Do We Need A Chief Customer Officer?

The sign that customer revolution is officially here, some have recently suggested, is the rise of the Chief Customer Officer. The unabated fragmentation of media has swung the pendulum of control over to the consumer, who now has the option of consuming media anywhere, anytime (increasingly on demand) and on any screen. Thus, it is increasingly difficult for all brands from P&G and GM all the way down to new brands to be heard and engaged with. Combined with the growing expectation among those customers that they should be addressed in near-1:1 relationships, it seems logical that organizations may just need a dedicated C-level executive whose mandate is to drive customer focus across the enterprise. According to the Chief Customer Officer Council, 10% of Fortune 500 companies have one today (as do 22% of the Fortune 100). 

However, industry skepticism remains, especially in verticals like Retail and CPG where adoption of CCOs is lower. The most common detraction is the blurring of lines with the role of another rising-star executive: the Chief Marketing Officer. The CMO was once just a consumer of CRM data infrastructure, but in the digital age the expectations of CMOs have shifted. Gartner reports that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs, as marketing organizations equip themselves to link customer data across channels. With new responsibilities thrust upon them, the CMO wields greater influence to drive organizational change (towards customers). Yet two key challenges threaten the ability of the CMO to maintain customer focus.



Even though the CCO role has been debated as far back as 2009, one thing is certain: technology has become a catalyst of its rise—especially the industry-wide embrace of programmatic media buying methods in the last 12 months. Ongoing pressure to shave media costs means technology adoption offers marketers both time savings through automation as well as the promise of a competitive edge. It is easy to see how the media-buying arms of marketing departments might struggle to be customer-centric, thereby ultimately diluting all the efficiency and effectiveness of Programmatic if the customer is not the primary objective. 

Furthermore, the capacity to measure accurately and dynamically has also increased emphasis on metrics-driven results. Performance defined by concrete KPIs must be balanced with less measurable impacts on privacy, brand affinity, and customer experience. The imbalance here is arguably best illustrated by the success of retargeting in the last 18 months. While everyone loves how customers can now be served impressions at unprecedented levels, the flaws in the method have resulted in multitudes of consumers being annoyed and “stalked” by ads, as anyone shopping online during the winter holidays will have experienced. 

The most lasting way to keep the customer king at brand marketer companies is build this mentality into the organization. Slogans or well-designed company visions will not endure; an institutional champion is needed. If the CMO will struggle for focus for the reasons elaborated previously, the other C-level roles have even less resource to execute. From this void, comes the CCO. This person’s sole function might ideally be free of mixed agendas. He or she would be the cross-functional champion and voice of the consumer within the organization. This executive would be tasked with stewardship of the CRM system, the call center, social media systems, and data science teams to draw clarity to the varieties of data. Most importantly, the CCO would become empowered and responsible for fleshing out metrics to enable the rest of the business to measure its customer centric efforts. Examples might include:

  • Call center / complaint response
  • Number of repetitive customer information collection points
  • Frequency capping measurement across channels
  • Ratio of new/existing customers touched by remarketing
  • Customer journey mapping
  • Ratio of users who opt-out of tracking
  • % of customers who are really trackable

Organizations who resist the CCO position may do so because it is still hard to clearly delineate from the CMO. Hopefully, they also recognize that a CCO is not the Band-Aid for organizational change. A business looking for a CCO to solve its lack of customer thinking needs to be self-aware enough to realize it might be overlooking more fundamental issues — or at least to be prepared to equip the CCO with the resources and authority to remedy those issues. In essence, the CCO should be looked at as the quality control advocate for fostering one-to-one relationships with customers in this newly dubbed era of “personal marketing.”

Regardless of whether organizations decide to pursue a new board structure, find another internal champion, or simply look to better metrics, they must realize that success for their brands relies on ensuring their organizations are set up where customer interaction is still fundamentally important. At the very least, if they don’t opt for the human investment, they should implement systems that constantly monitor the customer experience.

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