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?