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Customer experience 101 – return of the prodigal Chief Experience Officer (CXO)

Aveejeet Palit
13th Sep 2018
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In the early 90s, not many organizations would have thought about using the internet to do business, but one man made it possible by quitting his job on Wall Street to start an online bookstore. Two decades later, people know it as the retail giant Amazon. When Jeffrey Bezos first opened shop, many would have jeered at the idea of the internet as a marketplace; now the e-commerce site is the largest internet retailer in the world! The success of Amazon has left the world dumbstruck about the secret behind it. Was it simply the fact that Bezos saw an opportunity that others didn’t or just a plain case of lucky stars?

Was it, perhaps, the mere fact that the purpose behind the entire business was to provide top-class customer experience?

Whatever may be the actual driver for Amazon’s success, the fact is that many companies have failed in trying to replicate it. A recent report by Gartner reveals that 89 percent of companies are now expecting to compete on customer experience. This, no doubt, echoes the fairly loud noise created a while back by a lot of organizations jumping on the digital bandwagon, claiming to have understood the mantra of ‘customer is king’. With more than a decade passing by, however, very few have actually found the right recipe for success.

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So the burning question is – what needs to change in a company to make it exceptional? To rise above competition would be every business’s goal, but finding that ladder to climb has proved to be a challenge. With digital not only being the new way of doing business but also the new world that is fading out dichotomous boundaries, companies are rushing towards digital transformation while increasing budgets for digital marketing, increasing online brand presence, and trying to boost customer acquisition through online platforms. Even though companies have now realized the need for customer experience to be a key differentiator, it still often isn’t the driving force behind the business strategy.

In the recent past, organizations have undergone several cosmetic changes in their organizational structure to accommodate customer experience. Direct responsibility for customer experience has been given to the likes of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO), the Chief Customer Officer (CCO), or more recently, the Chief Experience Officer (CXO), designated to lead the entire customer experience efforts for a business.

Experience is an aggregation of all functions in an organization. If a segregated department owned by a separate individual takes up this mammoth task, there eventually will be a lot of stepping on toes of the other functions due to the overlaps in responsibility.

How, then, does a business function accurately to evolve into the digital world by placing the consumer at the very centre? No cultural or structural change could be the answer. Only the top leadership, specifically the CEO, can command that level of authority and change the basic thought at the very core of the business. The success of Amazon can advocate this fact. Bezos’s vision of placing the customer first has clearly been the trump card to success and Amazon rising above myriad retail enterprises.

This, by no means, is a trivial task, as most leaders, although great in their own fields and industries, have failed to evolve along with the evolution of the nature of business in the digital times. Back in 2007, a piece in the Harvard Business Review stated that there is a lack of clear understanding among top executives of the very term ‘customer experience’. Most traditional leaders rising from engineering or manufacturing backgrounds clearly only regard experience to be the responsibility of sales, marketing, or customer service.

To bring about a shift in the mindset of the entire enterprise to prioritize not the product but the way it is consumed by customers, a clear objective needs to be set by the CEO. Only then can all separate entities fall in place and ultimately deliver the same experience across channels. If the CEO or top leader delegates the responsibility to a segregated department, the chances of the strategy failing to gain traction for the overall business is very likely. The departmental silos need to be broken down to pave the way for a business to thrive in the new world.

Now the argument arising here is that it’s all very easy to merely identify whose responsibility it is to call out the need for change, but the execution by the CEO to bring about that change is a Herculean task. A CEO, in all probability, would only understand the core business that the company has been running for years – he/she may not be up-to-speed with the evolving digital times. What is really in need here is for the CEO to recognize and eventually create an office of experience whose sole task would be to educate and coach the leader about evolving consumer behaviour in the evolving digital world.

While the responsibility and the accountability would still be with the CEO, the experience office, acting as the voice in the CEO’s head, would channelize the best consumer-centric strategies for the business. The wind is, clearly, blowing in a new direction, and for businesses to be part of that change, leaders should own the evolution process, ensuring the entire organization falls in line to manufacture a singular product – customer experience.

Aveejeet Palit is Chief Strategy Officer at Moonraft Innovations Lab, a UST Global-acquired CEM firm.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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