Why your business needs a Chief Experience Officer

Busi­ness­es are final­ly refo­cus­ing their atten­tion on the cus­tomer, to say the least. But instead of con­tin­u­ing to talk about it, action now needs to be tak­en. When a brand enjoys exclu­sive media access, can make or break mar­kets and holds a vir­tu­al monop­oly on prod­uct infor­ma­tion, there’s not much hope for the cus­tomer who is iso­lat­ed and unin­formed. But things have changed. It may be stat­ing the obvi­ous but once the cus­tomer has unlim­it­ed access to infor­ma­tion, he can — indi­vid­u­al­ly or col­lec­tive­ly — influ­ence the brand image and start to demand expe­ri­ences rather than just prod­ucts and mes­sages, and it is then that we see the bal­ance of pow­er turned well and tru­ly on its head.

Deliv­er­ing a pos­i­tive cus­tomer expe­ri­ence at a giv­en time is one thing, deliv­er­ing it con­sis­tent­ly to all points of con­tact (dig­i­tal or oth­er­wise) is a whole dif­fer­ent ball­game. It all comes down to one thing: know­ing a cus­tomer who, more­over, con­sid­ers him­self a ‘mar­ket of one’ to be con­tact­ed not because he belongs to a spe­cif­ic seg­ment but because of what is spe­cial about him and what sets him apart from oth­ers. Unless you believe you can meet someone’s needs with­out know­ing what they want and who they are, cus­tomer knowl­edge should be at the heart of any company’s busi­ness. And we should actu­al­ly be talk­ing of under­stand­ing rather than knowledge.

The cus­tomer expects the com­pa­ny to use every­thing it knows about them in order to best serve their needs, and is ful­ly aware of all the infor­ma­tion held about them with or with­out their con­sent or knowl­edge. Yet they are often dis­ap­point­ed with the out­come. Some­times they over­es­ti­mate the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties, some­times they for­get that it takes time to reach the Holy Grail of cus­tomer knowl­edge (and even more time to put it to any use) but that’s not the main issue.

To recoin a phrase made famous by a for­mer CEO of HP with ref­er­ence to the short­com­ings of his busi­ness when it came to inno­va­tion and col­lec­tive intel­li­gence, brands don’t know what they know. In oth­er words, cus­tomer knowl­edge — when gath­ered and cap­i­talised on — is con­fined and iso­lat­ed in the many points of con­tact that make up the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. Each point of con­tact has an own­er who becomes the de fac­to own­er of the data and guards it jeal­ous­ly to make the very most of its own actions in its own field. In the end, every­one from mar­ket­ing to sales to cus­tomer ser­vice knows some­thing about the cus­tomer, but no-one knows who he is.

Do we need to put the pieces of the puz­zle back togeth­er? Of course we do. Yet, between organ­i­sa­tion­al splits, indi­ca­tors and tar­gets that are often con­tra­dic­to­ry, or fig­ures that demand greater com­pe­ti­tion rather than col­lab­o­ra­tion, it is only in the client’s inter­est for the puz­zle pieces to be put back together.

Con­tent dri­ves the experience

Although the customer’s pur­pose is essen­tial­ly focused on pur­chas­ing, his expec­ta­tions now exceed the sole act of shop­ping. Tuned in, logged on, the cus­tomer has now regained con­trol. He no longer belongs to any­one but will go to who­ev­er gives him a qual­i­ty expe­ri­ence. What’s worse still is that he decides his own jour­ney and it’s up to the brand to adapt and fol­low him. In this con­text, con­tent plays an impor­tant role. It must “go beyond the prod­uct” and bring the cus­tomer back to his very own brand uni­verse. Although this is easy to say, it is unde­ni­ably much hard­er to put into prac­tice. Because con­tent no longer has to be “lin­ear”, pro­ject­ed in a uni­fied — one might say sim­plis­tic — way over all chan­nels that make up the com­plex mosa­ic of the cus­tomer jour­ney. The rhythm, tone, vol­ume and expres­sion of this con­tent, in short almost every­thing, changes depend­ing on the time, place and for­mat cho­sen by the cus­tomer. This presents a major chal­lenge for busi­ness­es, fur­ther ampli­fied by the fact that this con­tent is increas­ing­ly con­ver­sa­tion­al, open and inter­ac­tive. But it is also dic­tat­ed by a detailed data analy­sis pro­vid­ing a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the con­sumer so that the expe­ri­ence offered can be as per­son­alised as possible.

An organ­i­sa­tion­al challenge

When the knowl­edge-based econ­o­my grad­u­al­ly took over from the Tay­lorist indus­tri­al econ­o­my, com­pa­nies learned one thing: inflex­i­bil­i­ty was replaced by adapt­abil­i­ty and there is no adapt­abil­i­ty with­out infor­ma­tion shar­ing or col­lab­o­ra­tion. The same phe­nom­e­non now affects cus­tomer rela­tions as we return to a cus­tomer knowl­edge-based econ­o­my. With­out col­lab­o­ra­tion or data shar­ing, the cus­tomer jour­ney is over.

With­out the abil­i­ty to con­sis­tent­ly man­age the expe­ri­ence at every point of con­tact based on as much knowl­edge as pos­si­ble of the cus­tomer, mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy is noth­ing more than a lot­tery. And the answer does not lie in tech­nol­o­gy: it is there, it exists, ready for use. The answer lies in the organ­i­sa­tion­al capac­i­ty for implementation.

The cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is the result of data shar­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion. Whether for push­ing the right mes­sages and the best deals on dig­i­tal media, ensur­ing a con­sis­tent jour­ney offline and online, or equip­ping the ven­dor with the right tools faced with a cus­tomer who’s super informed and demand­ing in terms of a last­ing relationship.

Releas­ing and shar­ing data between appli­ca­tions and between indi­vid­u­als is the bare min­i­mum, but for this to hap­pen it is still nec­es­sary that the own­ers of the con­tact points do not see their work mea­sured in a way that encour­ages in-fight­ing rather than com­bat­ting the com­pe­ti­tion. Besides, it’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the whole organ­i­sa­tion total­ly customer-oriented.

Does a Chief Dig­i­tal Offi­cer need to be recruit­ed like in many com­pa­nies? The CDO may be part of the equa­tion but he is only one part of it. He focus­es on the busi­ness, but we still need some­one to focus on the cus­tomer and, ide­al­ly, to do so across the board. I strong­ly believe in hav­ing a Chief Expe­ri­ence Offi­cer, which we are start­ing to see, pre­cise­ly because of their across-the-board approach. I also back future “jour­ney man­agers” as the design and man­age­ment of jour­neys will become a vital link in a log­ic of coher­ence and syn­er­gies between points of con­tact. Again, this “jour­ney man­ag­er” will have to jug­gle between sci­ence and art, skill­ful­ly play­ing on a thor­ough under­stand­ing of the data col­lect­ed but also know­ing how to pro­duce con­tent that is tai­lored to the cus­tomers. And ide­al­ly to each cus­tomer. Of course, this implies that we need to know how to organ­ise our­selves in order to pro­duce large quan­ti­ties of cus­tomised con­tent tai­lored to a wide vari­ety of channels.

To con­clude, cus­tomer man­age­ment can only be cross-dis­ci­pli­nary and uni­fied. This is the price to be paid for mak­ing the most of today’s avail­able technology.