Companies are grappling with a new reality: The world is growing smaller, change is happening faster, and customers -- people -- are at the center of it all.
Enter the chief customer officer (CCO), a relatively new position in the C-suite that, at its best, is intended to be the authority on all things customer, ensuring all company activities, especially product and experience innovation, happen for and with customers.
It's a position that has been on the rise since the early 2000s, when only four Fortune 500 companies had CCOs. As of 2014, nearly a quarter of Fortune 100 companies and 10% of Fortune 500 companies had appointed CCOs, or some version thereof.
While the philosophy behind the role of CCO is well-intentioned, in practice, not all CCOs have been empowered enough to effect meaningful change at their organizations. What's more, there's a lack of clear understanding around the authority and role of the CCO. The result: some become little better than figureheads.
Paying lip service to a role that is, in fact, pivotal to driving sustainable business growth in a tempestuous global economy is no longer viable. Which is why we need to rethink the role -- into five roles that the CCO must play in order to build a genuinely customer-centric organization.
In marketing, no technique is more persuasive than a powerful story. Therefore, to effectively "market" the customer to the organization, the CCO must be a master customer storyteller.
Customer stories and perspectives -- grounded in data -- can help the CCO build broad empathy for customers' lives in order to convey the severity of a customer issue or highlight an opportunity. For greatest effect -- so the stories become "sticky" or go viral within an organization -- the CCO as storyteller must disseminate customer narratives across departments in creative and unexpected ways. Traditional methods won't always get the job done. Videos, immersive and interactive experiences, or even physical objects that people can touch, can be much more engaging, memorable and impactful.
Think for a moment about the current crop of presidential candidates. The one thing they all have in common is that they strive to be persuasive enough to rally massive amounts of citizens, each with different needs and demands, around their platform.
The same can be said of the CCO. To successfully implement their customer-focused agenda, and help grow the business, they have to unite a siloed corporate citizenry around a common purpose: better serving customers.
It's not always easy. Luckily, customers are a CCO's most vocal and powerful lobbyist group. But CCOs need a cabinet of allies -- a group of like-minded colleagues with zeal for the customer platform -- to help strategize, spread the message and rally colleagues around the customer-driven cause. The closer the CCO is to both the customers who have an issue they want resolved and the staff responsible for resolving it, the more powerful the platform to influence customer-inspired organizational change.
Look no further than your emoji keyboard or the iPhone that you're likely reading this on: Digital is changing our behaviors and interactions. As a result, companies are making huge investments in omni-channel experiences that bring digital delight to people's lives and keep brands relevant amid changing customer expectations. "AnyWare" ordering at Domino's, for example, gives customers a range of digital options by which to order a pie: via their smart TV, by talking to their Amazon Echo speaker, or even tweeting or texting a pizza emoji from their phone.
The CCO is more than just the corporate spokesperson and advocate for seamless omni-channel customer experiences, however. They bring the customer voice to any project. By working closely with the digital team and a wide net of other key stakeholders, CCOs can ensure the company is designing, testing, refining, delivering and marketing experiences customers actually want to have.
A CEO is faced with big challenges: competition, talent, technology. Above all, growth is the most important, yet is the most elusive. But it doesn't have to be. Customers themselves are the source of sustainable business growth. And, C Space research corroborates this: The companies that truly "get" their customers outperform their competitors.
Elevating the role of customer to that of business partner inspires new products, new services and new ways of doing business. In a recent PwC survey, 90% of global CEOs said customers have the biggest impact on strategy. A CCO needs to be the CEO's customer consigliere -- the conduit to their input and ideas. Both the CCO and the CEO need to share the vision of where the company is going and leverage customers as partners on the path to growth. It's not surprising that often the next job a CCO accepts is CEO.
Above all, the CCO needs to have customer intuition. Ultimately, it's about always thinking like a customer in order to get the company to rethink the role of the customer.
Customers can be the emotional epicenter of the corporate brain. Through their creativity, ideas and expertise, customers can pioneer a fundamental shift in business that's imperative for long-term growth. CCOs can spearhead the effort. They ensure the customer is designed into the company's structure, processes and culture. And they actively collaborate with customers and other partners to create mutual value in an agile and ongoing way.
CCOs need to know when and how to switch between roles quickly to be most effective. In today's chaotic economy, delivering on the expectations of the organization, and of customers, is the benchmark for CCO success.