Bringing Voice of the Customer to the C-Suite


Bringing Voice of the Customer to the C-Suite

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  October 02, 2013

The Chief Customer Officer has become widespread at companies of all sizes. The notion of a creating such a position in the C-suite began to take hold about a decade ago. Today CCOs exist at 40 percent of $1 billion-plus enterprises, 46 percent of enterprises with less than $250 million in revenues, and about 15 percent of mid-sized companies, says Curtis N. Bingham, the Chief Customer Officer Council’s founder and executive director, who just completed a study revealing these numbers.

This would appear to be great news for business and its prospects for growth and customer satisfaction. Indeed, Bingham says some CCOs are already making their mark at such high-profile companies as Nationwide and Oracle (News - Alert). Of course, creating a new post is one thing; changing company culture and processes so the organization operates in a way that truly takes into the consideration customer needs, and delivers best results for both customer and company as a result, is something altogether different. That said, hiring a CCO seems to be a good start.

“The CCO post is rapidly becoming well entrenched in the business culture and is becoming a source of competitive advantage for many companies,” says Bingham, whose background is in marketing at telecom equipment and service providers.

While duties vary by company, the typical role of the CCO is to increase the overall value of the customer as a strategic asset, says Bingham. If the customer view of your company is negative, the CCO figures out how to improve it; if it’s positive, the CCO is charged with how to exploit that.

Companies have been talking about and implementing total quality management and voice of the customer for a long time, but Bingham says many of those efforts were managed and executed at low levels within organizations so systemic change never happened. Bringing a CCO to the table brings to the executive suite someone who embraces voice of the customer across the entire organization.

One of the best CCOs in Bingham’s estimation is Jeb Dasteel of Oracle.

Dasteel tells CUSTOMER magazine that as Oracle’s chief customer officer, a position he’s occupied since its creation in 2008, his main concern is keeping customers current on what they need to know and what products they need from Oracle. He does that by doing on four key things. That includes representing the voice of the customer by collecting customer feedback from as many sources as possible; driving appropriate responses to that feedback; building programs that enable Oracle to better collaborate and partner with its customers; and creating a stable of references that Oracle has won over and are willing to share their positive experiences with others.

Specific efforts he and his team are working on in the Oracle key accounts program, its contracting and order management, and executive sponsorship.

Close to 250 accounts are involved in Oracle’s key accounts program. One aspect of that program that is now being implemented is defining the process by which Oracle account teams take customers along through the customer lifecycle. Defining this path ensures Oracle is consistent in its behaviors and processes, says Dasteel, and that it understands the needs of its customers and the market dynamics in the marketplaces where they exist.

As a result of these recent changes, Oracle has seen dramatic benefits in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty, says Dasteel. Specifically, Oracle has realized a 13 percent increase in customer satisfaction between this year and last.

On the contracting and order management front Oracle’s improvements relative to contract templates and process workflow around order management has yielded the company a 6 percent increase in customer satisfaction for this metric.

And for executive sponsorship, Oracle maps specific top leaders within its organization to specific key accounts in an effort to enable stronger and consistent collaboration between the company and its largest customers.

 “We find that’s extremely helpful in engaging all the horsepower we have in a strong executive team and doing so in a very consistent way,” says Dasteel.

In addition to Dasteel, Bingham says Jasmine Green of Nationwide is another leading CCO. Green, he says, has done a good job of working within her culture to leverage people’s basic desire to care about customers.

Culture, policy changes, product quality and social media are among the concerns that keep CCOs up at night, says Bingham.

In terms of culture, the challenge is how to turn a big ship that may have a history of abusing or neglecting customers. Bingham says that culture is an issue most CCOs don’t anticipate being such a big part of their jobs until they get into the position for about a year. Policy relates to not just setting a new course, but instituting specific policies to get the desired results, and unwinding policies that make sense for the business but not for its customers.

Product quality has become table stakes and has improved dramatically, but still creates a lot of black eyes, adds Bingham. Social media is pretty good at creating black eyes as well, he says, noting that one disgruntled customer can leverage social media to undo the work of thousands of diligent employees.

The Chief Customer Officer Council is helping CCOs address these challenges and others. At its October meeting the council will look at how CCOs, CMOs and other executives can work together to understand and meet the needs of the customer at every stage in the customer lifecycle – and how to systemize customer management across

an entire organization and across different geographies. The group is also working to expand and refine the notion of customer engagement, which Bingham says he believes will replace Net Promoter scores.

Many businesses make decisions without regard for the customer. Engineering commonly throw products over the wall and hope that marketing and sales can sell them, Bingham notes. However, it makes more sense to put customers at the top of the funnel, he says, changing the model from the supply chain to the demand chain.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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