In my previous article I looked at the rise of the Chief Digital Officer.

However, in that piece I suggested that the “transformer CDO” is very similar to the Chief Customer Officer, the latter also seeing a dramatic rise in popularity in the last two years.

Most of the data on CCOs is US-centric but we are seeing the trend in the UK and around the world.

Last year the CCO Council’s annual Chief Customer Officer study showed continued growth in the number of CCOs at major corporations with 10% of Fortune 500 companies having already adopted the role, a percentage that jumps to 22% among the Fortune 100.

Seventy-seven per cent of brands answering a Gartner survey last year on marketing budgets say they now have a CCO or equivalent.

The impetus behind the rise of the CCO role is businesses trying to become ‘customer-centric’ and structure themselves around the customer.

While this might seem obvious to many there was some interesting research published in August this year in the Harvard Business Review suggesting customer-centric org charts aren’t right for every company – in particular where there is high competitive intensity or low industry profitability.

So perhaps not everyone can afford to be too customer-centric?

As with the CDOs I decided to go and talk to a number of CCOs to get their perspective on the role, its remit, and its future.

The picture I got back was remarkably consistent. My main takeaways from those conversations are as follows:

  • All the CCOs I spoke to were appointed with a strategic agenda around driving growth and integrating channels and functions to become more customer-centric as businesses.
  • All have significant teams and P&L responsibility.
  • It varies a little by industry sector but the CCOs came from multichannel roles, with experience of both traditional and digital, mostly marketing or operational backgrounds. But none lacked serious digital credentials. In recent discussions with private equity it is clear they are seeking to appoint CEOs who have strong digital experience.
  • None of organisations with CCOs I spoke to also have a CMO, or a CDO. The CCOs all agreed that their remit included what a CDO would do and all had marketing reporting in to them, usually via “Heads of...” various marketing functions. 
  • The CCOs have significant, if not complete, control of technology, data, digital, insight and innovation. In some cases customer service and, depending on company size, all the physical (store, branch, call centre etc) operations too.
  • The biggest challenges cited were how to prioritise and achieve the organisational culture change towards customer-centricity.
  • And a CCOs next job? CEO. That was unanimous.

Having looked at these various new roles (there is also Chief Marketing Technologist of course...) being created as businesses go through digital transformation there is perhaps a pattern emerging that shows the level of maturity along the journey with the following five stages:

  1. Digital Team: digital is separate, the most senior person is at least one step removed from the board.
  2. Digital Figurehead: a board-level appointment, quite possibly a Chief Digital Officer, to show the level of strategic intent.
  3. Digital Leader: a transforming CDO, or similar, who drives real change in digital capabilities, process and culture across the business.
  4. Business Transformation: championed by the CEO and the board but likely spearheaded by a Chief Customer Officer, transforming not just ‘digital’ but all aspects of the business.
  5. Back to the Future: senior job titles with ‘digital’ or ‘customer’ in them are no longer needed. Business as unusual.

In the end great CEOs are really also CCOs. For now it might be necessary to have job titles with ‘customer’ in them to show the intent and focus but my guess is they will fade away having peaked in the coming years.

Ashley Friedlein

Published 12 October, 2015 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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