Friday, May 13, 2005

The Chief Experience Officer

A few years ago, a new C-level executive -- the Chief eXperience Officer (CXO) -- began to appear here and there, though mostly in e-business consultancies. I talk about this role on my website (see "Changing the Role 'User Experience' Plays in Your Business"), refering to it as having "responsibility for integrating 'customer experience' into every step of an organization's process." And I quote Challis Hodge's 2001 description of the role:
"The CXO should ensure that an organization delivers the appropriate experience at every point of contact it makes with the public. This CXO must understand the processes, methods, and tools necessary to understand people, and should be able to translate that understanding into successful points of contact with users, customers, shareholders, employees, partners, and visitors. ... In both corporate and professional services positions, the CXO should be responsible for keeping the entire organization focused on the user and the points of contact with the user."
About that time, I proposed a "Rent-a-CXO" business idea to Marc Rettig, former CXO at Hanna Hodge. However, the CXO concept did not gather momentum, and the number of CXOs in business declined with the number of e-business consultancies.

More recently, there has been a rise in the number of Directors and VPs of User Experience, as an increasing number of businesses recognize the important role user experience plays in business success. However, few if any of those roles have the breadth of responsibility envisioned for the CXO. Hence, might the concept of the CXO be largely relegated to a blip in history?

In a March 2005 article entitled "Who Knows the Customer Best?," Jeffrey Rayport writes, "Customer interfaces can either be a strategic advantage or a huge liability—a chief experience officer can ensure it's not the latter."

More from the article:
"Many companies have worked hard to meet customer needs by deploying interfaces wherever consumers or customers want them, whether essential or not. At most companies, this helter-skelter deployment has resulted in a plethora of interfaces—retail points of sale, call centers, interactive voice-response units (VRUs), sales forces and detail people, interactive kiosks, and Web sites, not to mention marketing-communication mixes that range from television and print to events and sponsorships. While managers might question whether all of these elements—especially marketing activities—constitute a company's presentation layer, customers make no distinction. The fact is, every one of these touch points strategically shapes customers' attitudes and behaviors.

In modern companies, who takes responsibility for these disparate interfaces and touch points? Who's accountable for the optimization of interfaces on both a stand-alone and an integrated basis? Who ultimately ensures that the elements of complex corporate systems—technology, marketing, processes, and R&D—create loyalty-inducing experiences for customers? Often the responsibility falls to the CEO, who's best positioned to see across the entire organization but is overburdened with other responsibilities; sometimes it falls to the chief marketing officer, who understands the marketing challenge but misses, or can't influence, the integration across nonmarketing interfaces, such as call centers and Web sites. It may fall to the CIO, who may control the technology but not marketing, sales, or service strategies. Given these barriers, none of these is a good answer.

To ensure desirable customer experiences, companies must appoint dedicated chief experience officers. Call this individual the 'other' CEO—or, as we prefer, the CXO (not to be confused with the commonly used term that refers to any C-level executive). This executive's strategic agenda starts with a line of inquiry regarding the company's presentation layer. In every business that competes on service or relationships, these questions can highlight enormous strategic internal issues, such as operating efficiency, organizational design, and enterprise economics.

The new executive must relentlessly focus on unifying the disparate functions of human resources, marketing, operations, sales, service, and technology. For most companies, such integration suggests an unholy alliance of warring fiefdoms and silos, and that's precisely why the C-suite needs an individual with the power and authority to deliver integrated experiences for customers."
Might the time finally be ripe for the role of the Chief eXperience Officer in business?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"The magical interdisciplinary view"

Planning a project? Figuring out what to do? Gathering requirements?

How do you approach these things?

Scott Berkun, speaker at Tuesday evening's BayCHI meeting, provides some answers in a chapter of his newly published book, "The Art of Project Management."

In it, Scott describes three perspectives that comprise those answers -- business, technology, and customer, and argues that the latter is the most important, though it is the weakest in most organizations.

Scott recommends use of a Venn diagram of these three views to diffuse perspective bias (i.e., to show, for example, that there are "great technological ideas that do not benefit the business or the customer, as well as great ideas to help customers that are not viable for the business or possible with current technology.") Such a diagram "generates respect across perspectives because everyone is forced to realize that they need to collaborate with people who have knowledge they don't possess in order to be successful."

Scott writes, "if no effort is made to bring divergent points of view together, ... planning meetings become battlefields for attacking and defending opinions based on these perspective lines." "Bringing an interdisciplinary view to a project enables you to make choices that cut across the very boundaries that limit your competitors."

Scott argues for "organizing the planning process first around customer research," then problem statements derived from the customer research (i.e., "descriptions of specific end user or customer issues"), then conversions of those problem statements into feature statements or scenarios (i.e., descriptions of things "a customer will be able to do as a result of the project, or the tasks they will no longer have to do"). This ensures that arguments from any perspective will be made within the context of the most important perspective -- that of the customer.

You can download this chapter of Scott's book for free at

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Partnering with power

In a presentation at CHI 2005, Dennis Wixon emphasized the importance of partnering with power in order to play a strategic role in a business. In a January+February 2005 interactions magazine article entitled, "Ease Your Design Anguish," Deborah Gill-Hesselgrave and Mark Hall stressed the need to "become business partners with the people whose mortgage payments rely on meeting business-performance objectives and incentives."

But how do you do that? How do you go about "partnering with power"?

Partnering with power is rarely solely a matter of walking up and saying, "Hey, partner with me." Plus, it is often the case that those seeking such partnership hold less power, and sometimes, in part because of that, the existing relationship is strained.

In a previous blog entry, I referenced a couple of examples of partnering with power from my work, calling them "perturbing the ecosystem," since they were such a signficant shift from the norm. In those examples, the power consisted largely of ownership of important decisions (e.g., about product strategy, concepts, designs, ...) which those of less power wanted to own or wanted to influence more substantially.

As stated in that previous blog entry, involving those with power in an intensive process of rapid ethnographic research and its analysis/synthesis in certain cases and in an intensive process of rapid iterative design and evaluation in others was key. And they were involved in such a way as to enable them to exercise their ownership, enabling them to directly experience how important user experience should be to shaping those decisions. The ultimate result was an elevation of user experience personnel into a relationship of strategic partnership.

As reflected in the case reported by Dennis Wixon, the business benefits of such a partnership can be phenomenal (see

Do you still feel undervalued and not strategically positioned where you work? Consider developing a strategy for partnering with power akin to that described above. And if you are among those with such power, consider developing a similar strategy in which (other) user experience personnel can demonstrate the importance of the roles they can play in your decision making process.