Comment: Who owns the customer experience?

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO of a retailer, who, albeit gently, chastised my position (and RSR’s for that matter) that every company needs one single owner of the customer experience at the executive level and that person should not be the CEO.

His take on it is that if one person is responsible for the customer experience, then everyone else can basically abdicate responsibility for owning that experience. In his company, and I have seen it for myself, it is the front line employees who own the customer experience. It works for his company (which shall remain anonymous), mainly because the front line employees there are truly empowered to do whatever it takes to help customers. There is trust in these front line employees to balance helping customers against making sure that the company is successful – a level of trust that I don’t think most retailers have.

So I just want to go on the record about who should own the customer experience. In a company that actually functions well, down to the front line store or call centre employee who is the one actually delivering the customer experience, then yes, “everyone” should own the customer experience. Every executive should contribute their part in enabling and supporting the customer experience, and the CEO should be setting the culture that empowers every level of the organisation to deliver on that experience.

Alas, not every organisation functions so well. This was made painfully clear to me when I asked the audience at Future Store how many of them would trust their front line employees to post to social media as the face of the brand and pretty much no one said they felt comfortable doing that. In fact, there was an uncomfortable ripple of laughter through the audience when I asked the question, as if the idea was so painfully absurd they could only laugh at it.

In that kind of organisation, the kind where front line employees are not trusted or empowered, then yes, a company needs a single owner of the customer experience at the executive level. They need it because if front line employees are not trusted or empowered, then clearly there is no culture or focus at the executive level on the customer. In that case, an executive tasked with that focus is a compensating factor for the fact that the executive team as a whole is not focused on the customer experience.

Unfortunately, there are far more retailers out there who struggle with the customer experience than there are retailers who have trusted and empowered front line employees. It’s an easy litmus test – would you trust your front line employees to be the public face of your brand? If the answer is no, then you do not have a customer-focused culture, and to fix that, you need someone at the executive level to carry that standard until the company can become customer-focused.

If the answer is yes, more power to you – because that focus is exactly the most important step towards becoming a truly omnichannel (or “channel-less”) retailer.

This article originally appeared as 'Who owns the customer experience, revisited?' on The RSR Research website. It is reproduced with the organisation's permission.

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