In a perfect world, every company would have a Chief Experience Officer. A CXO is chiefly accountable for the experience customers have interacting with a company. This should be obvious. In order to own customer experience, this person needs to own the customer. More on this in a moment.
The CXO has ultimate responsibility for customer engagement across all channels, whether marketing, sales, service, online, offline, retail, distributors, and everything in between. The CXO works to ensure the company is viewed as an entity having a single voice. But there’s more than this. The CXO is the consummate customer advocate—Voice of the Customer incarnate. This is the one person in the company who puts the customer first. And don’t worry about your company. Plenty of people will step up and defend the company and its bottom line. I guarantee it. Sadly, to this day, it still amazes me how some people treat their customers. They would protest the loudest if they were treated similarly, yet they find it comfortable having a customer wait on hold for an extended period or having to click some inordinate amount of times to find a phone number to connect to a human. I’d be willing to bet that each of you listening have had such an experience and wonder, first, why is this company still in business, and, two, why am I still doing business with it. Of course, the answer is the same: It’s because you choose to continue to tolerate subpar treatment. I’ve got a story of my own, but I’ll share it at the end of the segment. Let’s continue.
At some level, the CXO determines how different offerings and brand experiences are expected to be perceived. In a holding company situation that sees the experience of the children to be above that of the parent each brand might have it’s own CXO-equivalent, but if there is customer interaction among the brands, this needs to be orchestrated, rather than being managed accidentally. Oftentimes, a company might have a different brand presence in different regions. Perhaps it’s an up-market brand in one region but a down-market brand in another. Someone needs to understand what that means for the respective customer experiences and if and how these experiences should be allowed to diverge.
As we know, this is not a perfect world, and although some companies do have CXO’s, most don’t. So what should they do? I was probably being dramatically hyperbolic with my CXO claim. It’s not the title that’s necessary, but what’s needed is the functional role. Someone needs to have ultimate ownership of the customer. Getting away from titles for a moment, this role can be managed by an executive in marketing, sales, service, or an experience function.
The type of customer relationship a company has, may help to determine who should own the customer. In a manufacturing organisation, it might be the senior most sales executive; in a retail organisation, perhaps it’s a Chief Customer Officer; in a CPG organisation, perhaps it’s a Chief Marketing Officer. But irrespective of who serves this role, you want one and only one person to have ultimate ownership of the customer.
This means that if it’s decided that a CMO owns the customer, s/he owns the experience on the sales and service side of the house as well. No matter what channel the customer engages your organisation, it feels like the same organisation with the same level of service. This is the promise of an omnichannel experience.
Buzzword Alert! Buzzword Alert! Buzzword Alert!
Omnichannel is a silly term that hasn’t quite fallen out of favour for its over-promise. I prefer the term, orchestrated multichannel, as it’s more reflective of the experience. You can’t really deliver on the omni part of the promise, but you can live up to the multi part.
The CXO role also needs to ensure that the transition among channels is seamless as well. If a customer engages through marketing or a digital commerce channel and picks up in sales or pre sales, the experience needs to flow. The customer needs to be shielded from any siloes your organisation has constructed or otherwise manifests. And if the customer starts their journey on a mobile device and migrates to a laptop, any clickstream information should carry over from one device to another. And if the customer happens to end up in your retail outlet, don’t make them jump through hoops to continue their experience. As I discuss in another segment, the goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, any friction between the customer, then receiving their desired products or services. And, of course, converting the order to cash. The CXO will coordinate with the other channel points and brand team to ensure continuity.
Two side comments. First. I’ve encountered several companies, especially those who operate through intermediaries, and particularly in the business-to-business space, who attempt to claim that their distributors are their customers, and their end-users are their distributors’ customers. This is not the right answer. Yes, these are also your distributors’ customers, but this doesn’t make them not yours. And, yes, the distributor is your customer too. It’s OK to segment your customers. Even to treat them differently depending on context, but they are all your customers. I am well-aware that many distributors have a fear of being disintermediated, and I understand that companies are afraid of weakening their distributor relationships. There are ways to obviate these challenges by reorganising the value proposition, but that’s beyond the scope of this segment.
After the channel friction problem, we have uneven or asymmetrical experiences. I’ll relate an experience I had. To make it even more humorous, this experience is of an employee of the company itself.
This woman had purchased an item in the store. And the item was not in store inventory, so it had to be ordered. The reason I found out about the experience is that I was having dinner with a group of people at the client’s location, and she said she had to leave early to pick up the item, which had been shipped to the store and was now available. Curious, I asked why she didn’t just have it delivered to her home. Or even to her office. Nope. This was not an option for an order submitted through the store’s POS. system, which did not tie into the ecommerce system. If she had ordered it herself online, she would have had the option of having it delivered to the store or to another address. But since she ordered it through the store, this was not an available option.
Oh, did I mentioned that she was a manager on the omnichannel team and didn’t even find this to be problematic until I mentioned it. Yeah. That happened. This is a fractured experience. Perhaps it’s just that I am more sensitive to the experiential disconnect. Now, I’m sounding like a self-help guru.
Now for the story I mentioned at the top of the segment. I had just started working with a client, whose service I was discontinuing in favour of a competitor. The services were comparable, but the price differential was such that I was switching service providers. I am a digitally inclined individual, so I search the company’s website for how to stop service. I was directed to call a telephone number. This could not be done online. In my profession, I knew this was not a technological limitation. Rather, it was a tactic to attempt to limit churn. To talk me the customer into remaining a customer. A secondary tactic is to limit the number of service representatives in order to benefit by frustrating the customer trying to quit service thereby gaining at least another billing cycle. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Back to the story. I called the number provided. I listened to all options because the choices may have changed. From what or when, I don’t know. But it was very important for them to impart this information to me up front. I pressed 4 for service and 9 to disconnect. I was treated with hold music and announcements. What was that last one. Did I know that I could save time by finding the information I needed on the website. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Really? Except I was in their retention queue. The IVR knew which queue I was in. I had pressed 9.
I though to myself. What if I had called first and heeded the advice of this voice prompt. It was bad enough just hearing them provide me with a non-option. But I can imagine how upset I’d have been if after holding for 10 minutes or more, I’d have ended the call to search for this information online only to be redirected to the phone. Because this company wanted to give me the rigmarole. I held fast and eventually was able to cancel. and I lived to tell the tale.
A final note before I end this segment. The response to the question I’ve asked many clients, ‘Who owns the customer?’, is often, ‘I don’t know’, or equally as disconcerting, ‘several areas own the customer’. This is the wrong answer. Your customer is not a time-share, a partnership, or a cooperative. Unless you happen to be a customer cooperative. You need a single owner. One person to say, ‘this is how the customer should experience us’. Delegate after this until the cows come home.