It’s also a shift many retailers are making at a time of economic uncertainty and slumping sales, with the crucial holiday selling season about to start. Though they typically lead marketing and branding, chief customer officers also focus on the entire shopper path to purchase, including mapping out how marketing and product play a role in the ultimate decision to buy or not to buy. Experts say such a holistic strategy could strengthen a brand’s relationship with the consumer, leading to more loyalty and repeat sales over time.
“It’s about customer experience and customer journey over customer marketing,” said Robert Ayala, director of contact center consulting at Wunderman Thompson. “I can show an ad to someone that might pique their interest, but what I want to know is what brought them to me, what do they like about the service, why are they coming back and how can I continue to promote that service and behavior to repeat that positive influence on the customer experience?”
From chief marketing officer to chief customer officer
Since 2020, 18 retailers—including CVS, PetSmart, Victoria’s Secret and Nordstrom—have added chief customer officers to their executive leadership teams, and more than half of the group came from marketing backgrounds, according to executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart. Along with Foot Locker, Bath & Body Works also hired a chief customer officer this year, naming Maurice Cooper, most recently Target’s senior VP of marketing for guest and brand experience, to the newly created role. Some of the retailers kept the CMO position even as they added the chief customer officer, such as PetSmart.
“What retailers and brands are getting clued into is they have to organize in a way that allows them to speak to the customer in their language versus whatever is easier functionally because that results in a siloed experience,” said Waldmann.
The chief customer officer’s retail rise is partly born of the pandemic, when changing consumer behavior resulted in more online shopping for everyday items. Now, retailers are seeking a way to meld online and in-person shopping, along with loyalty and membership programs that also touch on the consumer experience. While marketing is a key responsibility of the new position, the new job title does not represent the elimination of the CMO role—rather, its evolution, according to Richard Sanderson, who leads Spencer Stuart’s marketing, sales and communications office practice in North America.
“There’s no consistency around what’s in the role and what it’s responsible for except table stakes aspects around core legacy marketing responsibilities,” Sanderson said. “The mandate is the chief customer officer really has to bring together a variety of customer touching-touching functions in service of building a customer-centric organization.”
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Of course, the chief customer officer title is not entirely new. Walmart installed Janey Whiteside as its first chief customer officer five years ago, recruiting her from American Express. Yet, Whiteside left Walmart last year and has not been replaced. Instead, William White remains as senior VP and chief marketing officer, appointed in 2020.
The marketing industry is also seeing the rise of chief commercial officer, though the latter post is not so exclusively tied to retail. For example, Amtrak recently hired Eliot Hamlisch, former CMO of AMC Entertainment, as chief commercial officer. This week, the National Women’s Soccer League announced the promotion of Julie Haddon to chief marketing and commercial officer from CMO—she’s tasked with scaling revenue along with brand marketing strategies. Generally, the chief commercial posts are different from chief customer roles in that they are sales and revenue-driven versus customer and experience-focused.