For businesses today, the threat of disintermediation has never felt more tangible. The consequences of not meeting customers’ needs can be dire. And so customer-centricity is imperative for achieving long-term growth.
Yet who in the C-suite is responsible for leading the charge? Many would say the chief marketing officer. But as companies across all industries move toward well-intentioned business models that put customers at the heart of everything they do, at the top corporate echelon, the lines of responsibility for advocating on behalf of the customer are blurring.
Worse yet, most companies truly believe that they are “customer-centric,” but in reality they operate in a state of customer-centric fiction. The problem was identified more than 15 years ago in a study by Bain & Company; 80% of companies said they delivered a superior customer experience, yet only 8% of their customers agreed. More recently, in a 2014 CMO Council and SAP survey, 73% of senior marketing executives agreed that customer centricity is critical to the success of the business, but just 14% said that customer centricity is a distinguishing characteristic of their companies. Fewer still (11%) said their customers would concur.
CMOs are visionary leaders who drive marketing and branding strategy. To be effective, they must understand the needs of customers. But to face the customer-centricity gap and truly commit to closing it, the C-suite needs a designated customer champion: the chief customer officer. It’s a fairly new position comprised of many roles, but each works toward one goal: transform the company’s operation, structure, and processes to become not simply customer-centric but genuinely customer-inspired.
Still, many companies don’t know they are in need of a CCO. But there are signs. You just need to know where to look.
1. The customer is confined to a department or function, but exists outside of the culture: Relegating the customer to a specific part of the company--whether it’s marketing, insights, customer experience, or some other department--is never going to cultivate a genuinely customer-centric company culture. As the conduit to customer ideas, feedback, and perspectives, the CCO can broadcast and infuse customer inspiration into every department and at every level. Doing so engenders cohesion, alignment, and confidence, no matter the initiative.
2. Quarterly reports focus solely on financials, not customers: Truthfully, most companies generate reports from the company’s perspective, not the customer’s. A CCO can lead the reporting revolution, getting the company to understand the holistic customer behind the analytics. Remember, customers are people; the CCO is in the best position to evangelize this--and its importance--companywide.
3. Internal politics look like the 2016 presidential race: Silos, egos, competing agendas. Sound familiar? Finding compromise and common ground amid the corporate labyrinth can seem impossible. CCOs can help alleviate the pain. By bringing the ideas and perspectives of the people the company serves into the organization in real and emotionally resonant ways, everyone rallies behind Team Customer. Empathy with customers’ experiences and pain points is the ultimate corporate unifier; it keeps employees honest, focused, and driven to solve the big challenges. And it works to combat the relentless short-term profit drive.
4. Your “innovation” has a poor track record: Think about the innovation process at your company. Is it messy? Does it cause friction? Does it lead to indecisiveness and a fear of failure? If you answered yes to any of these, it’s time to consider a CCO. With the help of customers, CCOs can help guide the innovation process in the right direction, toward what’s best for customers. Collaboration and co-creation often yield surprising results. The most inspiring ideas come from customer perspective and insight.
5. You’re paralyzed by data overload, and no one agrees on what customers want: If you’re swimming in a sea of data and customer analytics, but have no idea what to do with it, you’re not alone. CCOs can help synthesize what it all means for the business and from there use that information to empower employees throughout the organization to internalize the needs of the customer. Physical spaces, video and voicemail testimonials, pictures, and objects that represent the realities of customers’ lives are things that data can never emulate, communicate, or replicate. Using these tools to inspire action on customer instinct--not an abyss of data--builds the customer empathy and intuition necessary to compete in an ever-changing world.
6. There is no representation of the customer in the C-suite, so short-termism rules: This is an obvious one. If there’s no executive representation for the customer at the C-level, then it’s time to get some. CCOs deal with all things customer, and they bring that perspective, knowledge, and expertise to the board room. They are, quite literally, most qualified and best suited to act as the customer’s representative.
7. Your competitors don’t yet have a CCO: The companies that really "get" their customers are setting the standards and are raising customers’ expectations across every interaction and industry. Today, you can’t cut (or even spend) your way to growth. In fact, C Space research shows that customers are the surest course to sustainable business growth. Investing in a customer champion can help build an intuitive understanding of the needs, wants, and lives of customers. It enables companies to design with and for customers, which ultimately becomes a competitive advantage, especially in industries that have traditionally turned a blind eye to the value of customer centricity.