Guest post by Bob Thompson, author of Hooked on Customers

I used to think that the chief customer officer (CCO) would be a temporary job. I made this prediction in 2007 at a speaker’s dinner before a conference keynote, then was embarrassed to find myself seated next to—you guessed it—a chief customer officer! Fortunately no food fight ensued, but we did have a spirited debate about why the job was needed and how long it would last.

My argument at that time was a CCO isn’t needed if customer-centricity is a part of how a company does business. You rarely see such a job position at companies leading the pack in customer loyalty surveys. With CEO Jeff Bezos at the helm, Amazon.com doesn’t need a chief customer officer. Cisco doesn’t have one, either. At Zappos, it’s clear that CEO Tony Hsieh is leading their customer-centric culture.

But since then, as I’ve done more research and developed my thinking about the five habits and customer-centric stages, I’ve found that the vast majority of companies could benefit from someone with this role.

According to a 2013 Forrest Research report, one of the key responsibilities of the CCO is “orchestrating” experiences. I agree and like this term a lot. It’s been clear to me for a few years that poorly coordinated multi-channel interactions are a huge source of customer frustration. In 2010 I wrote about the need to “harmonize” the cross-channel experience, and I’ve used the analogy of an orchestra conductor in speeches since then. That “conductor” can be the CCO.

Jeanne Bliss, a former CCO and author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, says the “optimum organization” is a staff organization with a dedicated team, reporting “as high up inside the organization as required, based on the level of change needed.” Even if not reporting directly to the CEO (which I would personally recommend), the CCO should clearly be empowered by the CEO.

As organizations grow and become more specialized and complicated, they tend to have more silos on the inside while offering more customer interaction channels on the outside. The combination can be deadly, because there are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong.

While specialization is needed, so is coordination and cooperation. Bliss says the CCO position is well suited for large, complex organizations that need help with a mission to “pull our organization together and unite efforts to deliver a deliberate customer experience.” That’s what Bliss aptly calls a “human duct tape role” to improve coordination between silos. Metrics are at the source of the problem, because each silo tends to get rewarded for performing its specialty well, even when “success” in one silo causes problems in another.

I believe one answer is to make sure that silos that should be collaborating have shared goals and metrics. You’re not going to get rid of silos. “Busting silos” is not the mission of the CCO, it should be helping silo managers collaborate and serve customers better. This collaboration should start, says Bliss, with annual planning processes, where leaders “start in a united way” to define priorities, responsibilities, and funding.

About Bob
Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of CustomerThink.com, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

For more information visit http://hookedoncustomers.com