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Leadership Lesson: Customer Experience

I remember having a lengthy and engaging conversation over a dinner with a newly hired C-Level exec at a large multi-national corporation that was struggling to differentiate itself at the customer experience front.

The below diagram illustrates an organizational structure that was deployed at that time:

Unsurprisingly, the topic of discussion was customer experience and we spent an entire dinner debating various best practices and innovative strategies to successfully transform an organization into a truly customer centric entity.

The exec in question was fresh and had a lot of great ideas and energy – i was almost certain that he would bring about the desperately needed change for turning his organization around and hence we concluded our discussion with the following principles:

  • develop a shared customer experience vision (lead from the front)
  • setup a formal customer experience function (role, responsibility, customer/segment ownership, empowerment, VOC, communication, people and cultural change)
  • setup a cross functional team (shared targets, KPIs, incentives & multi-channel design, development and an end-to-end customer processes/ competencies)
  • technology is a key enabler however the journey should begin from the customer!

The following few months saw the exec immersing himself in the corporate cultural routines of the organization – and after various deliberations he introduced the following structure:

 The exec titled himself as the Chief Customer Officer – had the key customer facing and communications functions i.e. CS, marketing and sales organizations reporting directly into him and introduced a new Customer Experience organization.

On the paper, the structure looked good and reflected management’s intention to bring about serious change within the company – however, a half year later, the company failed to produce any material change to its customer experience offering and unsurprisingly a year later, the exec had moved on to manage another business unit within that organization.

Where did the exec go wrong?

Here are a number of areas where he could have managed better:

  • he had setup a customer experience function/ organization but he didn’t empower or support the team with formal P&L authority
  • he could have lead from the front and sponsor the customer experience program e.g. smart companies place customer experience agenda at regular board level meetings
  • although, he had the key customer facing functions reporting to him – he had them running in isolation and there was no (formal/informal) cross functional collaboration

Of course, there are other areas where he could have done things differently (e.g. the recruitment of key individuals were based on reshuffle rather than considered talent acquisition and management strategy) – overall, the above areas became source of his demise.

How could the exec have walked the talk?

“An organization’s ability to deliver multi or cross channel experience is as effective as the collaboration among its functional counterparts”

  • The below diagram highlights the key ingredient missing from the exec’s customer experience organizational plan – he had underestimated the need to glue various functional organizations
  • Without an appropriate cross functional collaboration it is difficult for an organization to deliver a truly multi or cross channel customer experience (e.g. a contact centre may win best customer service awards but same may not be said about its IVR or Retail experience)
  • lastly, customer experience leaders should embrace an organizational complexity and be prepared to take the lead as true customer experience transformists!

Has your organization been designed from a customer experience perspective? Who owns customer experience within your organization? How do you encourage cross functional collaboration with your organization? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Source: Zaheer Gilani,


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