What’s the rush – are Customer or Chief Experience Officers necessary?

30% of senior leaders are confused about who should take ownership of customer experience. They know that it should be the top priority but are seemingly unclear about who should be in a leadership position.

Customer Experience must be coordinated across silos and vertical divisions of organisations; but where should ownership for the Customer Experience really lie?

There are some who believe that one functional group e.g. marketing should own the customer experience. If it’s to be one individual from one part of the organisation, will the issue of an inconsistent, fragmented customer experience be resolved? Will those leaders take ownership for the whole customer journey, across all touch points including call centres and digital?

In my view, this is more a question about the person as much as their job title. What counts is their passion and obsession for the customer, their analytical yet open mind and the way that they can harness the business around the customer. The difference will come from the values that they instill; the way that they can broker, facilitate, steer, collaborate, empower, enthuse and lead the business to be ruthlessly and single-mindedly customer oriented.  

Others credit the entire business with ownership of the Customer Experience rather than one person. That has its drawbacks too. If Customer Experience is more of a philosophy without a tangible focal point, you may find that everyone is ‘responsible’ but no one really has ownership.

If we take a look at leaders in Customer Experience; the likes of first direct, John Lewis, Emirates, Amazon, giff gaff, Amazon, Richer Sounds – they don’t all have Customer Experience Directors or Officers as such. Some do, but most don’t. What’s common is that they have a C-Suite level person responsible for the customer and critically that the CEO is committed to customer experience.

The point is less about a title or a name and more about clarification of ownership, accountability and responsibility for the customer and engagement of the wider organisation.

Ownership should ultimately be with the CEO. CEO’s are equipped to horizontally bridge the vertical divides of the whole organisation and have influence over all moving parts of the customer’s journey. The customer (and experience) must be championed from the very top of the organisation if it is to be successful.

In the Genesys report ‘The value of experience: How the C-suite values customer experience in the digital age,’ the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed over 500 senior-level executives across 21 countries. A key finding from that research was that "Companies which believe that they are much more profitable than their competitors are significantly more likely also to have their CEO in charge of customer experience initiatives. Whereas 58% of companies who say that they are much profitable than their competitors report that the CEO is in charge of customer experience, only 37% of less profitable companies say the same. We can say therefore that there is a clear link in our survey between CEO ownership of customer experience and profitability."


One of the most often but still best examples is first direct. It’s no accident that they are ranked no. 1 for their customer experience in the UK. Their CEO, Joe Gordon, comes from a customer service background. He is committed to the customer and drives that pledge from the top to bottom of the organisation.

Accountability does need to be placed on a day to day basis with a senior person who has the capability, passion and respect to deliver the customer experience strategy and ensure that what customers want and most need is delivered. Choose whichever title works for your organisation.

Key elements of that role should be:

  • Engaging with digital and technology to ensure that solutions are developed with the customer in mind

  • Collaborating with HR to ensure that the employee experience is lined up with that of the customer

  • Enabling the organisation through the collation and sharing of customer data

Responsibility should be placed across the entire organisation – whether employees interact directly with the customer or not. For customer experience to be effective everyone needs to be aligned.  People need to support each other in cross functional initiatives and efforts. Individuals must have a voice and feel that they are empowered to take responsibility for the customer experience within their sphere of influence. These people are likely to be the owners or team members for customer experience change initiatives.

Customer Experience success will depend on:

  • A committed CEO

  • An engaged and collaborative C-Suite

  • A clearly articulated customer experience vision and strategy

  • Empowered employees

Does your C-Suite champion the Customer Experience? Is your CEO committed to Customer Experience success? The protagonists in your customer experience need to be shrewdly put in place.

We use our Customer Alignment™ model to baseline where companies are today and how well positioned they are to be successful in customer experience. This highlights where to focus and where to make changes. At the end of the day, strategy, design, structure, processes, capability, people and measurement need to be aligned to deliver value for both the customer and the organisation.

As is often quoted, Customer Experience is not a department; it is a culture, a mindset and a way of doing business. CEO’s need to lead from the top, instilling this philosophy whilst harnessing their employees to deliver a consistent and valuable experience for customers over the long-term.

After all. as Forrester’s Kate Leggett said: “In the age of the customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are — customers do.”