So…Who Actually “Owns” the Digital Experience?

In today’s cross-channel universe, does any one person — or one department — “own” the customer experience?

On the surface it seems like a simple question: Who “owns” an organization’s digital experiences?

In the past, the answer was clear-cut. If it were a digital experience, the digital (web) team or the information technology (IT) team owned it. If the experience related to how customers experienced the brand, marketing was the owner.

But that was then and this is now. Now, digital experiences are at the center of a company’s growth, evolution, and success. Now, many more people in a company want — and need — a seat at the ownership table.

The experience trickle down

“I think the pendulum has definitely swung back and forth over the last 10 or 15 years when it comes to digital experiences and ownership,” says Ryan Alderman, principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP. “It started with IT because digital was primarily viewed as technology.”

While things have changed, there’s still no “right” answer, he says. While digital teams may physically connect the dots to ensure an experience gets delivered, marketers likely “own” the content and creative output that’s being pushed to the customer. Overseeing it all is often a “C-suite” layer — the executives who ensure experiences delivered are in sync with the overarching brand experience, aligned to the corporate strategy.

“I think marketing has to define the voice,” says Teresa Barreira, chief marketing officer at Publicis.Sapient. “That’s the way we’re doing it. Marketing defines what the voice of the brand is and what we want the brand to communicate. Then we need to make sure that experience translates internally and externally, which is where IT comes in.”

In keeping with this broader notion of ownership, new job titles like chief digital officer, chief marketing technology officer, and chief customer experience officer are springing up at companies. These, Ryan says, are good examples of “ownership” experimentation.

“We’re in an era of experimentation. All of our clients ask us where digital should report, where analytics should go, and which team or department owns the customer experience. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer because every organization’s culture and structure is different. The only thing that’s clear is that the experimentation continues.”

Each individual department perceives ownership differently, too. Budget approvers, for example, are more likely to say the C-suite owns the digital experience, while decision-makers and feature evaluators think ownership is a marketing function. On the compliance and security side, evaluators say IT runs experience delivery — and the tech sector seems to agree. Not so for other industries including media, entertainment, finance, travel, and retail — they agree with decision-makers who give marketing top billing when it comes to customer experiences.

Inspire — and incentivize — teams to own the journey, full stop

Given the ongoing experimentation and the lack of clear-cut ownership, many organizations are opting for a collaborative approach — specifically, creating cross-departmental, cross-functional teams that together create, deliver, and own digital experiences.

“We’re seeing this happen a lot,” Ryan says of Deloitte Digital’s customers. “Organizations understand the need to work horizontally and break down the silos. They’re deliberately creating cross-functional teams that own the outcomes.”

Teresa sees a similar trend. “Companies that have really experienced success are providing very good, very integrated experiences,” she says. “They aren’t broken down by department heads. When you start doing that, marketing owns one piece and IT owns another piece, and it really creates fragmentation, inconsistency, and even redundancy. It diminishes the value and the experience.”

When cross-functional teams align, collaboration takes center stage — which Ryan sees as a positive. “You can draw boxes and the arrows on an organizational chart all day, but a majority of successes or failures with the digital experience is going to depend on a culture of collaboration that enables the organization to work horizontally across those boundaries,” he says. “Creating a culture of shared fate and common destiny is incredibly important.”

“It’s more important to create a collaborative, innovative, and productive culture that enables the organization to work effectively across whatever prescribed boundaries you set up,” Ryan says.

“We see a lot of our clients breaking down silos and building these teams that actually own the outcome. When you say, ‘You’re responsible for building the top of the funnel with good leads,’ and then those leads get kicked over to a group responsible for converting them, you’re creating artificial boundaries that get in the way of the customer experience. Instead, you should have a group of people that owns a journey, a segment, or an outcome full stop — and align their incentives to that.”

Owning the digital experience journey as a group eliminates lack of accountability and curbs the blame game, he notes. “There’s no, ‘You didn’t do your job so I couldn’t do mine’ going on.”

It also eliminates splintered ownership that can lead to a lack of results. “Sooner or later you get finger-pointing,” Ryan says. “One group says, ‘I’m driving plenty of traffic, I don’t know what your conversion problems are,’ and the other says, ‘Well, give me quality traffic and I’ll convert more of them.’” As Teresa explains, “Everyone is accountable for customer experiences, and they can all take ownership to solve problems and devise solutions.”

Your purpose is your experience cornerstone

By understanding your workflows and determining who owns what or who’s involved in cross-departmental collaborations, you’ll be better positioned for a customer experience-driven future.

“Digital experiences are the center of the organization,” Teresa says. “The experience is the brand, and the brand is the experience. When I see companies that have done very well, I can’t distinguish between the two. When you think of Amazon, you think of the experience. It’s less about the products and more about the experience, the value, and the trust. The same with Apple. It’s the experience of being an Apple customer.”

Getting ready for the future

As more emphasis is put on the customer experience, collaborative digital experience ownership becomes increasingly important — and will, no doubt, lead to better, more immersive, and more relevant digital experiences that build brand awareness, advocacy, and success by businesses that get it right.

“I think more accountability will be driven into the business,” Ryan says, looking ahead. “You’ll find yourself owning digital but it won’t be a box on an org chart. It will just be acknowledged as part of your job. Customer experience will be everyone’s job. We won’t need a group of ‘digital people’ running around the organization to tell people digital is important.”

Brands and marketers also need to consider an additional collaboration partner — their customers. “With cross-functional teams, everyone is part of building a world-class customer experience,” Ryan says. “That involves a more customer-centric mindset. If you keep everyone aligned on that, satisfying the customer becomes everyone’s job. And, at the end of the day, that’s why every organization out there exists.”

It’s something Teresa is already seeing at Publicis.Sapient. “The customer is more in charge than ever,” she says. “You need to think outside your function and outside of your walls. Put all you can into the solution. Put your best skills and all of the traits you can to be much more collaborative. Don’t live on your own island. Embrace everything in the company. Bring all of the ideas forward. This will improve customer engagement.”

For more insights on what it takes to lead an experience-driven business, read more in our “Overheard in the C-Suite” series.