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Why the Chief Customer Officer Will Overtake the CMO

By Camille Nicita, Managing Director North America, Gongos, part of InSites Consulting

For years, technology and big data collection have enabled marketers to focus on customer behaviors. When we know exactly where customers navigate, what they open and what they click in a digital marketplace, those become the default metrics to chase. But are they the best ones?

In a landscape where access to user data is everchanging, marketing metrics are becoming more challenging to measure all the time, which will inevitably leave us with a knowledge gap. This presents organizations with a unique opportunity to look beyond the simple ‘what’ customers are doing, to truly understand ‘why’ customers do what they do and furthermore, get strategic about why specific marketing tactics drive certain behaviors.

The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer (COO)

It’s time for marketers to pivot tactics and take control of what success means. Data is important, but it’s imperative to consider what we’re measuring with respect to KPIs. After all, the most critical component of establishing customer longevity is a strong, qualitative understanding of what matters to them. That’s where the Chief Customer Officer comes in.  And in 2021 alone, superpower brands such as McDonald’s, Hostess, and CVS have added the title to their executive roster.

How the CCO puts customer centricity into practice

It’s widely accepted that the customer is central to organizational growth—the question is how we move beyond a theoretical model, and actually establish structured practices for delivering on customer centricity. The best place to start is by making this a dedicated role—one whose critical responsibility, among others, is to create organizational readiness for customer centricity to flourish.

While many organizations acknowledge the existence of a reciprocal relationship between corporations and customers, the mindset is often that “everyone” owns the customer experience. But if something is everyone’s responsibility, it’s no one’s priority. This strategy results in inaction; it’s only through dedicated leadership that organizations can best advocate for the customer.

Defining the CCO’s role

It’s up to the Chief Customer Officer to lead the charge on customer experience, which involves four immediate priorities:

  1. Enabling KPIs through CPIs: Customer Performance Indicators (CPIs) are new metrics that track the goals that customers desire to achieve when they do business with a brand. For example, a goal such as “saves me time” would be something that universally can be achieved across most industries, from retail coffee chains to insurance companies, to the shared economy and ecommerce venues. Not to mention, they focus on if and how brands can help customers better achieve their more human-centered goals as they interact with and use a brand’s product or service.
  2. Navigating cultural shifts: Setting a CCO up for success in a company’s leadership team requires careful navigation of existing relationships and organizational structures. The CCO will connect cross-functional teams, empower frontline employees to interact with customers, and translate the vision of leadership to all, harmonizing decision making with customers at the heart of it.
  3. Balancing the internal and external: Customer-centric initiatives can often stall out because of organizational barriers. The CCO takes stock of internal employee engagement to determine gaps in the employee experience that may affect the ultimate customer experience. At the end of the day, investing in internal systems—like employee engagement—is a clear indicator of success with external customers.
  1. Prioritizing long-term growth: Accurately assessing gains requires both the articulation of the long-term plan and the implementation of short-term metrics to demonstrate wins along the way. An effective CCO is a champion in the face of skepticism, doubt, and short-term thinking from stakeholders. This can take shape in the form of utilizing a robust set of Customer Performance Indicators to gauge company performance with respect to meeting customers’ goals and educating employees to align with and act on that customer-centric vision.

The Characteristics of a Successful CCO

To be an impactful, legacy player, the CCO needs to strategically quantify and communicate the value of customer objectives to both leadership and employees, rallying everyone for the cause. But aside from encouraging customer centricity among their organization, the CCO must foster a customer-centric ecosystem that includes aligning the organization internally to succeed with an authentic customer-centric presence. This will entail a strong partnership with marketing indeed, but other key functional areas will also be prominent – human resources, product innovation, customer experience, as examples, all continue to provide significant input to an ever-growing ecosystem of inputs necessary to guide a truly customer-centric organization. In the end, the CCO will ensure employees aren’t exploiting the customer base for profitability alone, but rather cultivating mutually valuable relationships. In this kind of model, responsibility transforms into true purpose.

The Takeaway

Though the Chief Marketing Officer may never be obsolete, the Chief Customer Officer will only rise in importance as customer experience continues to shape the market. In our changing data environment, the more we’re able to connect with customers on a human level, the more likely we are to establish the critical basis of trust to move toward zero-party data.

Truly understanding customers’ goals and motivations is the only way to answer these questions and create value for both organizations and customers alike. As the master of such an effort, the CCO plays a critical role at the executive table.

As published in Toolbox.

By Camille Nicita, Managing Director North America, Gongos, part of InSites Consulting

We’re facing a crisis of customer centricity. Most companies recognize customers as the necessary focal point of business operations, but the philosophy tends to fall apart in the execution. To bridge the gap, we must first understand how brands interpret customer centricity and its ensuing actions, or lack thereof.

Typically, customer centricity is understood as “the ability of people in an organization to understand customers’ situations, perceptions, and expectations.” But this definition implies that merely meeting customer expectations is enough—and that is simply untrue. The reality is there is a vast chasm between customers’ expectations and their true needs as human beings. And reading between the lines of what our customers are saying, and their human needs will mean the difference between short-term transactions and deep-rooted customer loyalty. But how do we get there?

Bridging the Gap Between Customer Needs and Human Goals

Consider this: two people are shopping for shoes online. The first is looking for sneakers for his daughter that are attractive, durable, and affordable. The second is fresh out of college and looking for her first pair of “real job” shoes—attractive, durable, and affordable.

A traditional definition of customer centricity tells us that any retailer selling these two customers attractive, durable, and affordable shoes will have met their expectations and fulfilled their needs. But this notion only scratches the surface when it comes to addressing the unique needs of these two customers.

The first shopper isn’t just looking for shoes. He is looking to make a smart choice for his daughter, so he can be the best father he can be, making his daughter feel safe, loved, and accepted by her peers. The second shopper isn’t just looking for shoes, either. She wants to make a good impression, to be seen as smart, worldly, and attentive—someone to be taken seriously, even while she’s paying her dues in an entry-level position.

These unspoken desires are different than those you think of as “customer needs” like design, quality, and value. Rather, they create opportunities for brands to go beyond table stakes and help customers achieve their nuanced, human goals. These goals are more enduring than in-the-moment needs; they’re hard-wired into each individual consumer, and, if addressed authentically, allow brands to deliver real value. And in return, customers will feel a deeper sense of loyalty with that brand—a true reciprocal value exchange.

Why Customer Goals Stem from Deeply Held Values

Businesses often focus on “needs” like ease-of-use, convenience, and satisfaction. These are easy to define and measure, but they don’t tell us what really matters to consumers as humans. Narrowing your focus to these surface-level needs without digging deeper prevents brands from uncovering powerful human motivations. And it’s no surprise, focusing on surface-level needs yields a surface-level relationship. It’s one that’s easy to transact against, but it stalls any potential for long-standing trust and loyalty.

To become genuinely customer-centric, organizations must realize the need to understand their customers as humans and help them achieve what they aspire to. This starts with getting curious about customers’ values—the driving force for their goals.

Futurist Andy Hines, who has studied consumer trends through the lens of evolving values, describes values as our “views about what is most important in life that in turn guide decision-making and behavior… the ultimate decision-making criteria.” Our values are deeply-held and remain stable throughout our lives—and though they can change over time, they tend to do so slowly. We pursue the goals that we do in an effort to stay grounded with our fundamental values.

Human values—like making good decisions to protect our loved ones or showing the world that we’re determined to be successful—are more enduring than human needs. The magic happens when organizations invest in products and services that address these human values and facilitate an enduring ecosystem of reciprocal relationships between themselves and their customers as human beings.

You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup—It Starts Internally

By now, we know that understanding our customers as humans is our ticket to achieving customer centricity—but we cannot forget our driving force to get us there—our employees. Consider the Covid-era “Great Resignation;” by the end of 2021, almost four million workers per month were leaving their jobs, a modern record. While many were motivated by higher salaries or career perks, countless others left “soul-crushing work” in pursuit of greater purpose. For them, money wasn’t the issue—it was something much deeper.

The working landscape looks completely different than two years ago, so believing the same retention practices that worked pre-Covid are going to work today will simply lead to lost talent and a whole lot of confusion.

It’s not enough to offer “new and improved” products to consumers, or higher salaries to employees. We have to interact with them in ways that resonate with their values.

Changing Your Approach Can Start Now

The businesses that will move the needle in our new landscape are the ones that focus not only on extracting value from customers (and employees), but on honoring human values—both in the products and services they offer, and in their own culture and purpose. In the spirit of human-to-human marketing, these companies will see their customers as “humans first and customers second.”

In a world forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, people are re-evaluating their relationships—with each other, and with the brands they do business with. Now is the time for organizations to step up to the plate and make a meaningful shift in how they foster those relationships. Because while the nature of human values is such that no brand will ever be able to address them fully—that father purchasing shoes for his daughter won’t stop striving to be a good dad when he finds the right sneakers—showing him that his goals and values are understood will build the basis for lasting brand loyalty.

As published in Forbes.

In a world where customers are increasingly considered stakeholders, cultivating a customer-centric culture is of the essence for any organization. Actualizing this aspiration through the elevation of customer experience was core to the 10-year vision of a newly appointed CEO in 2019.

A renewed focus on the end customer would be imperative for this global B2B2C company, which had traditionally placed emphasis on viewing operations through the lens of distributors. And achieving this mandate would require the rethinking of tools and technology historically envisioned to serve B2B users. This was of paramount importance due to ongoing development of a newly launched e-commerce platform.

Knowing the design of a digital experience that addressed end customers’ needs would depend on a deep understanding of their journey distinct from that of distributors, enterprise marketing and digital teams engaged Gongos in partnership. Together, we created a framework from which our client could map the customer journey to surface expectations and pain points at every step along the path to purchase. This qualitative research methodology applied UX principles, such as the use of “talk out loud” protocols, to the broader customer e-commerce journey and focused on identifying jobs to be done during the online shopping process.

Ultimately, this qualitative research, conducted in six countries, was integrated with a broader customer-centric perspective from parallel competitive benchmarking research and analytics of existing behavioral e-commerce customer data. These unified findings forged a clear roadmap guiding the future development and refinement of the digital e-commerce platform. Examples of the customer needs identified as part of this roadmap include improved search and navigational functions, a more intuitive cart experience, and simplified customer registration, just to name a few.

Based on this body of work, the digital and marketing teams were able to engage in an immersive learning and ideation experience, informing their development of annual operating plans. Research findings were socialized across the organization and continue to guide overall customer experience strategy, which has included further research into the customer journey. What’s more, the customer shopping experience garnered executive cross-functional alignment for implementation as a 2020 strategic investment and operating priority.

All in all, the opportunity to refocus the e-commerce business around B2B and B2C customer needs created a way to further develop digital as a primary channel for customer acquisition and retention, expand business prospects for distributors, and drive sustainability in an increasingly customer-centric culture.

In the decade leading up to 2016, a limited-service pizza brand’s category share had declined nearly 11%. Rather than mirroring its competitors by connecting with digitally savvy cohorts and implementing deals for short-term gains, it sought to differentiate its strategies. In a category prone to brand switching, it recognized that a strong heritage and brand equity are not enough, particularly with increased competition from delivery and meal-kit players such as Grubhub and Blue Apron.

Our client set out to pursue ways to influence its growing dilemma through three key pillars: emotion, experience, and habit. Beyond understanding how to impact this cycle by establishing an enduring connection that would carry over to ordering experiences, we needed to determine how a messaging strategy would influence it. Identifying white-space opportunities to innovate and activate against was also critical to impact ticket size and drive incremental sales.

The program kick-off ensured in-depth understanding of current knowledge while also exploring situational context, barriers to action, ongoing hypotheses, and metrics of success.

Initial conversations with customers via our proprietary platform uncovered their perceptions and stated aspects of the decision-making process. It further set the tone for consideration, emotional triggers, and bio-sensory factors. Linking these broader learnings to in-home observation and discussions revealed the entire customer journey, from order and delivery to consumption. Post-consumption experiences also helped to identify how a new positioning could impact the entire journey, while laying the foundation for enhancements along the way.

The ensuing insights led stakeholders across culinary, brand, marketing, and digital teams to the realization that prior recommendations would not lead to an effective re-positioning, and instead required a fundamental shift in their messaging strategies.

However, given the state of the category and its dynamics and changing landscape, it would be difficult to differentiate on go-to-market strategies alone. Moving forward with our partnership, they wanted to explore culinary offerings and packaging innovation in efforts to extend their core offering beyond pizza.

Based on monitoring trends and the current state of quick-serve restaurants and in-dining experiences, there became a need to focus their innovation on specific product pillars. A prerequisite to exploring and experimenting with white-space opportunities was to instate a purposeful internal process. A design-thinking framework grounded in collaboration, iteration, and education was essential. Likewise, infusing consumer empathy throughout to ensure traction amongst consumers was equally as important.

Across these two initiatives, shared human experiences and a human-centered approach to innovation, ideation, prototyping, and experiential testing by consumers is enabling them to hone their business strategies. Moreover, an agile yet rigorous innovation process that can be replicated across supply chain, operations, culinary, and customer experience teams is helping to ensure that its parent company’s investment in revitalizing the brand will reaccelerate gains.