The Rise (or Return?!) of the Chief Customer Officer

By Philip J.W. Smith

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In the end, it’s all about the customer.

At least it is if you’re the company’s Chief Customer Officer, better known as the CCO.

In an article entitled, The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer, written by April Joyner for the April 2012 edition of Inc. Magazine, the evolution of the CCO’s role since its emergence in the early 1990s is examined.

According to Joyner, originally the role was intended to provide a voice or advocacy for the customer, but recently the role has become more strategic, enveloping all departments within a given company that would provide service or interaction with the customer.

The role, however, is seemingly not for the faint of heart as the average tenure of a CCO is only 26 months according to the Chief Customer Officer Council.

Pausing for a brief reflection on that reality, it all makes sense.

After all, it couldn’t be easy daily walking that fine line between the people that make your company money and the people at your company who pay you money. Must take a special kind of executive indeed to fulfill such a role.

The key to both hiring and retaining this “special kind of executive” is touched on in a post discovered on Forbes.com, also (coincidentally?!) entitled, The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer, written by Paul Hagan - a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Hagan provides the following insights into making the role of the CCO a success for both the executive who accepts the portfolio and the company itself:

  1. Create a strategic mandate to differentiate based on customer experience;
  2. Be honest with yourself about your company’s cultural maturity; and
  3. Ensure the creation of a viable CCO position.

The most thought-provoking quote from Hagan’s post is offered by a CCO from a major software company, saying:

"I worry about this as a role ... it's in vogue and many companies will hire one because they think they need one. In three to five years, I'm afraid we may see lots of flameout because they weren't given the seniority or authority to make a difference."

The concept of investing actual, rather than perceived, authority in the role of the CCO seems to be the common message uniting all of the aforementioned authors and professionals, along with the need to establish ways to quantify the results of the CCO.
It’s good advice that stretches far beyond the immediate topic of conversation concerning the role of the CCO.

Unfortunately, the challenges facing the role of CCO reflect a common mistake made by many companies who often create and fill an executive role too quickly without first having developed the proper job profile as well as having assessed the personality and culture of the existing C-suite executives. 

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