Customer experience, whose business is it?

Who in an organization should own the customer experience? 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, large part of the organization does indeed influence 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.  In typical organization, the roles can be defined as follows.

Organizational roles in customer experience management

  • Top leadership 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.  
  • Sales needs to understand the feedback per customer or customer group and ensure that the action plans are shared with customers.
  • Customer service function must understand the customer feedback, make improvements and communicate the changes done back to the customers when appropriate.
  • 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. The digitalization means that the product development cycles in many industries get shorter. In the school book publishing 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. 
  • Marketing must tailor the customer communications to align with customer segments. In many organizations, marketing has an overall responsibility for the customer experience improvement initiatives and customer insights. Therefore, the marketing needs to ensure that the customer feedback and insights are utilized across the whole organization.
  • Finance should understand and control the financial impact of the customer experience initiatives.
  • HR must ensure that the customer experience metrics are included in the bonus and incentive schemes and develop organizational capabilities accordingly.
  • 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.

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 a common customer experience metric and target for the organization. (See our previous blog post about NPS to read more about this). Give all the teams access to the same insights about what is driving the metric up or down.
  2. 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 to fix issues that go across the silos. The attitude of taking an extra step when needed, instead of just waiting 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 ensure alignment across functions happen.   

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