On Thursday, 24th November, we invited a high-profile group of recently appointed Chief Customer Officers from some of the UK’s best-known retailers, banks and start-ups to discuss their Chief Customer Officer remits, what they find exciting and challenging and to share experiences among peers. The following is a snapshot of the key take-aways from the morning.
How well understood is the title and job description of “Chief Customer Officer”?
“The expectation of the role and reality are two very different things. When I was being interviewed for the role, 10% of what I was being assessed for was based on my hard skills and ability to do the job. The other 90% was focussed on my ability to influence others in getting them to understand the role and the importance of it within the business… and then their confidence in my being able to drive the centrally overseen customer attention in everything we do.”
“My CEO’s vision is that everybody within the business has responsibility for the customer meaning there is no need for a Chief Customer Officer. I get what’s meant here but don’t totally agree. I do think there needs to be someone at the top and on the Board to take ownership and drive the customer agenda”.
If you had the choice, what other functions beyond marketing and digital experiences would you like to own and do you feel would help you be truly effective?
“Parts of IT. I would love to be able to make some things happen within my own team and influence quicker. Sometimes it can take weeks to achieve a very small thing as the task has to be passed through so many different people and functions, particularly IT. Bertrand Bodson (Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at Sainsbury’s-Argos) seems to have a really amazing platform to leverage as he has IT reporting into him… that’s the dream!”
Would it make sense to have a highly experienced digital/customer champion or perhaps a digitally native millennial in the form of an NED to support your central customer agenda?
“At my company we have a ‘Junior Board’ made of up employees across the functions and all are under the age of 30 and seen as real up-and-comers. They meet every month and there are many clear benefits to this for the Board and the wider business, but one of the downsides of many of them being young is they’re sometimes afraid of upsetting the decision makers at the top and tarnishing their careers.”
“One of the biggest challenges I face as a CCO is that me and my team do some great research and come up with some amazing ideas and strategies with a clear vision. We take these to the Finance Director who often reject it due to the level of investment needed to innovate. Too often, cost tends to come before customer experience. I would love to have more influence on the finance department and be able to get them on board with the CCO vision and the direction of travel most of us need to take, namely that of a brand that sells great product.”
What functional background should a CCO come from?
“It’s about the individual and how they can influence others as true strategic customer champions. Most of us come from Marketing and Digital Product backgrounds and are now Chief Customer Officers because we are naturally always championing the customer. This is not always easy but it’s a clear trait and so probably rather self-selective”
It was also recognised in this discussion that as headhunters appointing Chief Customer Officers, the focus is less likely to be on past key deliverables that an individual has attained, as so much is nuanced here. It’s actually about the individual’s character, approach and ability to both influence and drive change that in turn can be recognised for keeping the business relevant in the increasingly channel-agnostic and digital world.
When you look back at the last 12 months in role, what can you take pride and accountability for?
“For me, my greatest achievement is when I get people to agree on the same vision and then they go off, achieve change together and come back to you and say “look what we’ve done and how great it worked”. As the CCO I can then go to the Board and say “Look what I managed to get people to do. I feel I am only successful if the business puts the customer first in everything they do, and that this is intrinsic in every conversation. The last thing I want is for me and my team to feel like we’re a command centre. We should be a redundant function at some stage as innovation and customer thinking should be inherent in most functions.”
Where do you see the CCO role going in the next 3-5 years? Where do you think it could take you?
“A General Manager role. The CCO works across every function in influencing everyone to believe in the same vision. It’s given me the skills needed to go to the top where I could become an MD in a bigger business or a CEO in a smaller one.”
“No idea, but it could well be a job title and role that is extinct within 5-10 years just as many Chief Digital Officer briefs are likely to be too. Both remits are about owning the transformation agenda for business in the digital area but if we do our jobs right, the whole business will be inherently digital, innovative and relevant to our customers now and in the future”
Do you think the Chief Customer role is a natural consideration for a succession plan to your CEO?
Almost unanimously, this was felt highly unlikely. While it was felt that previous experience of store management will be less important for future Retail CEOs, it was agreed that for a digitally-focussed Chief Customer Officer to become a CEO, they will likely need to have experience of managing a P&L.