Who is Responsible for Customer Experience?
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

Last month McDonald’s announced a new customer experience team, headed up a ‘Global Chief Customer Officer’, Manu Steijaert, placing marketing under the remit of customer experience.

This is fascinating to me as customer experience often sits within the marketing department. Those I know who have a career in marketing are mostly people-centric with a natural desire to improve the customer experience. However, the marketing function has a core role, and that is to drum up business, which creates a conflict of interest for delivering an experience that is focused on the customer.

The marketing department holds responsibility for the website. They hold the budget and are under pressure to deliver an increase in sales.

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So where does customer experience live within a business? Business books often refer to the core elements of business as Sales & Marketing, Operations, and Finance. All the above sit below an MD or CEO.

Where customers are included in the make-up of a business has traditionally been in a customer services role, often focused on incoming enquiries and complaints, and issuing surveys to gather customer feedback. I’ve always felt that this is a reactive approach. Placing the customer at the heart of a business requires proactivity. A quick search on LinkedIn shows 20 times more people with a customer service role over those with a customer experience role.

We are therefore left with a challenge. A void, if you like, in the traditional organisational structure of a business. Is there a place for a fourth core function of a business? For a business to live and breathe customer experience it will certainly help to have a specific, driven leader who has an equal say in the boardroom.

However, so many businesses are focused on short-term success, with all eyes on acquisition and delivery (not to mention buy-out). This doesn’t leave room for caring about the customer beyond the surface level. Building a respectful, trusting, and inspiring two-way relationship with customers takes time, needs a vision, and requires strong leadership. It must also mirror the employee experience.

Customer Experience Starts with Employee Engagement

In Douglas Jackson’s Customer Director Report 2020, I particularly like the interview with Dan Eddie, Customer Experience Director at Vanarama, who has focused on employee engagement. If they feel undervalued, employees are unlikely to deliver a consistently exceptional customer experience.

The remit of customer experience, therefore, requires the ethos of the organisation to have a genuine care for the customer and its employees. It is a human role, which at times will be at odds with the ultimate business goals of growth and profit. However, whilst having customer experience as a core value is certainly honourable, it lacks the direction and leadership needed for long-term sustainability in a business environment.

I’m left asking the question, why? Why is it so hard to prioritise our customers when we are in the throes of delivering business success?

Remove the layers

In the work we do at Experience UX, our clients witness what it is like for people to interact with their digital platforms. Seeing how users interact with a digital interface Is always fascinating, but it is the stories they share that deliver the golden insights. These stories bring a sense of real-life to a product or service, whether B2C or B2B and remind us that we are human, living a human experience, trying to go about our day.

Stories remove the layers between a business and its customers. Life stories remind us that business shouldn’t focus just on the bottom line, that being in business brings with it a responsibility to recognise and care for the humans involved.

As we look at business through a human lens, the reality is that being customer-centric is not really a role. As long as it is a role or someone’s responsibility, it loses the human connection. The role in itself adds layers and makes a point that we’re not human enough in our working lives. Equally, the challenge is too great to simply point out that we should all be individually customer-centric, regardless of our role.

As McDonald’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, says, “…we needed to remove some internal barriers and silos that ultimately lead to a fragmented customer experience.” I imagine these internal barriers and silos are going to be pretty significant in a global company like McDonald’s, and simply rolling out a new customer-centric directive may have minimal impact.

So where does that leave us and our businesses? Where does it leave the responsibility of customer experience?

Customer Experience is Human Experience

To deliver on customer experience we must first realise we are talking about human experience. To start, an organisation must ensure its employees are well looked after.

Prioritising customer experience shouldn’t be a business goal or a reaction to a business problem. The stresses and strains of business require the focus to be very much on income and profit, so it is no one’s fault that the customer is seemingly forgotten (at least until they stop buying). Wouldn’t it be nice if businesses prioritised the customer experience just because it is the right thing to do?

That anyone has the role and responsibility is wonderful, and the further up the chain this responsibility goes, the better. Regardless of who owns customer experience, if it is not valued as a core business function at the top, the business can never truly be customer-focused. If the customer is essential to sound business practice, anyone in that business who has the responsibility of customer experience will have great success.

It is up to those already in a customer experience role to keep up all the good work, but it is for business owners and leaders to light the way.

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UX Consultant Matt Fisher

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