CEOs and boards of directors often feel daunted when it comes time to hire a chief customer officer. The two main reasons: There is a lack of a standard definition of the roles and responsibilities of the CCO, and key characteristics of successful CCOs are still emerging.The CCO is the company's change agent and spends most of his or her efforts "selling" customer centricity. The ability to influence both internal and external stakeholders is the single most important characteristic of the CCO. The CCO must be able to convince others that changes being proposed will positively affect the success of the company. Here are three other areas to consider:
Skills: Above all else, the CCO must have leadership skills, including the ability to influence others. With limited resources and some skepticism it's critical that the CCO be action-oriented, as well as have analytic skills to evaluate data, make conclusions, and turn them into programs. Negotiating agreement on initiatives requires good listening skills; solutions must be collaboratively developed in order to ensure buy-in across the organization. The CCO's advocacy for the consumer must be unwavering. Putting the customer front and center while balancing fiscal responsibility will keep CCOs focused on their mission.
Experience: When asked what experience a CCO should possess, one of the most successful CCOs stated that her broad understanding of business, especially operations, is her greatest asset. It gives her credibility and the ability to identify opportunities for customer improvements. Organizations often promote the "head of customer service" into the CCO role, and while that individual may know customer service inside out, service is only a small part of creating a customer-centric organization.
Personality and "fit": A critical criteria for CCOs is personality and how it fits within the culture or the desired culture of the organization. At the executive level of the corporation, CCOs must be able to leave their egos at the door. Collaboration with colleagues and department heads and the ability to influence them will be critical to success. Strong-arming or using positional or borrowed authority will marginalize even the best-formed programs. This collaborative approach must be balanced with the ability to project a strong presence and authority. The reality is that until the CCO is able to "demonstrate value" there are skeptics who will constantly challenge the role of CCO. A CCO must be thick skinned, able to de-personalize the skepticism, and defend a position that may not be popular or may have negative short-term financial implications. For example, if a product release is known to have significant flaws, the CCO must be willing to delay the release even though it may result in a negative cash flow.
CEOs and boards of directors must carefully consider the characteristics of the successful CCO when determining who the right person is to appoint to such a vital position. Not doing so diminishes the potential for hiring the right person--an increases the potential for turnover in a position that's already precarious. Ensuring the long-term success of the CCO starts by hiring someone with the qualities necessary to achieve that success.
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About the Author: Curtis Bingham is executive director of the Chief Customer Officer Council