Bridging the Gap Between Business and IT With a Chief Customer Officer
Retailers today are faced with a myriad of business challenges across people, processes and technology. While some choose to integrate end-to-end merchandising and planning functions to achieve operational efficiency, others look into adopting new technologies to elevate their customer experience and ensure consistency across different channels of distribution. With the rapid evolution of retail technology, many struggle to not only understand which solutions make sense for their business, but to also successfully implement it across the organization and ensure adoption.
Too many technology projects are single-handedly driven by IT with minimal buy-in and input from core business leaders. Consequently, adoption is sluggish or nonexistent because of lack of trust or mutual understanding between business and IT. Often business stakeholders also don't understand what problems a given technology aims to solve. These challenges occur as a result of minimal or late engagement during the design and build phases of the project, further exacerbating change management implications.
Faced with these challenges, many businesses are turning to a new C-suite player to bridge the gap: the chief customer officer (CCO). The primary responsibilities of a CCO is to not only lead businesswide, business-driven technology transformation, but also act as a gatekeeper and a consistent voice for different organizational siloes — e.g., IT, marketing, operations, in-store, finance. There are three key business traits that an effective retail CCO must bring to the table:
- Collaborative leadership style: In order to earn trust from leaders across the organization, CCOs must be collaborative in their leadership approach. This attitude helps them earn the right to instill changes in the organization. Without this team mentality, it wouldn't be possible for a CCO to unite different agendas and expectations from leaders in highly matrixed organizations.
- Digital savvy: CCOs must understand the interconnectedness of digital technologies and their impact on overall aspects of customer experience — social, financial and operational. Those who do are usually more vested in driving digital transformation projects to achieve their intended values. CCOs with digital savvy and a dedication to ongoing learning will be best enabled to digitize the retail organization, aggressively capturing and engaging digitally connected customers.
- Customer centricity: Placing customers at the center of business decision making improves overall customer service with a more seamless, simplified shopping experience. Furthermore, rallying the full organization around the mutual goal of customer experience helps bring alignment among stakeholders.
Ultimately, the leadership of the CCO has a positive impact on the bottom line for two reasons. First, a CCO simplifies and organizes leadership alignment. Centralizing the management of different stakeholders streamlines the process of digital revolution. A CCO who understands both internal requirements and external expectations can greatly reduce the amount of rework throughout the phases of implementation, leading to project expense savings. Secondly, the CCO incorporates end-customer perspectives into the design and build activities of the solution. The resulting IT projects are more consumer focused, thus increasing customer loyalty and revenue streams.
The CCO's Evolving Role
At project inception, CCOs share synthesis on market and customer studies for business consideration, as well as help define common goals among all business leaders. For example, when defining success, marketing, store operations and IT must align on the customer experience, the technology needed and the baseline operational metrics. Additionally, the CCO can help create an accountability model to clarify business owners when questions arise.
During project execution, CCOs ensure open communication and partner with business leaders in critical issue resolution. Should changes to scope or approach be warranted, CCOs ensure the process discipline in implementing those changes and serve as the owners of the resulting impact on customer experience. The CCO is also integral in change management tasks such as companywide communication, training and public relations matters.
In the early months after implementation, CCOs should continue looping in business leaders with findings from the field. Additionally, if there are challenges around adoption, CCOs should seek to understand root causes, partner with IT and business, and define go-forward plans.
The task of a CCO isn't simple. On one hand, he or she is a gatekeeper who bridges the gap between business and IT and has the capacity to understand the big picture. On the other hand, he or she is a visionary leader who champions the customer experience across channels. As retailers embark on digitalization, the CCO is a critical leader of that movement.
Ron Liono is a consultant with the North Highland Company, a global consulting firm.