There’s a certain rhythm to how we talk about the corporate world. Whenever fresh thinking and innovation leads to the creation of a new c-level position, we hear the inevitable bets about whether these new roles are here to stay. We saw it with the Chief Growth Officer, then the Chief Digital Officer, and now the Chief Experience Officer (CXO). In fact, some CXOs themselves are getting in on the fun — arguing in a recent WSJ piece that they are looking to make their own position redundant by ensuring customer obsession is so widespread that all other officers in the C-suite absorb the CXO brief into their own.
Such predictions should be handled with care, however. Sure, it makes for a fun speculative exercise (and it’s commendable that some members of my CXO community are setting it as an ambition), but it’s a bit too early to put a “best by” date on the role.
While a great CXO will always be a great campaigner, providing a voice for the customer among peers in their business, it’s misleading to think that their work can really be considered “done” to the point where they are no longer needed. In fact, Gartner found that nearly 90% of organizations now have a Chief Experience Officer or Chief Customer Officer. Not a week goes by without more businesses joining the pack, with Volkswagen naming its first-ever CXO recently. The rise of the CXO in so many businesses is a testament to the necessity of the role when it comes to grappling with the modern economy. Customer obsession is the common thread that connects business success stories of the present and future, from Peloton to HelloFresh via Uber. These are all examples of what we at Accenture define as a Business of Experience (BX). To really meet people’s contemporary needs and expectations — and drive growth and relevance as a result — companies need to be prepared to boldly reinvent core experiences.
One of the most important things a business can understand about both its customers and their expectations is this: they change.
There are warning signs that businesses can be watching out for. Things like declining customer engagement, feedback turning negative and churn going up. Often, a company’s response to this will be to plow funds into marketing — ensuring more customers come in and endure the same sub-optimal or out-of-date experiences that were driving the previous ones away. Experience-oriented companies are aware of this trap and have leaders — often a CXO — dedicated to snuffing it out.
So rather than conceiving an endpoint, it’s worth considering how the position of CXO might evolve into the near future to deal with the urgent tasks coming over the horizon.
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A High Value
Firstly, it’s important to be clear about why a CXO’s work is so valuable in the first place. Distilled in a sentence, their role is to ensure that the customer’s voice is represented with a seat at the top table in a business. Successful BX companies are customer-obsessed, and so that voice is an extremely important — perhaps the most important — guiding star for their strategies.
Leading businesses are incorporating customer experience into their services in a number of diverse and winning ways. L’Oréal, for example, launched a 24/7 Hair Color Platform in response to a 40% increase in hair color inquiries to their consumer care center during the pandemic. In the Netherlands, the online supermarket Picnic is balancing its purpose of offering the most affordable prices for its customers with an increased demand for sustainability. The company now uses only electric cars to ship its orders, while also delivering to an entire neighborhood at once rather than single households. These are examples of experience reimagination based on a fundamental understanding of a company’s customers.
For a CXO to truly make their mark, however, advocating for the customer by itself is not enough. One of the most striking things I’ve found from working with various global businesses is how few leaders actually buy their own stuff — or even that of their competitors. Being your own customer is an integral part of understanding (and subsequently reimagining) the experience you provide. This is where a CXO is truly essential, driving the company-wide cultural shift by which businesses develop a fundamental understanding of who they are and what they provide. In other words, they turn their customer advocacy into a meaningful reimagination of core experiences. This is the platform on which experience reimagination — the most sure-fire strategy for growth — is built.
Building that platform is a modern business necessity. And a CXO is the most reliable builder you can find.
Jobs for Life?
Reimagining experiences is no simple task. It will require rewiring an organization’s systems and processes with the CXO orchestrating actions across different departments to achieve that.
What are the core tenets of this role?
• Customer advocate: A CXO can reimagine customer engagement by ensuring best-in-class marketing, sales and service journeys. This can be achieved through a deep, cultivated understanding of a business’s customers, with offerings and services built to match.
• Visionary change agent: Playing a leading part in integrating a brand’s purpose, the CXO must always challenge the status quo and champion investment in bold ideas.
• Relentless standard-setter: Customer obsession must be exactly that — an obsession. Businesses can’t risk relegating it to the last item on an agenda, or something that decision makers talk about only when there’s “enough time.”
• Cross-department collaborator: The CXO is able to reimagine the organization by pushing for employee empowerment, leveraging applied intelligence and machine learning, and seamlessly connecting every physical and digital experience.
Will every company need to employ a CXO? Possibly not. But what is undeniable is that every business must find a way of fulfilling a CXO’s responsibilities, by whatever title they feel appropriate. So, yes, talk of CXO roles disappearing is much exaggerated. So rather than the endless speculation, let’s get down to work.
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This article was originally published by Forbes on August 23, 2021.