Deloitte CMO on customer experience: "Get out of the office. See customers."

The global chief marketing officer of Deloitte, which has $39 billion in revenue and 270,000 employees, shares lessons on driving transformation to improve customer relationships. A must-read for CMOs and every CIO as well.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Marketers talk about customer experience as making buyers the reference point for activities an organization carries out.

Since customer experience is the sum of all touchpoints a customer has with an organization, the ultimate goal is shaping every single customer interaction to be positive.

However, reaching this objective is challenging, because touchpoints occur throughout the buyer lifecycle or journey: When a customer is planning to buy, during the actual purchase process (whether in a retail store or online), when they use the product, and when seeking post-sales service and support.

Coordinating an organization to create a positive and uniform customer experience may require multiple parts of the company to rethink how they interact with customers. Innovating around customer feedback mechanisms, product design, supply chain, and customer service, for example, often demands significant change.

For large organizations, especially, this transformation can force the company to adopt new processes, technologies, and business models along with changes to employee hiring and training.

Because the enterprise implications are broad, chief marketing officers who drive these initiatives must have a significant footprint across the organization.

The global chief marketing officer at Deloitte, Diana O'Brien, has placed customer experience as her top priority. Deloitte is a professional services firm with 270,000 employees and $39 billion in revenue, which makes customer experience transformation a large project indeed.

To explore issues around customer experience and transformation in enterprise marketing, I invited Diana to take part in episode 284 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world's top innovators.

During our conversation, Diana presents an expansive view of marketing and the CMO role. Her goal is driving organizational changes, across the enterprise, to improve customer experience in all ways.

Read also: Ex-Google CEO Schmidt's warfare warning: We need AI ground rules for Pentagon work

Watch the entire video of our discussion, embedded above, and read the complete transcript as well. An edited summary of key points follows below.

What are your guiding principles as CMO?

It comes down to the same thing for any business, which is: Who is your customer, what is their problem, and how can you solve it?

We try to keep things simple. When you're a big organization, you can create silos and create friction points. A big part of what an organization like Deloitte or other large Fortune 500 companies need to do, is to think about how to take that friction out, how to reduce the multiple steps that we often add. It's so easy to add things and so hard to take things out. We have to ask that question more often. What should we be taking out to make sure that our customers have the best experience?

In today's environment, transparency is key. Your [internal organization] must be what you want your brand to be, which means all 260,000 associates have to represent the brand every day.

If they're not treated or in an environment that's easy to use, allows them to show their entrepreneurial spirit, and so what's necessary to solve our clients' problems, then they're not going to feel like they want to go out and deliver that to our clients. The brand and the culture go hand-in-hand. Then, how we show up in the marketplace and the perception of that brand, go hand-in-hand.

The customer has to be at the center of your organization strategy. If it's not, then you've got other issues. Your role is to help make sure that the customer stays at the center of the strategy, but the other leaders, they all have something that they are trying to accomplish. The CFO has financial expectations and returns on investments. The CIO has certain things around technology. Your operators might have certain process flows or supply chain things that they want to accomplish.

Read also: How much should CXOs trust vendors when purchasing new solutions?

The key is spending the time needed to understand all those individuals, all those members of the C-suite, what they are trying to accomplish, and then what can the CMO do? How can the CMO engage with them by understanding what they're measuring, by figuring out the insight that they have and how it can influence what they're measuring? Use language that will resonate with them.

Your view of the CMO role seems quite expansive?

[Many CMOs] are told they own the client experience, they own the client customer insights, but they don't have responsibility for all the touchpoints.

The CMO has to build influence skills with those executive members to establish trust and credibility and be able to influence them in ways that keep the customer at the center of the conversation. It's been challenging for some CMOs, I think, as they've stepped into it, but more and more of them are getting their sea legs about them as they start to make some of the changes that are needed.

We have some interesting research that we did that I thought was quite telling about where we are. We had a survey and some insights from about 400 CFOs. Only about 3 percent of them thought that the CMO was strategic. However, the CEO said if their organization were to stop growing, the first person to get fired would be their CMO. So, it's a pretty big disconnect between the CEO's expectations of the CMO having a bigger seat at the table influencing and driving the customer conversation.

The CMO has to have an enterprise view, but that enterprise view is the customer, so decisions aren't made along the customer's journey that creates a bad experience, heightens friction, or completely turns them off to what's happening and what you're trying to communicate with them.

Read also: Cloud computing: As the big vendors get bigger is it time to worry about lock-in?

That's why it's so important that CMOs have an enterprise view and learn the language of other enterprise leaders.

What does customer experience encompass?

Customer experience encompasses every touchpoint that causes me to think or feel anything about your brand. We used to say that brand was everything. Now, we say everything is brand, meaning from the person who answers the phone when I call, or I log on, and I see something on your website, and I have a chance to interact with you, or I have an opportunity to do something.

If I have a negative experience, someone speaks rudely to me, I get a bill or anything that I wasn't expecting or didn't follow the flow of it being easy, simple, and engaging for me, it can affect the client experience.

The client experience is everything, end-to-end, from the point that you first establish interest and awareness and are sharing initial thoughts, to the long-term, sustained relationship where you are coming back and back because you want more and more services from the person offering it.

Measurement is key. Measurement has become even more important. It ties back to what is the value proposition for the CMO, which is, if I know the customer and the customer is at the center of my strategy, and I can give you insights that help you make the best customer experience, I'm going to drive growth. That's the bottom line.

The CMO needs to drive growth in the organization. They need to be able to influence the competitive positioning that you have. They need to influence how quickly lead gens come in and accelerate that process through it. All those things come from deeper, smarter client insights.

Read also: Digital transformation: Closing the gap between innovation and execution

As those things happen, you can tie it back to measurable things. But, in the end, you need both. You need to hear and understand things that the data sometimes can't tell you, and you need to invest in having enough data, meaningful data so that you understand where your customer is when and what they're looking for at that time.

Is it harder for large companies to keep that focus on the customer?

Having the customer at the center is key. I've seen strategies that build around a lot of tactics, and people say, "Well, where's the customer in that?" I think that's important.

You don't find startups missing that because they know exactly who they're going after.

Read also: This data center's excess heat will help warm thousands of homes

Sometimes when you become a large organization with lots of different offerings, it becomes a little less clear who the customer is, or the customer can be aligned with different niches. But it's really important for someone to be able to see that this customer is in the center.

How do you differentiate yourself in a digital world?

Don't get distracted by technology. Stay focused on the customer you have and the problem that you're solving for them. Continue to simplify. Everything needs to be easy [for the customer].

How do you think about talent and team-building?

Talent is close to my heart. Right next to clients are our people.

It's super important to hire the right people, hire skills that you need. Skills are changing. Jobs are changing. You have to think about all the things that are on your team and individuals that you need going forward.

But, what you need are leadership skills like agility, thoughtfulness, and empathy. Where do you build those? It's as important to invest in our people to build those skills, to appreciate how important it is to adapt, to have a growth mindset, to have one experience.

It's nurturing and developing the right people. That comes from development and learning. It comes from exposing them to things that are outside and different from your organization, mentors, and sponsors, and all the right connected role models in organizations - in and outside organizations.

We have gone as far as to say there are a set of moments that do matter in people's lives and in the life of a client that you're serving. If you can show up at that moment, we'll know what our best looks like.

Our best is someone who can walk in your shoes, understand what you're experiencing, have a point of view, [and] say what others won't say. These are things that show bravery. They show interest. You can suspend your ego in that and be there for someone else in their journey to whatever they're working to solve. Those are all important attributes to delivering a world-class client experience.

Read also: Cloud computing: Don't forget these factors when you make the move

We teach our leaders and our account teams [to recognize] what our best looks like. We have crafted what empathy looks like, how you practice it. Behind that, we have a business chemistry that gives us a common language, if you will, to talk about it. That's one of the important tools that we have in our toolkit of service.

What final advice do you have for marketers?

Get out of the office. See customers. Talk to them. Spend the time to learn the data.

CXOTalk offers in-depth conversations with the world's top innovators. Be sure to watch our many episodes! Thumbnail image Creative Commons from Pixabay.

21 other CEOs we'd like to see run for president

Related stories

Editorial standards