Customer experience, whose business is it?

What roles should own the customer experience in an organization? Some people say it is the CEO, some people claim it should be the CMO. Some IT infrastructure led organizations have even given the ownership to the CIO! Some people say it must be the whole organization. And some people argue that if the ownership is shared across the organization, no-one really has the responsibility to make things right.

The truth is, a large part of the organization does indeed influence the customer experience. And therefore, everybody needs to step up and improve things in their own territory. Most of the functions in an organization have something to do in improving the customer experience. 

To understand better how things work in real life, we asked about the customer experience responsibilities from around a hundred Customer Experience Directors and Managers, CMOs and Customer Success Specialists. We specifically asked them to list, which departments are responsible for Customer Experience in their companies in addition to the more usual suspects, i.e. their dedicated Customer Experience/ Success/ Support departments.

You can see the very surprising results below.

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Discover all the results of the survey in the State of Customer Experience in 2018.

As you can see, in most companies marketing takes care of customer experience as a whole. Luckily also the top management and the CEO now understand more often that customer experience is rather a necessity than a cost. However, the back-office functions, like HR or Finance are very seldom involved in CX. 

Although the situation has progressed massively during the last 10 years, the alignment of the CX activities across the whole organization still appears to be a problem.

Organizational roles in customer experience management

Let's go deeper in each of the roles.

Marketing

Marketing, which often substitutes or fulfills the role of Customer Experience management, must tailor customer communications to align with customer segments. In many organizations, marketing has an overall responsibility for the customer experience improvement initiatives and customer insights. Marketing needs to ensure that the customer feedback and insights are utilized across the whole organization, but at the same time its role is not limited to "traditional CX activities".

Marketing is about creating a brand experience. Nowadays, 68% of online buyers will spend considerable time reading content published by a brand they are interested in (source). It makes up almost two-thirds of online consumers and the likeliness goes even higher if the product is a B2B service! Because of that, Customer Experience has been often called the "New Marketing". 

"In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts." - Jeff Bezos, CEO at Amazon

But hold on in there, marketing doesn't (and shouldn't) manage the whole customer journey alone.

Top leadership

Top leadership (C-Suite leaders and senior management) should set and communicate a clear customer-centric vision, set targets and follow them up.

The top management commitment is critical for any cultural change to happen.

81% of companies with above-average CX maturity have a senior executive leading their CX efforts compared with 53 less mature companies without one. State of CX Management by Temkin.

Top management is also the leaders of the company. If top management sees customer experience as a priority, engage and show an example, in most cases, the whole company takes customer experience as a priority as well. 

Sales

The role of Sales, just as the role of Marketing, is enormous in building customer experience, especially the initial impression of the brand. Sales need to understand the feedback per customer or customer group and ensure that the action plans are shared with customers.

One simple reason why your sales department should be more than ever excited about building fantastic customer experiences is the fact that customer experience doesn't start when a prospect becomes a paying customer. Customer experience covers all the interactions a company had with a person, before, during and after that person pays for the service. And usually, the personal interactions start exactly with sales.

CEO

CEO, that leads customer-centric transformation, ensures a much faster output than if the change was happening from within the company. Usually, it's very simple: if CEO takes customer experience as a priority (and constantly advocates), the whole company follows. If customer experience is not a priority for the CEO... You guessed it, it's not a priority for most of the organization.

That is why Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, works the customer support phones every holiday season, and why at every branch of Umpqua Bank, the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Bank", there’s a hotline phone, right in the middle of the lobby, that allows customers to call the Umpqua CEO. There's a fantastic number of inspirational examples of how CEOs are showing the whole company that customers are truly the heart of the business.

However, working on front-line is never enough and behind every successful customer-centric company, there's a well-thought process (find out how you can improve customer experience in your company). Customer-experience leaders gain rapid insights to build customer loyalty and make employees happier armed with advanced analytics. It's possible to achieve revenue gains of 5 to 10 percent, and reduce costs by 15 to 25 percent already within two or three years. (source) No wonder, customer experience is the engine of growth in 2018.

If you're a CEO of a company, you might think "Yes! I'm already leading customer experience transformation!" Beware, whilst 72% of CEOs consider themselves in charge of leading customer experience transformation initiatives, only 27% of their colleagues believe this is the case (source). Talk to your team to make sure you're on the same page.

Product development

Product development needs to design and redesign experiences utilizing the feedback. Depending on the industry this can mean anything from taking the feedback into account when designing a new hardware product to fixing issues in the software immediately after they have been noticed.

Although, this might sound time- and resource-consuming, it doesn't have to be. For example, Leadfeeder, an online platform for lead generation, involves customers in every product decision. "Customers are highly involved in testing of the new features. For example, we have our own user group on Facebook, where we launch new features first and ask if some of the customers want to volunteer to test the features and give us feedback, - shares Jesse Pärnänen, Director of Business Development at Leadfeeder, - This helps us to stay connected and engage with our customer base."

The digitalization also means that the product development cycles in many more traditional industries get shorter. For instance, if you publish school literature, you can no longer wait for three years before implementing the planned changes in the new version of the book. The digital editions and support materials can and should be improved immediately when the need arises. 

IT

IT typically runs or enables running the data gathering and analytics process. They also support integrations e.g. enabling feedback to flow back to CRM system or help Customer Support department in fixing the issues in real-time.

Business Development

Although, the daily life of business development might differ depending on a company, generally, business development focuses on growing the organization by creating business relationships, entering new markets or market segments. That makes business development's essential role to improve the life of their customer through business innovations.

Surprisingly, only 29% of companies involve business development department into customer experience activities (for some reason, more companies involve the IT department into CX transformation rather than business development). 

Finance

You might ask "How could a finance department influence customer experience?"

Remember when you received a wrong invoice from your phone company? Remember when you received an invoice that was hardly understandable? Were you a happy customer at that exact moment? Turns out, the job of finances is no longer hidden from consumers.

You might argue that your company has no possible way of making an invoice mistake. That's fair. Finance should also understand and control the financial impact of the customer experience initiatives. The huge amount of CX professionals have stated a lack of resources one of the main challenges in the upcoming year.  

Note, it's not a secret anymore that bad customer experience costs a company much more than customer experience management.

HR

The role of Human Resources in building customer experience and customer-centricity is mostly underestimated. HR must ensure not only that the customer experience metrics are included in the bonus and incentive schemes and develop organizational capabilities accordingly, but also help to shape the culture of the company by hiring the right people with customer-centric mindset.

"If you could do only one thing to improve customer-centric culture, it would be who are you hiring, who are you bringing in to the company. That’s going to have the longest effect on the culture," - Dennis Snow, Customer Service Keynote Speaker and Author

Human resources should more than anyone else understand that happier people do better work. How to make your employees happy is a question for another day, but here's an inspiring story of Kayako, a company that provides help desk software.

Kayako found a fantastic way to motivate employees to deliver better customer service, cooperate and engage with other employees.  "We share positive customer feedback on a 'customer love wall' near our breakout areas - every day there's a new card that people see and talk about over lunch, - shares James Doman-Pipe, Product Marketing Manager at Kayako, - Sharing customer feedback improves empathy for customers and motivates our team. It reignites their belief in the 'mission' and refreshes their understanding of how well the company is doing in the eyes of the customer".

Customer service/support

Although customer service was not mentioned earlier, its role is essential for customer experience management. Its function must understand the customer feedback, make improvements and communicate the changes done back to the customers when appropriate.

"If you got feedback from a customer and you go work with them to improve what that they didn’t like, that’s it. You’ve just improved the experience of that one customer," - Michael Redbord, General Manager at Hubspot

More and more companies are adopting so-called "wide support days". For example, in Buffer, a SaaS platform for social media, once a quarter each teammate not on the support team gets paired with a support teammate and does support for a day.

"While doing support, you actually get to experience your customers, in the wild, interacting with your product or service. You get a sense for their workflows, for their habits, and most importantly: where you fall short," - shares Mel Choyce in "Why every new employee should do customer support" (highly recommended to read!)

At the same time, although customer service can achieve fantastic results alone, you can't rely solely on it. Your customer service includes the front-line employees that answer your calls and emails, but customer experience management as a whole is about building a business that your customers will love.

What if customers have issues which are not a responsibility of a single organizational function?

When everyone knows their role, you’ll normally see things improving gradually. The most difficult cases, however, are the ones that fall between the cracks: the ones where customer service team blames the product team for the product being bad while the product team believes that the marketing function has made false promises to the customer. But the angry customer doesn’t care who made the mistake. She just wants her issues sorted out.

If the organizational silos prevent customer experience improvements, the company has a problem. The solution is straightforward on paper but requires hard work within the organization. The key steps include:

1. Set up a target.

Set common customer experience metrics and targets for the organization. (Want to know more about the Net Promoter Score?) Give all the teams access to the same insights about what is driving the metric up or down.

2. Build a shared understanding. 

Help all teams to understand the key customer journeys and how their work contributes to the customer experience along the journey. When there is a shared understanding of the customer journey, people typically manage to widen their perspective outside of their own silo.

3. Empower people.

Empower your employees to fix issues that go across the silos. The attitude of taking an extra step when needed, instead of just waiting for someone else to fix the problem, is contagious: when employees see other people doing it, they get encouraged to try out as well.

In the end, the whole company needs to acknowledge that the customer experience is everyone’s business. Sales, marketing, product development, customer service – none of them can fix things alone. The front-line people have a direct impact, but the other parts of the organization have important roles as well. If things go really badly, none of the function leaders alone have the power to solve the situation. The CEO must, therefore, be fully committed to ensuring alignment across functions happen.   

So, whose business is it? It is everyone’s business. And the CEO should own it.