How to Become the Head of Customer Experience

There has been much talk in recent years about a C-Suite role for head of customer experience, or CCO — Chief Customer Officer. Even B2B brands, which traditionally focuses on sales rather than organic customer growth, are starting to adopt this head of customer experience role in droves.
But how does someone become a head of customer experience? What makes them ideally qualified for the role?

Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 1: They have led a successful operation

Customer Experience is the company’s operational and behavioral delivery of the brand promise. As a result, the most successful and respected CX leaders, have first run a successful operation before assuming the role.   This typically involves leading operational change, nurturing and developing employees, and hitting operational targets and metrics that improve the company. Everything, of course, is through the lens of total customer focus.

Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 2: They build collaborative partnerships

Think of this in terms of Tom Sawyer: you want to get other leaders to ‘paint the fence.’ You are basically the facilitator for uniting the organization to see things differently and act differently to deliver a one-company customer experience.  This means engaging and collaborating with others as opportunities are identified and solutions are developed.  Some CX leaders do this work in a vacuum – reviewing data, identifying problems and then presenting.  This makes this role appear as one of creating solutions and pitching for approval. The role is NOT that. The most successful CX leaders I’ve worked with identify opportunities and build solutions many.  They enable real collaboration to occur. That’s the only path to sustainable organizational, leadership, and cultural change. You need to engage with other leaders and treat them as partners, not people whose approval and advocacy you’re pitching for.

In my book Chief Customer Officer 2.0, I wrote about my experiences with Heather Carroll Cox, who then held the title of Chief Client Experience, Digital and Marketing Officer at Citi. Heather told me in the book that investing in relationships was always her “number-one priority” to make this type of head of customer experience/CCO work successful. “Without it,” she said, “you are a CCO standing on an island by yourself submitting reports and hoping people will pay attention.”

Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 3: They check their ego at the door

I’ve had to help a few CX leaders out of their roles because they showed up too much of the time as making the work about them, and what they’ve accomplished. That looks like a power play, which can threaten other C-Suite leaders; that’s hardly the path to collaboration discussed above. A head of customer experience role, when successful, creates circumstances where other people have the big ideas and present the successes. They create the learning and unite people to come together to see these apparent changes — and then support in the achievement of them. When a CX leader can step out of the spotlight, they actually become more indispensable. But in the traditional world of silo metrics and performance, this can be counter-intuitive to many.

Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 4: They have earned C-Suite authority

The head of customer experience must present as a seasoned, balanced and comprehensive thinker. Leading up to advancing to the role, they must be able to focus on priorities, present succinctly, and wrap in storytelling that resonates with how the C-Suite learns. They must be able to engage with authority, often shedding their silo or personal accountability to express what is needed for the greater good of the company to grow. They must be able to attach the work to the bottom line of business growth. They must show up and present as strategic. They are able to present road maps and show growth. One crucial element of a good head of customer experience is not getting down in the weeds on minute details of every project; leave that to your team. You need to be functioning at the highest level of presentation and context possible, not line-editing e-mail marketing campaigns.

Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 5: They ascend to the role from inside the organization

In my work, and in conversations with other esteemed colleagues working with C-Suite head of customer experience executives, we are all experiencing a common circumstance: there is a good deal of internal promotion for this role. They seek outside help to coach them on the ascension to the role and to help them execute, but it is their core relationships and proven operational context for the business that helps to make them a success. My most successful coaching to head of customer experience or CCO roles is with those who have led successfully, are honored as respected peers, check their egos at the door and lead strategically to drive change.

There is a deliberate path to what the role entails and actions to take, but these are very coachable actions once the other conditions exist.

24 comments to " How to Become the Head of Customer Experience "

  • Eduardo Madero

    I agree Jeanne, but there is one important trait missing. To lead CX in an organization an individual has to be customer centric so he or she can transform the organization in this regard. To me this is the most important trait. A CX leader’s customer centricity can be measured by asking them: “What’s more important, the customer or the CEO?”…Unfortunately most candidates would fail this test. The main reason they fail is because the CEO is the person who needs to be on board with CX, otherwise the firm will struggle to follow through.

  • Jeanne – As always, love your content. Thanks for sharing. And, looking forward to doing our Citrix show together!

  • Jeanne Bliss

    I agree with what you say. The behaviors i outline in the article ARE the behaviors that specifically display customer centricity in leadership. I detailed the behaviors to be explicit. Many say that they want the behavior – few know what that means in terms of actions. I outlined those actions in my article. Thank you so much for your feedback!

  • Don Smith

    Jeanne, I sincerely appreciate your thought leadership and slurp up most all of your wonderful insight. In this post I’m all with you right up until #5 and on that one you lost me. For #5 to be true, the organization must already be at a fairly high level of CX maturity (which we know is actually quite rare in the world today), and if not, the person would most likely have had to emerge from a grassroots customer experience revolution in the organization. My experience is that grassroots initiatives or cultural changes of this sort are so rare that there is scant hope of this person ever emerging. Change of this magnitude most often starts near or at the top and the person to guide this effort is not likely in the organization. I’m not saying it can’t happen, just not highly likely. Another reason it may not be a good idea is the old inside-out argument that sometimes it’s good to bring in someone who has a fresh perspective and can challenge the assumptions that might be holding the organization back. Don’t discount the value of an outsider who sees the world through a different and potentially more accurate (customer side) lense.

  • Hi Don,
    I’m so grateful for your feedback. I should have clarified what I mean by this. What I mean is that we have had some very successful CCO’s come into their role from being a C-Suite leader from another part of the organization. For example, in one company, I coached the President of the North American division of an organization into the Global Chief Customer Officer role. In another, the CMO to the Global CCO role.

    Does this make more sense?


    • Don Smith

      Thanks Jeanne, that does make sense. A C-suite-er who has the passion and persuasion (credibility) to lead the rest of the C-suite on the customer-centric journey is probably the most viable “inside job” I can think of.

      • Jeanne Bliss

        Hi Dan,
        So true….it takes a certain kind of person to check their ego at the door to help others be successful!

  • salman khan upcoming movies

    As always, love your content. Thanks for sharing. And, looking forward for more from you!

  • Jeanne Bliss

    It is my pleasure. So glad this provides value!

  • Nice one, Jeanne! I think #1 also encapsulates solid financial acumen, as well, which is always necessary for quantifying arguments, performance targets and investments. One of the most over-looked values in CX is time and – just my personal opinion – I’ve seen a corollary between financial acumen and those who also measure time value effectively. Nice post!

    • Jeanne Bliss

      Yes I agree Luke on #1. This role requires mature leadership and well rounded in the trenches experience. Those are the folks that I have seen prosper the most in these roles.

  • This was awesome traits that could not found anywhere, Mapping customers journey is what gives you a proper idea about how to approach your customers and how to present your product.

  • Very insightful and information post Jeanne. Always look forward to your articles on CX topics!

  • Andy Sinsel

    Excellent article – and timely for me, as I’m very interested in a role like this (and believe I meet the criteria!)

  • Stephen Proffitt

    Thank you for sharing this information, Jeanne! I wanted your thoughts on an MBA being a prerequisite for this position? Is more authority given to someone with an MBA as it relates to the strategic thinking piece? As a current Director of CX, I’m deciding if it’s time to obtain that next-level degree!!

    • Jeanne Bliss

      Hi Stephen,
      My suggestion is more experience. Move to an operation and take a leadership role, driving CX improvement. Or to a different vertical. These roles gain credibility in my opinion as you mature as a leader and add real world experience to your kit bag.

      Good Luck! Call if you’d like to chat!

  • Emdad Choudhury

    Hi Jeanne

    Loved the article – very well written and great for neutrals to understand.

    I myself have just moved into a H/O CX role so this was pleasing to the eye. I find key to the success of CX within the organization is where someone like myself is very much involved and a key contributor to the journey of the servicing employee and not just the customer. By this I am referring to defining the recruitment strategy and being involved from the off-set when it comes to hiring those who will ultimately deliver on your CX vision. As part of the journey of the employee, the same input in learning and development is also critical to shape and nurture the talent. By following this approach, one can ensure that the seeds of the vision are planted from the offset will become watered regularly and blossom collectively overtime.

    • Jeanne Bliss

      Hi Emdad,
      Thank you so much for this feedback on the employee experience. You are so right. We use this same approach with employees and it works brilliantly. How are you doing in your role? Congrats!

      • Emdad Choudhury

        Hi Jeanne

        Thank you for the reply.

        This is something which I have been building up towards over a number of years, so I am very thankful for the opportunity. I am really enjoying the challenge and the ‘license’ to change! A big part is involving employees at all levels in the different aspects of our CX vision. I will keep you posted but so far so great! :)

  • Danielle F

    Hi Jeanne:

    Your article was very informative. I am looking to transition out of the legal field (after 20 years) into the CX arena and wonder what your thoughts are about transferrable skills and the best way to go about such a transition. Do I require more education or is there some level of the CX field that is best suited for someone at my stage? Your article expresses the importance of experience but not sure if that assumes a certain educational background.

    BTW, I am excited to read your new book “Would You Do That to Your Mother?” :0

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