The Modern Boardroom: The Case for the Chief Customer Officer

June 4, 2018

By Coco Brown and Allison Pickens

It goes without saying: Business operations today are night-and-day compared to 10 years ago. Today, every company—yes, every company—relies on technology to succeed in an increasingly competitive, lightning-paced global market. Transactions transpire without walls, the cloud is widely adopted, Artificial Intelligence is on the rise, and it seems as if everything and everyone is connected.

Yet, despite the complexities of global digitization, most company Board structures remain fixed in a traditional state, with CEO and financial expert roles dominating the table. But a modern business should be paired with an equally modern Board, one equipped to address issues such as customer loyalty, customer experience, product development, brand values and more.

Consider the following:

  • Forrester reported that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep your current customers.

  • Customer renewals are the lifeline for any successful organization. RJ Metrics reported that 53% of customers that buy for a second time will go on to make a third purchase; 64% of customers who buy three times will go on to buy a fourth time, and so on.

  • Digital brands, or “usage brands” that focus more on post-purchase renewal and advocacy, drive more customer loyalty. HBR noted that research participants “showed a higher preference for usage brands over competitors, not just in making the purchase but in a willingness to pay a premium in price. On average, the usage brands were willing to pay a 7% premium, were 8% less likely to switch, and were more than twice as likely to make a spontaneous recommendation of the brand.” (Just look at Amazon Prime for an example. They just announced they’re going to raise their rates by 20%. How many of you are likely to unsubscribe or will happily pay a premium for the service?)

There is no role better positioned to address this web of cross-functional intricacy than a chief customer officer (CCO).

“With modern cloud and mobile technology, business doesn’t stop once someone has made a purchase. Customers can leave – even if your product or service is critical. It’s more important than ever to understand what makes your customers successful and to help them get there,” said Okta CCO, Krista Anderson-Copperman.

Read on to see why CCOs may be your most important Board seat, and how their unique perspective has the power to transform a business.

Customer Success = ROI + a flawless experience

Consumers expect hyper-personalized communication, and timely and relevant engagements. Google tells us how long our drive to work will be. We shop our favorite stores online, and we’re delighted to see items we previously browsed. We drive by a new restaurant, and we’re invited to come inside with an appealing offer. We rely on our smartphones to interact with brands in a never-before-seen level of engagement, sharing our data with companies we trust, from exercise routines and project workflows to music preferences and contracts.

On the B2B front, customer expectations have risen dramatically. People want to do business with companies that not only provide incredible ROI, but also offer a flawless experience. (This is not a nicety; it’s a must).

Angela Stelle, Head of Customer Experience for Dun & Bradstreet, explained that customers have more leverage than ever.

“Digitization of the buyer’s journey, and the proliferation of social media, mean that the power has shifted to the customer, who has unprecedented buying choices and many ways to make their voices heard, positively or negatively, when it comes to their experiences with the companies they buy from.”

For example, you may be a leading SaaS company and deliver a transformative product, but if your customer support team is lacking, if there’s a non-stop onslaught of bugs, or if your customers don’t enjoy working with your team, you’ve got a serious problem. Customers are going to look to spend money with other vendors, and if they renew with you, it may be because they have no other choices at the time. On the other hand, you may deliver a fantastic brand experience, but if you can’t provide concrete results for your customers, their spend with you is going to be tough to justify when annual budget reviews roll around.

The CCO: The most cross-functional role in the c-suite

Here’s where the CCO comes in. A CCO is not only responsible for driving great outcomes and experiences for clients, she's accountable for translating those outcomes and experiences into success for other departments within her own company. CCOs approach customers as the single most critical lever in driving success for an organization. That means tracking critical metrics such as renewals and Net Promoter Score; working closely with product management to see client feedback incorporated into the roadmap; aligning with marketing to showcase dazzling customer testimonials; partnering with finance on accurate forecasting. All these efforts funnel towards driving renewals, the heart of success for any SaaS business, and a coveted viral revenue stream.

“Customer Success is not just a function, it’s a Cultural mindset that must be enabled across every department and cohesively measured and operationalized,” said Tania Goldszmidt, VP of Customer Success and Digital Transformation for GE. “The CCO’s two central goals are to unify all customer initiatives throughout different functions and to inject a new way of thinking and acting throughout the organization. The CCO is the right individual to help bring this DNA into Boards."

In other words, a CCO is the ultimate advocate for what your clients need -- and delivering on those needs can make or break your business.. Powerhouse brands such as Infor, Cisco, Okta and Adobe know this; they all have some form of the role within their respective organizations. The CCO is the single individual who can uniquely speak to the pulse of the customer, the forces shaping the customer experience, and the strategy you need to execute to win in a relationship-driven, tech-powered world.

Businesses have evolved. Boards must evolve, too.

The shape of today’s businesses should be reflected in their leadership, including Board seats. It’s easy to want to stick with tradition, but it’s more important than ever to move fast, make smart decisions, and get in front of threats. This requires changes at the top.

Progressive organizations are pulling contemporaries from a range of disciplines on to their Boards, such as chief marketing officers, chief digital officers, chief product officers. They’re doing this because they know it’s more important than ever to stay close to their customers, to do right by their customers, to represent their customers at the highest level.

Adrian Bartha, CEO of SaaS company eCompliance, recognizes the value that a CCO brings to a Board.

“If striving for deep empathy with customers is integral to customer success, then a CCO’s empathy and experience working with the founder/CEO to build out the CS function will truly help the organization succeed,” he explained. “Many tech companies start off by making early adopting customers successful, but this can fade as companies focus on customer acquisition, add new personnel, or outgrow the founder. CCOs are in a unique position to help the Founder/CEO scale success across different phases of the company’s growth so that the experience of each customer also scales (not just the number of customers).”

The best businesses revolve around the customer.

Having a well-rounded Board does just this. Shift your focus to the customer by bringing a CCO onto your Board. This is one path to becoming intimately aware of your value proposition and all its strengths and weaknesses.

Athena Alliance can help. Athena partners with leading technology brands and luminary female technology leaders to create diverse, radically modern Boards. Not only does it start with placing more women leaders on Boards, but it includes diversifying across roles—not just for the sake of doing so, but because it’s what’s right for your business.

And it’s what’s right for the customer.