Organizations looking to implement customer experience management by establishing a dedicated role or team are often unsure where the function should fit in the organizational structure. Some people think it belongs under marketing, and many others liken it to customer service. But customer experience is a multichannel, cross-departmental concern and while every department in the company affects the customer experience, the role of managing it from a holistic perspective should belong to a new, separate branch with leverage across the organization.
Although the customer experience can be affected through the communication of a value promise and branding, customer experience management is not a marketing function. Communicating value promises relevant to customers is a key responsibility of Marketing, but the value still needs to be delivered at multiple channels and touch-points, which are handled by other departments. The Marketing Department will typically not monitor, or take responsibility for, the actual delivered experience. And ensuring consistency between promised and delivered value is part of customer experience management.
Customer service is one of the most obvious channels that affect customer experience and many people confuse the terms as synonyms. Service is certainly an important part of it but the customer experience is affected by many more direct and indirect interactions with an organization. Although the Operations Department owns many of these interaction channels, customer experience management is not a function under Operations.
For the same reasons, Customer Experience Management doesn’t belong to Sales, IT nor to R&D, although they all affect the experience.
Some could argue that the customer experience belongs to Human Resources. After all, it is HR’s responsibility to hire the right people to deliver the customer experience in the first place. HR also plays a role in communicating and developing the customer-centered corporate culture, which is essential to support a sustainable customer experience management framework. But HR doesn’t gather customer feedback, design the experience at different touch-points nor does it define the CEM strategy.
So who owns the customer experience?
Some people will say in a philosophical manner that customer experience belongs to everyone in the organization, that it is every employee’s responsibility. And that is true on a higher level. But it is not very practical. The fact is that in many organizations, responsibility towards the customer experience or ability to improve it is constrained to organizational silos or to narrower sub-functions. The customer experience however spans multiple channels and touch-points managed by different departments individually. Some touch-points are barely managed at all by anyone in the organization.
Take for example the shopping experience at a retail outlet. The customer may experience the parking lot, the overall store design, different promotional displays, signage, a sales person, an order form, the cashier, people at the pick-up counter, etc. Each person or department involved may have done their best to provide a good customer experience at their respective touch-point individually. But what does the entire customer journey feel like from the customers’ point of view? Who is responsible for simplifying the entire process and ensuring that the experience is coherent and consistent throughout the store visit experience? Perhaps the company can establish a function to look at the store experience from a higher-level perspective. But that is only one channel. What about the continuation and consistency in experience between the store, the marketing, the website, customer support and third parties involved in the broader customer experience lifecycle?
A dedicated function needs to look at the experience from a holistic perspective. And one of the roles of a customer experience management function is to gather customer feedback and insights from multiple sources and share it to relevant parties across the organization. But simply doing that would be difficult to achieve from within one of the existing organizational silos, since feedback is rarely shared between them. Even if systematically shared across departments, feedback and insights still need to be viewed and analyzed from a multichannel, cross-departmental perspective.
But gathering feedback and insights is pointless if they are not used to enhance the customer experience. And while improving the customer experience at individual channels is good, the most strategic differentiating opportunities for organizations lie not in enhancing it at individual channels or touch-points but in creating coherent, seamless interactions between them.
Given the multichannel, cross-departmental nature of customer experience, it makes sense that the function dedicated to managing it sits outside of one of the traditional organizational branches. But for this function to be able to have tangible positive impact it must have the leverage to initiate and influence change across the organization. And given its strategic importance, the function needs to be supported by, and report to, the CEO directly. One way an increasing number of organizations are doing this is by establishing a dedicated C-level position to lead Customer Experience Management, sometimes called the Chief Experience Officer, or CXO.
More than a function, customer experience management is a corporate philosophy and guiding principle. And only if it is understood and shared by all from senior management to every employee across the organization can it be truly sustainable.
David Jacques is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. He has created the first Framework that brings together cohesively every aspect of Customer Experience Management. He is also passionate about having an in-depth understanding customer values to create emotionally-engaging customer experiences not only at individual interactions but also seamlessly between them.