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.