Having held the role of Chief Customer Officer, reporting to the Presidents of Lands’ End, Mazda, Coldwell Banker, Allstate and Microsoft Corporations, I wrote Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action as the book I wish I had on my desk back in 1983 when I began my journey as a Customer Zealot.
Since 2006 when that book launched, I have had the privilege of coaching many Chief Customer Officer and Chief Experience Officers into their positions. In the past four years, we have made great strides together, working from and improving upon the tools first laid out in this book written as a guide for those of us who take up leadership roles within our organization to drive and create “customer focus.” Here’s a sampling of the CCO Pioneers we’ve worked with – helping them push the customer rock “up the hill” inside their organizations. I salute and thank each one of you!
In addition to coaching Customer Execs, I have led many “Chief Customer Officer Boot Camp” sessions around the world, where I added new tools and workshops that can be taken back to participants’ organizations to drive the action ahead.
When I coach clients we celebrate the successes and commiserate when we hit a wall. As you know, sometimes doing this customer work feels like you’re the only one in the room. Sure, you’ve been given the job…but is the commitment there that you need to move the work forward? And, are you building and strengthening the competencies that you need to be successful in this type of a position?
The best “Chief Customer Officer” and “Chief Experience Officer” is a strong leader inside the organization who is respected for running a good, clean operation, and who has a strong network of relationships across the organization. Naturally collaborative, they are good at bringing people together toward a common goal. But this job is not like the others where our score card is clear, we are in charge of our deliverables and have a budget connected to our actions. So as your virtual coach, the first thing I’ll provide you with are the core aptitudes that both you and your team should have to thrive, survive, and drive this work ahead. And I will ask you the probing questions, and provide you with the questions to ask inside your organization to test the commitment and if you are making progress. And of course, there will be tools and actions that you can go implement right away.
Session 1: Customer Experience Leadership Aptitudes
The chief customer officer or chief experience officer (CCO or CXO) has to be a pied piper, strategist, and illusionist. The CCO must be able to paint the future with customers, lead people to it, be realistic about what can be accomplished, and then actually get something done.
In the early days of my career as a customer zealot, what I had mostly going for me was a lot of vim and vinegar (and, sigh, youth!). I got so whipped up about doing things it seemed that people came to my meetings just to watch the show. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the way to be successful with this work was to let others steal the show.
There was a particular person at Lands’ End whom I needed with almost every project to make it a reality. He was the vice President of operations. He was a seasoned operations guy and had brought huge success to the company through automating the warehouse functions and driving efficiency into the business. We came up with some pretty crazy ideas for the marketplace back then, and almost every one of them played havoc with his world.
For example, the packaging for outgoing shipments was all over the board. We proposed new boxes and inserts into shipments targeted by customer, which increased packing time. That played with production rates for pieces packed per hour. We also wanted to offer a guarantee to customers who ordered by a certain date that their orders would get there by Christmas. That played with his sensibility for overpromising during the height of the season. The fact that we offered to give customers the order free if it didn’t get there in time really drove him a little nutty. We saw lots of spreadsheets on the potential loss we’d experience on that one (by the way, there were hardly any). When we pitched the idea that high end products should be packed in boxes instead of plastic bags, I thought smoke might come out of his ears.
After doing what came naturally for me initially (the vim and vinegar bit), I learned this work wasn’t about me – it was about having people want to paint the fence – by making them successful.
Instead of pushing a list of warehouse-oriented customer problems in front of Phil, we discussed the customer objective and opportunities together and then with his leaders. These guys became more creative than any other operations folks I’d ever seen. Big burly guys were coming up with ideas for wrapping blouses in tissue. When the ideas were put together and finally pitched to the president, they were the ones doing the talking. It was their show. And that paid off. By the time the next year rolled around and I suggested that we begin offering gift wrapping, they still looked at me like I was nuts, but it didn’t faze them. Even the bit about having to take the items out of the automated system, have people remove items from the plastic, and wrap them in tissue and place them in a box with a bow didn’t make them flinch. Not even the notion that we had to rig up a shipping box that wouldn’t crush the bow got in their way. They had become believers and partners in the mission. And they were convinced of its importance to our president. They had tasted the glory of the pitch and the bravos that followed. It had become apparent that this focus was here to stay, and they wanted to remain a part of it. That gift boxing service became the first of its kind in the catalogue business. I’m proud to say that we made it up in a cornfield in the middle of Wisconsin—my warehouse buddies and me.
Working this way requires thinking differently about how you are rewarded and recognized. And it requires the ability to bring people on to your team who are okay and comfortable with the “behind the scenes” reward that comes from helping others be successful. This work is about establishing clarity about how to get the work done, it’s about uniting the silos and it’s about, at the end of the day, getting the work so ingrained in your business operation that you don’t “own” it. And that is much different than the score card you have today. So let’s begin with what success will look like when you’ve been successful at this job.
Your End Game:
Move your company from delivering its organization chart to customers – to delivering an experience customers want to repeat and tell others about. And a big part of that is being what I call “human duct tape.” Bringing folks together who don’t normally work together, creating clarity out of the complexity that surrounds who does what on projects for “customers” and most importantly, breaking the work down into manageable chunks so that it doesn’t get abandoned. And that means moving your company from delivering the “defaulted” experience that results from each silo doing their own planning, prioritization, projects to uniting the organization to deliver a reliable and then ultimately differentiated and desired experience.
Your Customer Leadership Aptitudes©
(Earning the Right to Lead the Work)
Here are the ten aptitudes and competencies that we have seen in the people who are the most successful with this mission. As I list each one, evaluate if for yourself and your team, if this is a strength or a weakness today.
1. REVENUE = ATTENTION
A Customer Leader has got to be able to make and prove this case to gain executive and board support. Customer Leaders must attach this work to the profitability of the business.
2. MAKE THEM LISTEN
A Customer Leader translates the customer information into compelling, disruptive and engaging nuggets of information. They make people WANT to have more…to crave knowing more.
3.“Customer Math” …GUERILLA METRICS
A Customer Leader gets the customer on the agenda of every key meeting. Customers are discussed as humans, as people we either kept or drove away. Customer Leaders make it painful to ignore the fact that our actions every day either grow or shrink the customer base.
4. P E R S I S T !
How do you do with resistance? Do you thrive on it or just survive? We need to be comfortable persisting, even when we’re turned down.
5. ACTION, NOT SLOGANS & BANNERS
The company will need to see substantive change to believe that the commitment is true and real and understand what it means in terms of things they should do. The Customer Leader’s job is to keep it real. There have likely been efforts that have come before this most recent proclamation to the customer. The corporate memory keepers have little patience for empty commitment to the customer.
6. SURVIVAL OF THE CHAMELEON
Customer Leaders should understand the functions of the organization. Most importantly, Customer Leaders need to know the players and what their hot buttons are. Use this knowledge to thrive as a chameleon, modifying approaches as necessary to connect with each part of the organization.
7. KEEP THE TROOPS POSITIVE
Customer Leaders recognize that their team members need ongoing recognition and encouragement. This type of work requires team members to “check their ego at the door” – as the work is about enabling the operating areas toward their success. Large scale change can feel slow-going. The astute customer leader knows to create milestones and recognize them with their team.
8. MARKET BACK (market “hope”)
In a Customer Leadership job, you must understand what customers and the company needs, deliver it to them, and remind them that you gave it to them. Marketing back helps customers believe that the company is listening and acting on their words. It jolts the naysayer out of thinking things can’t or won’t get done. It’s absolutely essential to getting the future momentum you need by feeding the organization hope one morsel at a time.
9. CREATE URGENCY
Customer Leaders clarify for the organization exactly which issues and experiences are keeping or repelling customers. They simplify the work, and with that simplicity, make it easier and more compelling for people to want to take action!
10. Secret Weapon: GIVE THE POWER AWAY
Astute Customer Leaders understand that this unique power they possess cannot be abused; in fact, it must be given away. With strong advocate partnerships, one of the greatest tools a Customer Leader has to continue motivating participation is having people present their own actions, and putting them front and center to take the credit.
A Tool For You: Aptitude Poker
If you lead a team, nurturing and developing these aptitudes with them is a very important part of your role – to make sure their spirits are up, and they believe they are making a difference.Click here to view a PDF of the“deck” of ten cards. Each one represents a customer leadership aptitude. With my compliments, feel free to print these and use them in a meeting with your team.
- Pass out the cards.
- Have a discussion on how you and they are currently living each aptitude…
- And the opportunities that living this aptitude represents for your success.
- Plan actions that will strengthen each aptitude for the team.