Ken Fine

Over the past 15 years, C-suite’s around the world have had some new company in the boardroom. Who are these new faces?
The Chief Customer Officer (CCO).
In 1999, Texas New Mexico Power made history by appointing the world’s first CCO. Since then, it’s become part of an emerging trend. There are now hundreds of CCOs around the world, including nearly 35 of them in Fortune 500 companies.
So where did this rising trend come from? It’s an interesting question.  Answering it requires some context on the evolution of how companies compete. Forrester has a useful way of thinking about it: dividing modern commercial history into four “Ages”. It starts in 1900, with the Age of Manufacturing. From there, all the way until 1990’s (the Age of Information), most businesses remained focused on the basics — first creating useful products and services, developing channels of distribution, and then optimizing for greater efficiencies.
There’s a parallel here to a concept in a very different field — Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which describes how humans require the bare necessities before aspiring to more emotional needs like love and self-actualization. From an organizational point of view, much of the first half of the 20th Century was the corporate equivalent of securing food, water, and warmth — the basics. Companies moved up the hierarchy, focusing on efficiency during the 70’s and 80’s. Then, there were the technological advances in the Age of Information — with companies utilizing information systems and leveraging the power of the Internet for the first time.
But as each of these competitive strategies was adopted by more and more companies, they became commoditized. Now, they are widely considered as table stakes. As that’s become the case, the locus of competition has begun to shift.  And it’s shifted towards the customer. The experience you deliver to your customer is one of most powerful ways to differentiate, compete and build sustained advantage.
What’s interesting about this shift is that it has refocused companies from internal to external factors. We’ve gone from Henry Ford’s famous quote back in the Age of Manufacturing — “You can have any color as long as it’s black” — to today, where we have the ability to create customer experiences that are personalized, customized, and even measurable. The Age of the Customer.
There is another parallel with Maslow’s hierarchy, though. As you climb it, each step of the way gets more and more difficult. Hence…
The advent of the Chief Customer Officer.
Extraordinary customer experiences are hard to create, improve, and scale. That’s why companies are hiring and promoting customer-driven professionals into the role of CCO. A role that comes with a seat in the boardroom — one that can bring the customer to the table when the company makes its most important decisions.
CCOs are responsible for the entire customer experience – every touchpoint with the customer, spanning people and product.  They drive relentless improvement throughout the entire, integrated customer journey.
CCOs must develop the broad executive support required to transcend organizational silos and create a cross-company, customer-centric culture.
With the Age of the Customer just getting started, CCOs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Who’s the CCO in your organization?

Photo credit: Zach Dischner