SA C-suites welcome chief customer officer to the club
by Julia Ahlfeldt (@JuliaAhlfeldt) Before we consumers had so much choice, it was easier for a business to be centred on its own commercial agenda vs that of the consumer. A flourishing digital economy has changed all that, and today’s products and services need to be geared to the end-user’s needs, rather than those of the provider.
Rapid uptick in CCO recruitment
To some, customer-centricity may sound soft but it’s proven to bring in the bacon: McKinsey reports that revenues may rise by 15% on the back of increased customer focus, a figure that should catch any CFO’s attention. This is also why a new executive role is being introduced to the C-Suite: the CCO, or chief customer officer.
In the UK, talent business Talecco reports that 90 roles existed for CCOs in 2017. This is a whopping 640% growth from 2014, when there were just nine! The US has also embraced this new executive role: in 2014, 10% of Fortune500 companies welcomed a CCO and this figure was as high as 22% among Fortune100 firms. Its rapid adoption suggests that the original C-suite needs a fresh perspective on all aspects of the business — one that looks at service, product, IT and marketing through the customer lens.
Slower at home
While businesses in developed nations have been quicker to adopt the customer mandate than those locally — due in part to our slower adoption of and access to the internet — there are green shoots of change: mobile network operator, Cell C, was one of the first South African businesses to onboard a CCO. Michelle Beetar took up this pioneering post in 2016.
With a background in HR, sales and marketingm and general management as the MD of Experian South Africa, Beetar is leading the local CCO charge by inculcating customer-centricity into the business, from the top down. She works directly with the CEO to drive home what customer experience differentiation means to everyone’s role in the company, including those that are typically a few steps removed from the till point. The outcome? Since her role’s inception, Cell C’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) has steadily risen, thanks to an improved focus on customer loyalty and satisfaction.
The customer always has a choice
Businesses and brands are increasingly competing in a global marketplace where accounting or web development services may be procured abroad, sometimes more cost-effectively than in South Africa, or where retail products may be ordered online from the UK as quickly as they may be purchased in Cape Town. Coupled with the accessibility of information to research and review before buying, customers aren’t limited in their purchasing choices and may easily switch brands if they find a better deal or experience elsewhere.
This is a game-changer for the business world. The tried-and-tested model is being usurped by the customer as king, and it will affect operations, production, processes, recruitment and positioning. In fact, while the CCO may be new to the C-suite, his or her role may soon set the strategic course for the CMO, COO, CFO and even CEO. The introduction of this role also sends a clear internal message that leadership is committed to putting the customer first.
Proving their worth
A CCO’s role is unlikely to be an easy one, however. It will require a tenacity to unify its C-suite peers in striving towards common customer-centric goals. It will require data, and lots of it, with specific focus on the bottom-line. CCOs will need to bridge the void between traditional department silos without stepping on too many toes. Expert diplomacy and consensus building will be needed to ensure that action is taken and followed through on, once customer strategies are decided. And there’s likely to be little empathy for a new title that can’t demonstrate its worth.
At a pivotal time when the customer conversation is being brought into the boardroom, the CCO has a fine balancing act to manage: keep the customers and C-suite happy. They need each other, and it’s the CCO’s challenge to make this new relationship work — for the sustainability and relevance of the company’s sake.
Julia Ahlfeldt (@JuliaAhlfeldt) is a certified customer experience professional (CCXP). She consults to blue-chips and multinationals, working with Virgin Active, Momentum, Absa, and American Express, Ross Stores and JP Morgan Chase in the US, among others. By tapping into her vast local and international network, she produces a monthly podcast, Decoding the Customer, interviewing leaders on CX trends and adoption (including Michelle Beetar).
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