Will the real Chief Customer Officer please stand up?
The jury is still out on who owns the customer proposition. The judge, your CEO, can’t reach a verdict on how to structure his/her business to service your almost-elusive ‘customer’ (or doesn’t even know who they are).
Many retailers over the last 18 months have created the illustrious role of Chief Customer Officer, and have appointed various skillsets and backgrounds to fill the position.
With all of the pressures on the retail industry – the falling pound, inflation rising to 3.1% with wages up 2%, and the risk of store closures if you don’t keep up with the kids (ironically – what happened to Toys “R” Us earlier this month), the importance of putting the customer at the heart of operations is not in question.
We all know that the nation’s shoppers want a smooth journey - sometimes they want it to be engaging; other times they want it to be as efficient as a Toyota production line.
We also know that value for money remains critical. You don’t have to be the cheapest (but it helps). After Asda’s move to cut store staff to “close the price gap” with Lidl, it doesn’t look like there will be an armistice to the price war any time soon.
Let’s also not forget the importance of product quality. I choose my Tesco Express over Sainsbury’s Local (equidistant to my flat) because the former has better hummus. It’s a staple in my weekly one-basket shop. Plus, I highly doubt that Aldi and Lidl would have decimated the Big 4 without their prize-winning ranges of posh nosh, fine wines and cupboard staples.
Store design - be it flashy flagships, click & collect kiosks, or shiny shelves - remain pivotal to the customer experience. I continue to place Property Directors, Programme Managers and Retail Ops executives with a merchandising slant. Omnichannel doesn’t mean that Retail can take its foot off the gas when it comes to their ‘bricks’.
What IS in question, is who owns customer experience? Putting myself in any CEO’s shoes, I ask: “who on earth should be responsible for keeping our customer proposition shipshape?” Ultimately, I know that it’s me, the Chief Exec, holding the ‘A’ on the RACI matrix. But I’m terribly busy schmoozing the City, restructuring the HR team, and deciding whether we should exit Bulgaria, so I need some help. Are my buyers responsible? My merchandisers? My store colleagues? Help!
It’s time to delegate. Enter – drum roll - the Chief Customer Officer.
So, who’s got one? Dave Lewis does, for one. Tesco has a large team of Director-level executives in its Customer team and has recently moved its entire Insight function under the ownership of its Chief Customer Officer, Alessandra Bellini. That is a telling move, and it makes absolute sense. Holland & Barrett, The Coop, Steinhoff (Poundland owners), Asda, GAME and a multitude of others have also opted for this structure.
During my career in Retail I have lost track of how many times Group /Country /Business Unit Level insights teams have worked in silos producing inefficient outputs which were not seen by the right stakeholders.
I’m working with a number of clients on CCO or Customer Director roles. The skillset required differs depending on the capabilities of their Board-level colleagues. Clients with ‘A Grade’ CMOs lean towards ex-McKinsey types or experienced traders.
Retailers who are late to the omnichannel party want a CTO. Some clients want it all; their stores look like they are stuck in the year 2000, and their website needs an overhaul involving 10 vendor-partners and a substantial investment in tattooed engineers and product managers.
One of my most successful interim executives, who was previously on the Board at a global department store, has been parachuted in for assignments within grocers, fashion retailers and health and beauty. He isn’t convinced by the CCO role.
“Ultimately this is the CEO’s responsibility”, he says. “This person cannot be at the same level as the other Board members. They need to be the right-hand person. Otherwise they will be overruled by operators: Commercial and Retail Directors.”
The level of the role is important, because it makes its owner a decision-maker and gives him or her a seat at the board table.
But this shouldn’t be a permanent functional role. The remit should be to change behaviour; to review the skillsets of the operational teams; to ensure that all processes are customer-focused; to develop the right tech, to harvest customer data and to use this to improve CX across all channels, products and services.
It’s a 12-18-month role; and finding the right person to do it is extremely tough. The price tag is high, but they will give you value for money. Interim Chief Customer Officers or Customer Directors deliver quality outputs and, critically, will transform and future-proof your proposition.
Then then pass on the baton to your permanent Board and to your customer-obsessed colleagues. Assignment done.
So, will the real Interim Chief Customer Officer please sit down – ideally at the boardroom table.