The Rise of the (B2C) Chief Customer Officer – and How to Excel as One
There’s a gap in the c-suite. It’s the result of technological innovation, changing consumer expectations, and the failure of business-as-usual to produce long-term customer loyalty and growth. Today, most brands have “customer-centricity” woven into their values and business plans, but few have a c-level role dedicated to customers.
At some brands, passionate champions have stepped in to help, and we’ve seen it first hand. We work with CIOs, CFOs, CMOs, Chief Analytics and Chief Data Officers, as well as other leaders like MarTech Managers, Directors of eCommerce, and Data Architects, all of whom are contributing to more customer-centric ways of operating.
Over time, however, many brands are realizing that they need a leader whose sole focus is customers and customer relationships, cutting across channels, departments, cost centers and revenue drivers, to bring a truly customer-centric vision to life. More and more often, these brands brands are hiring Chief Customer Officers.
The Rise of CCOs at Consumer Brands
B2B brands have had CCOs (sometimes referred to as Head of Customer Success) for years. With relatively low customer volumes, they are able to build relationships by attending events, holding in-person meetings and dinners, and calling and emailing their customers directly. While everyone is focused on helping the customer, the Head of Customer Success is the lightning rod that galvanizes the company, sets metrics, and drives for results.
Consumer brands, however, have tens or hundreds of millions of customers. You can’t take each one of them to dinner (no matter how hungry you are)! And yet, the need for Chief Customer Officers at today’s consumer brands has never been greater.
Customers have literally thousands of brands to choose from – all of which are just a few clicks away. This, plus the commodification of so many products, means that the best way to stand out is through customer experiences – seamless and personalized ones. Customer relationships, which are built (or degraded) at every interaction, are splintered across email, site, call center, in-person interactions, social media, chat bots, digital ads, and more.
Brands need an agile leader who can manage all of this. According to wikipedia, a CCO is “the executive responsible in customer-centric companies for the total relationship with an organization’s customers”. For consumer brands, this a person who can lead the company to build relationships with millions of people, across dozens of channels, many of which are always-on and constantly evolving.
3 Keys to Becoming a Successful CCO
With such a new role, there’s no well-worn playbook. That said, we’ve worked with enough brands to see what works and what doesn’t, and in our experience, these are three things to focus on to be successful in this role. None of them are easy (who ever said relationships are easy?), but all of them pay off in long run.
1. Know Your Customers in the Context of your Business
First, a CCO has to know their customers. And the best way to do this is to be a master of your customer data. That’s because it’s all those digital breadcrumbs that your customers are leaving behind that will tell you who they are, what they’re looking for, and what they really want. There’s a whole world of possibility hidden in that data, just waiting to be discovered.
The first step is to connect and unify your data, building a rich and constantly updating view of your customers across all of your data assets. Easier said than done, right? Most consumer brands struggle with siloed and disconnected data, so it’s critical to invest in a solution or platform that works across all your systems, even when data is messy and hard-to-unify. (It just so happens that Amperity’s platform was built to do just this.)
With this complete view in place, you’ll have an accurate understanding of your customers in the context of your business.
Note that it’s important to connect your own first party data before you leverage third party data. This is because third party data isn’t rooted in your business, meaning it’s not based on transactions with your products, engagement on your site, or interactions with your channels. Instead, it’s based on how people are interacting elsewhere. This information can be useful for filling in demographic gaps or for supplementing identity resolution, but only after your own data has been linked.
2. Use Data to Build Relationships
With data connected and actionable, a successful CCO will use it to craft seamless and meaningful experiences for customers. This is one way in which the Chief Customer Officer differs from the CMO, who primarily uses customer data for personalization and targeting in the pursuit of increasing revenue. In contrast, the CCO will often build programs with no immediate ROI other than increasing customer satisfaction.
This is an area where there’s massive opportunity for improvement at most consumer brands.
For example, I just checked into one of my favorite hotels. The hotel chain offers a membership that gives you free WIFI in your room, which I signed up for years ago. Today, when I tried to log in to the WIFI to write this post, I had no idea what my member number was, which is required to log in. I had to dig out my cell phone and search my own email archives to find it. Only then could I access the free WIFI in my room.
Why didn’t the hotel do that for me? Why didn’t they link my membership with my registration for my hotel room, and let me log into the WIFI with just my room number? That would have been a much easier and more satisfying experience – the kind that builds relationships.
The data is all there, it just has to be connected and leveraged. This is an area where a CCO could add tremendous value for customers. If this one experience could be improved, I’d certainly choose that hotel again and again.
3. Be a Lightning Rod for Innovation
The world is in constant flux. Today’s channels and approaches will likely feel antiquated in a few years. The CCO is in a unique position to successfully shape the path ahead.
Who would have predicted that we’d be renting rooms from people we’ve never met or getting on-demand rides from strangers? Then Airbnb and Uber came along and changed the way we travel. Other companies are transforming how we shop online, order food, and hire babysitters. And not all of these innovators are digital-first brands.
What these companies have in common is they are all leveraging new technologies, data, and approaches to drive a more customer-centric vision: making experiences easier, simpler, and more relevant. The CCO, as the leader singularly focused on customers and intimately familiar with their challenges and desires, is the ideal person to galvanize meaningful innovation at the company. Not for innovation’s sake, but out of a deep desire to better serve customers.
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