CEOs no longer need to be convinced of the importance of developing relationships with profitable customers and keeping them around. What they need now is a way to accomplish this feat. Some are considering the creation of a C-level position to drive the action. However, beyond the notion that it's a good idea, not many know how to structure the Chief Customer Officer role and its place in the organization. Here are some thoughts to help you proceed.
Suggesting a CCO may seem frivolous to leaders who believe they already focus on customers. There's often a proliferation of tactics and projects underway...the problem is they don't amount to anything significant for customers. So first decide: will leaders be okay with someone (other than themselves) driving consensus on customer strategy and deliverables? You may be saying, "We have consensus now." I'm sure that you've had some good meetings, but how much of it stuck? When they were over, did everyone return to their respective corners and business as usual? Getting company alignment is tricky. You may need someone full time to ensure it exists for your direction with customers.
What about sustaining the work? After the first and second meeting of what I call "the funky task force" on the customer work, people start to lose interest. You know these meetings. The kick-off has forty people at the table, some who clamored for an invite. One month later, six regularly show up. And the person who got the job to run the task force layered on top of his/her "regular" job? Well, they're losing interest fast. Driving this work needs hard-wired participation. Do you have headcount and staff time commitments to drive it forward?
Now to the roadmap and action plan: let's discuss the sticky wicket of "how" to move past the hoopla of meetings and empty commitments. Do you have a central roadmap that everyone follows on how you'll drive the customer work and measure progress? I didn't think so. How about consistent metrics everyone agrees to? We have metrics galore in our companies and of course the 'customer' is now on our scorecards. But these are typically neither clear nor connected down to the operational level.
Roles and responsibilities and holding people accountable are a slippery slope in the customer work. This is about the hand-offs between the silos. Most companies need a task list that clearly states what each part of the organization will do and when to get the priorities accomplished. But most don't have one. Do you?
Is funding customer projects like pulling teeth? This may be due to duplicate spending across the organization. Everything is pitched as an individual program from inside the silos. At planning time these investments are often vulnerable in the first round of budget cuts. Why? Because each project shows up as a one-off tactic. There's rarely an annual plan for understanding and managing customers as a key corporate asset – determining how many were lost and why and pooling resources to keep and grow profitable customers. Why? Because it's no one's job to do this job.
And finally, does the hoopla have any chance of sustainability as things stand now? Are leaders committing to customers, but not changing the metrics or the motivation to realign business priorities? Is the back-up position still about counting sales but not counting customers? For what actions are the most "Atta-boys" doled out? The customer work will not emerge as a priority of the organization until people's success and career paths are tied to their accountability for how their actions impact customers. How far along are you with this? Are you heading in the right direction?
Most leaders wouldn't refute that any of these actions are important. They want them to happen. They've always wanted them. Their failure has been in assuming the company could miraculously defy the laws of the silos to make them a reality. Separate motivation, the metrics and the mechanics have stayed firmly rooted in each silo. And they will continue to stay there until someone duct-tapes the silos together in a unified and executable customer plan. Is it time you established a Chief Customer Officer to connect your company for customers? Answer "yes" or "no" to each of the following to help you determine if the time is right, and if you have the support required to make the role a success:
1. There is someone in our company who clarifies what we are to accomplish with customers.
Implementation Tip: Agreements need to be established with functional owners across the organization. The CCO or executive leadership must not do this in a vacuum and then try to "throw the brick over the wall" to those leaders to rubber-stamp.
2. There is a clear process to drive alignment for what will be accomplished.
Implementation Tip: The best CEOs drive people into discussion and probe for agreement or dissent. They make it okay to disagree and debate until there is commitment and alignment.
3. We have a roadmap for the customer work and know where progress will be measured.
Implementation Tip: Establish a team 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.
4. Clear metrics exist for measuring progress which everyone agrees to use.
Implementation Tip: Pick a few key metrics that everyone understands, knows their roles in and can follow. The large score cards we have all created have become almost meaningless because they are filled with so much data.
5. There is real clarity of everyone's roles and responsibilities.
Implementation Tip: This is about the handoffs between the silos. Make sure that there is a task list that clearly states how the organization must come together to get the priorities accomplished.
6. People really participate and care about the customer work.
Implementation Tip: This requires a commitment from each functional leader on the headcount and staff time they will 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.
7. Appropriate resources are allocated to make a real difference to customers.
Implementation Tip: The key here is to have an organized annual planning approach that dedicates time to the customer objectives and customer investment. To achieve success, specific actions with defined parameters of what needs to be accomplished must be identified.
8. There is an understandable process for people to work together.
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.
Implementation Tip:. 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 gat 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.
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. You must make a point of marketing back to both your customers and internally inside the organization.
11. Recognition and reward is wired to motivate customer work.
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.
Jeanne spent 25 years leading customer experience at Lands End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Mazda, and Microsoft. Her bestselling books are "Chief Customer Officer" and I Love You More than My Dog.