The Customer Competencies Every CMO Needs

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Customer relationship strategies aren't solely the bailiwick of the chief customer officer; CMOs need customer experience skills, too.

Jeanne Bliss has a sharp sense of timing.

Her first book, Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, appeared in 2007—right at the onset of a massive two-year spike in chief customer officer (CCO) hiring activity.

When I first spoke with Bliss, founder and president of CustomerBliss and cofounder of CXPA, in 2011 about the emerging CCO position, she asserted that it had staying power and should play pivotal role in generating value. When CCOs start their jobs, they're often told that “they need to increase Net Promoter scores by X percent or customer satisfaction by Y percent. But their job isn't to increase these scores,” Bliss explained. “Their job is to create the engine of reliable processes and new competencies, such as customer listening, driving a customer experience, and accountability at the KPI level.”

Today CCOs' engines are firing on all cylinders: 22% of Fortune 100 companies have CCOs, and the number of companies with the position grew every year from 2000 through 2014, according to Chief Customer Council research. On cue, Bliss this year published a follow-up book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0: How to Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine. Here's what she has to say about the state of the CCO in 2015, how CMOs can up their customer relationship game, and the two can work in-step:

What are some of the most notable role and responsibility changes for chief customer officers as they've evolved into CCO 2.0s?

The role of the chief customer officer has moved from being the “fix it” person to the person who unites the C-suite to lead the business in a manner that enables the company to earn customer-driven growth. CCOs are partners of C-suite executives. They're not simply doing the work and reporting on it. Instead, they're enabling leaders throughout the company to work together to deliver the one-company experience and the reliability that customers crave.  

You identify five customer leadership competencies; if you were forced to select the three that are most relevant to CMOs, which competencies would you select and why?

Jeanne Bliss: All five of the competencies connect to the CMO role, especially when the CMO is responsible for customer-driven leadership. However if I had to choose, I would say that the first three have a critical need for the CMO's involvement:

Competency 1:  Honor and elevate customers as assets of the business. The CMO is a vital partner in working to identify and change leadership behavior to elevate the customer as an asset, and in uniting data about the customer asset across the company.

Competency 2:  Align around experience. The customer journey becomes the decision-making framework for the organization. It drives behaviors and actions and the operational delivery of the brand. 

Competency 3:  Build a customer listening path. Many CMOs have their company's customer listening competencies within their groups. Expanding this work beyond the marketing function to include multiple sources of listening to tell the story of customers' lives is a key role—and it helps strengthen the partnership between the CMO and CCO. 

What do you see as hallmarks of successful CCO-CMO relationships?

Partnership from the beginning is crucial; this means linking arms in strategy and implementation. CMOs and CCOs cannot display any organizational divide. They shouldn't worry so much about who does what; instead, they should focus on “How do we get this done to transform our company?” 

Organizational silos represent often hinder a company's relationship with its customers. What silo-busting practices do you recommend?

Here are three:

Prove it: For customer-driven work to be transformative and stick within the organizational culture, Bliss explains, it must become more than a customer manifesto. A company's commitment to customer-driven growth is sustained through action and choices. Employees, just like customers, need action-based proof of the customer commitment.

Behave deliberately: The customer commitment must be attached to, and brought to life through, deliberate operational behavior and guidelines, such as: We will go to market only after these 12 customer requirements are met; or every product launch must meet these five conditions – no exceptions. “People inside organizations need to see the commitment translated to actions that they will feel proud to follow and emulate,” Bliss says.

Make it about honor: Customer-driven growth requires a great deal of tactical activities and work. Executing this work can sometimes obscure the big picture and result in silo behaviors. Bliss advises continually and consistently asking: How can we honor our customers? and What should we avoid doing because it dishonors our customers? When CMOs and CCOs ask these questions at each stage of the customer experience, Bliss adds, it gives companies decision-making clarity that helps them see through organizational silos. 

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