Tish Whitcraft is what we call a serial Chief Customer Officer, or CCO. She has held a version of this role in over four technology driven and internet companies, including Yahoo, MySpace, and OpenX.
In our conversation, Tish walks us through her expanded version of the CCO Role. In her mind (“in her humble opinion”), it’s a mix of the newly-established CCO role and the long-tenured COO, or Chief Operating Officer, role.
Tish Whitcraft plays a leading role in delivering on OpenX’s constant commitment to maximizing publisher revenue and to providing positive experiences for every partner. She leads OpenX’s operations and partner experience.
Tish has more than 20 years of experience building and leading innovative, customer-driven ecosystems. Before OpenX, she was Chief Customer Officer at Tagged, a social discovery network with 300 million members, for which she ran all product, revenue, and business operations. Prior to Tagged, she was Senior Vice President, customer experience and operations, at MySpace/Fox Interactive Media, where she had full responsibility for the global user experience across all products, leading a team that supported more than 250 million users. Previously, she was Vice President, customer care and operations, at Yahoo!, where she led all global customer operations for that company’s 850 million user base in 48 markets and 68 product categories.
How do you decide to take a CCO role?
Tish has some good context here, and I felt like this part would be the most valuable to potential listeners. Some people who listen to the podcast may be on the rise in customer experience departments and want to know: “Hey, should I take this big slot? Should I be the man or woman here?”
Tish breaks it down like this:
- The current executive team: How do they view the customer? Is it real and operations-driven, or is it still rooted in fluffy talk?
- The product strategy: Is there one? What exactly is it?
- The definition of quality: Look, all business cultures need to be somewhat critical of new ideas and concepts. If everything submitted is instantly approved, what’s the point of management at all? But you need to understand how people define quality. If it’s all metrics, that raises one set of pros and one potential set of cons. If it’s all intangible, ditto.
- Customer view and journey being infused into business decisions: This usually ultimately lies with the CEO. If you don’t think the CEO can do this, it’s not a great job to take. (Honestly. And I’ve worked with clients who have said the same thing.)
- Homework: Research the company through LinkedIn discussions, talking to people you know, etc, etc. Can this company really be successful with a customer-driven growth engine, or is that way too far from how they’ve developed to ever work out?
Why would you leave a CCO role?
Most of my conversation with Tish was about taking and leaving roles, which I felt was valuable. The “Gold Watch Era” — where someone stays in a job for 40 years and retires there — is mostly dead. We all leave jobs — even the good, high-paying ones. So, why would you leave a CCO gig? Here were her arguments:
- Issues with the executive team: If there’s no longer alignment with strategy, the role isn’t for you.
- No belief in product: … time to start using your network.
- Leadership shifts: Often, leadership shifts/adjustments impede the ability of a CCO to do their work. A CCO is normally a newer role at most companies. If you have an old-school CEO come on who believes in CFO/COO/CMO/etc., well, that might be hard. You can redefine your position for him/her but sometimes it’s better to start fresh elsewhere.
Pithy CCO observations
I love all the guests on my podcast equally, but Tish was unique in the fact that she’s very “serial” in these roles. Listen to the whole interview. You’ll laugh, hopefully not cry, and generally receive a host of intel about being a CCO and navigating between different companies.
My Pay-It Forward Question
I love to help the next generation. When I say “pay-it forward question,” I mean this: “What do you know now that you wish you knew then?” (“Then” is “when you started in customer experience.”) Tish is very direct, and here’s what she told me (it’s near the end of the clip embedded above):
- Negotiation: Look, I don’t want to be crass here … but many of us live in a capitalism, and we do want higher salaries. This is a very true context most of the time. Your greatest negotiating stance is during the hiring process. People somewhat know you and view you as a potential “savior” of their CX efforts. Once you’re internal, there’s work to be done and usually a process for year-over-year increases. At the hiring stage, there’s a lot more flexibility to negotiate and determine salary. Understand and embrace that.
- Ask for what you need: You cannot do this work without the resources to effectively do this work. That goes for any job, but especially CCO roles — which, again, tend to be newer. If you need access to certain data sets that you don’t “own,” ask for them. Demand them after a while. This is important. For you to be a successful CCO or customer-first executor, you need resource access. Get it.
We’ll be back Thursday with a new post and next week with a new podcast. Enjoy!