bridge the gap between strategy and execution so people can work it into budgets, priorities, and planning."

10. A process exists for marketing achievements to customers and internally.
__ YES, it does __ NO, it does not
Implementation tip: When you don't tell people internally what's going on with the customer, it's all white noise to them. No report equals no action. Do some visual things inside your company to catch people's attention. A large corporate client put a ticker tape board in several highly visible places around the company and had the screen rolling with the improvements being made. One was also posted behind the front reception desk so customers and visitors could see it. That brings up another point: when you don't tell your customers what you've done – in a letter signed by the president, for example – you leave it to chance whether customers will notice and appreciate the changes you've made. Some will; some won't. But if you make a point of marketing back, you will get credit for taking action and that counts with customers.

11. Recognition and reward are wired to motivate customer work.
__ YES, they are __ NO, they are not
Implementation tip: The customer work is not going to seem important until people start to be publicly commended and rewarded for it. Make every company gathering an opportunity to call out customer achievements and reward people for them. You may be one of the many companies wanting to tie customer successes to compensation. If this is the case, make the targets be actual operational achievements versus customer feedback or survey results. Attach recognition and performance to process improvements achieved, customer response (by using it), or service performance achievement, such as never being out of stock of critical customer items or on-time airline arrival. Know what customers value most from you, and make the achievement and recognition be tied to the performance of those specific things. You'll get people acting differently because they'll know and understand the targets and what they need to do to achieve them.

Now the question comes back to you. Is anyone doing this stuff? Is anyone even thinking about it? Does anyone have the time to? Don't just ask these questions, stew over them. Debate them with top leadership and the board. And know that, whatever you decide, driving customer profitability isn't going to be a walk in the park.

“Is it realistic in your organization to divide and conquer these tasks?" asks Bliss. "If you can, your organization is well adjusted. Having the operational areas own the responsibility and having them share the administrative parts of this work would be heaven. But I haven't seen many evolved companies that are ready for this. It's the pushing and prodding part of the work that most companies need someone to spearhead. Think hard about your appetite and aptitude for the work. Temper this with the fact that this is at minimum a five-year journey. Pace yourself."

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