in praise of the Chief Experience Officer

The Chief Experience Officer is a role that could revolutionize a business. Here’s how.

The C-suite has someone in charge of finance, and another person in charge of IT. A senior executive will often handle marketing, and sometimes even security. Isn’t it time that customer experience got a place on the board?

Every customer has fallen through the cracks at times. Calling a cable service company about your service package, only to speak to someone later and get a different answer, isn’t anyone’s idea of a positive experience.

Compare this scenario with the average customer’s experience at an Apple store, where a highly-trained retail clerk guides them through product issues, and then sends their bill via email after making the sale. These are stores that regularly experience midnight queues for products, because that experience continues seamlessly into the design of the hardware, the software, and the ecosystem that connects them.

creating the customer experience

The Chief Experience Officer (CXO) is the person who can recreate that experience and leave customers saying “I love this company”, instead of “I hate this company”.

The analysis of a customer’s overall experience have evolved over time. They began with discussions of the user interface (UI) to user experience (UX). The latter encompassed a user’s entire experience of a product or service.

Today, the discussion has evolved again, says Rod Hsu. Hsu is president and chief experience officer at nTrust, a Vancouver, Canada-based company offering cloud-based money services. “It’s not just about the product or service that they’re interacting with anymore,” he says. ”It’s above and beyond that. It’s about everything to do with the brand.”

Customers touch a company at many different points, argues Patrick Newbery, chief strategy officer at Method, an agency that designs product and service experiences for large brands. He illustrates this with an example: a retailer that might interact with a customer via a catalogue, an online site, and through physical retail outlets.

“It probably grew each channel through different episodes of investment in technology, and you might have systems that are unique to each channel,” he says. “The customer doesn’t see this as three different channels. They see this as one business relationship.”

So, how do you allow the customer to look at their account history across all channels and retain a sense of control, or to return an item bought via the catalogue to the store? “That’s a non-trivial task for many companies,” he points out.

going to the next level

Experiences like that are mere table stakes for the modern customer experience. Going beyond that is where it gets harder.

He describes that food retailer enabling customers to build online personal profiles via online channels, and creating taste menus where they save and exchange recipes. Going in-store, a sales associate with a tablet could examine a customer’s profile and highlight things that they’re most interested in.

Managing customer experiences to this level becomes harder as the digital landscape becomes more complex, says user experience consultant Lis Hubert, who has consulted and worked as a customer experience manager at startups and larger companies alike.

“The number of touchpoints has increased and their integration has become more complex,” she says, singling out text, phone, and instant messaging as just a few. With web, social media, mobile apps and email fleshing out the mix, maintaining a cohesive experience can be challenging.

It isn’t just different communication channels that a company must unify when managing the customer experience, says Hsu. A chief experience officer must pull together a variety of business functions, ranging from product development, through marketing, HR, customer service, legal/compliance, and of course, IT. All of these functions must contribute to the creation of a stellar customer experience for a company.

Uniting these functions can be difficult to do without a single person, says Hsu. “Even if it is a team there must be a lead or someone who champions that.” If the function is dispersed among different departments, then ownership and accountability will drop off.

If a single person is labelled as the champion for the customer experience, they will often come from a user interface and user experience design background, he says, typically with a healthy technical skill set. Hsu cut his teeth in user interface software development, and Hubert started out as a programmer.

working with the CIO

The CIO has a role to play here, Hubert says. As the gatekeeper to a whole set of digital delivery channels, they can become a valuable ally to a CXO.

“As the CIO you’ll have an understanding of how data and communications are managed within the company,” she says, recalling that on several engagements she met regularly with a company’s IT strategists to understand what they were doing.

“Having a team open that information up and educate any of the people under the CXO - having open communication between the two - is extremely important,” she says.

The CIO will also be able to provide the CXO with a wealth of data that can help inform the customer experience. “The ability to get continuous insight and dovetail that into the development process and continue delivering a better experience is requisite if you have a digital product or service,” says Newbery.

In the old days, this data may have come from customer surveys and historical transaction data. Today, it may come from real-time transaction data and information about web site navigation, or in-store interactions with those tablet-enabled sales clerks.

Don’t expect a downhill ride, concludes Hsu. “It’s been an uphill battle with senior management, who are very more engineering and project management focused,” he says. “For me, it’s a hope that this function is accepted as being part of a process.”

The Chief Experience Officer may not yet be a first class citizen. In most companies, it may not even have been considered as a role. But in sectors where customer acquisition and retention costs can be painful, perhaps it should be.

Find out more about how Orange Business helps customers deliver exceptional customer experience. Check out our infographic on multichannel CRM and read how retailers are taking up the omnichannel challenge