Customer Context Matters (or, What To Do Before Hiring a Chief Customer Officer)

There’s been a trend in the past decade to create the new c-level role of Chief Customer Officer (CCO). This is the person within the organization charged with advocating for the customer.

Some say the role is poorly defined, but that’s not an insurmountable problem. As Charles Trevail puts it, the CCO wears five major hats:

  • Storyteller
  • Politician
  • Digital futurist
  • CEO’s chief advisor
  • Customer activist

But Neil Parker is surely right that some companies are hiring CCOs to do the impossible. Or at least they’re being a bit premature:

Before adding a CCO to your team, it is worthwhile to get a holistic view of your business. Are you building a customer-centric organization from the top down? Are you listening to your customers on social media? Are your customer touch points being recorded, measured and improved? Are you measuring the right things to determine how consumers perceive your brand? Do you have a community of customers who will honestly tell you when things aren’t working?

But even so, I’d venture that even Parker isn’t 100% on target here. Notice his verbs: listening, measuring, tell, and so on. Where’s asking?

Context is king

Now, you might think this is just semantics. The ask is implied in these, you might say.

Maybe, maybe not. But asking customers things is important. (One could even say that watching customers is also key here too.)

This asking (and watching) is the most surefire way to provide context and sense checks for the zillions of customer data points that are coming in via marketing automation and other software tools. Asking helps avoid making unwarranted interpretations of data based perhaps on tunnel vision or other biases.

As those who’ve tried to interpret customer data know all too well, data points tend at best to suggest small-scale tweaks to an operation or product — assuming there’s agreement on what the data is saying. Not bad, but not the whole picture. What customer interviews and observation can show is the way forward to much grander enhancements — or to whole new products or services altogether.

Data isn’t self-interpreting

It’s only when you speak with actual customers that you understand the why and get a much richer sense of the how when it comes to their preferences and behavior. Through interviews and observation, customers can reveal — unwittingly perhaps — a much richer backdrop against which to interpret the data points derived from other means.

A famous example is Procter & Gamble’s interviews of Febreeze users. If they’d just studied data in itself, it’s highly unlikely they would have arrived at the insight that customers saw Febreeze as a “reward” for a clean house, rather than a tool to dispense with odors.

Setting up the CCO to succeed

Coming back to the CCO, I for one welcome the addition to the c-suite. But unless Parker’s customer-focused culture is in place, the poor person sitting behind the CCO desk is probably not going to have a very enjoyable experience.

But if the CCO walks into a customer-focused environment that blends the best of quantitative and qualitative customer research methods (and insights), there’s no telling the heights to which he or she can ascend.

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