Is it time for your company to appoint a chief customer officer?

Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

In late January, Accenture released a rather startling and unsettling statistic as part of its ongoing research into consumer expectations. It is simply this: a whopping 66 percent of consumers switched companies during 2011 as a result of poor customer service. Wireless carrier, cable companies and utility providers were particularly vulnerable to this behavior.

Accenture's research canvased consumers in 27 countries and across 20 different industries. The survey found that a mere 23 percent of the consumers surveyed felt "very loyal" to his or her provider.

Commenting about the survey, Robert Wollan, managing global director for Accenture Customer Relationship Management said:

"Companies are improving many of the most frustrating parts of the customer service experience., but they are facing a customer who is increasingly willing to engage multiple providers for a service and is apt to switch quickly. While high-quality sales and service in area such as product knowledge and efficient issue resolution remain a basic requirement, in order to achieve sustainable, profitable growth, companies must better understand what really keep their customers engaged by examining a number of overlooked, but critical points of interaction in the customer relationship."

I read this statistic mere hours before speaking earlier this week with a technology executive who was just appointed to a brand-new position within her company, Chief Customer Officer (CCO). Anne Bowman works for customer service technology and communications company Voxeo (which makes interactive voice responses software among other things). She is one of roughly 450 executives who now hold that title throughout the world, according to the CCO Council.

When I spoke with her last week, Bowman said her role encompasses responsibility for the marketing, sales, professional service and human resources functions -- not just customer service.

To be fair, Voxeo is focused on serving customer service and support needs, so it SHOULD have this role on its organization chart and it SHOULD be encouraging other companies to follow suit. But increasingly, there many be justification for your business to add this role, too. Here are 3 big things would-be CCOs should ponder:

  1. It's not just about your customers, it is about your employees. Bowman said that her job isn't just to keep a pulse on what customers are saying, it is to ensure that employees are excited about the company, too. That comes down to creating a "culture of volunteers," she said. In a nutshell, that means you need to make sure that your staff wants to actively promote the business, regardless of what they they are being paid. They need to want to help customers. If your staff is unhappy, that will show up in terms of a poor customer experience.
  2. There is a direct relationship between customers and revenue. "Support is not a cost center, it is a revenue-generating center," Bowman said. Offer your customers a good support experience, and they will be willing to talk about it -- especially since so many companies do it so badly. Find a way to help them get out of "voicemail jail," and they'll be particularly happy. That is why businesses should not necessarily seek to cut costs in their call center by outsourcing, no matter how tempting the financial argument.
  3. Many companies have notoriously low Net Promoter scores. This is a system that measures how likely a person (if your company is a B2C entity) or another business (if you are B2B-focused) is to recommend working with your organization. The scale is between 0 and 10; you can't count on "promotion" from anyone who is less than a 9. Your overall score is the percentage of Promoters minus the percentage of Detractors (anyone who scores less than a 6). According to the Bowman, 75 percent is a world-class rating but the average is 10 percent. Do you know where your company stands along this metric?

(Image by Ray Smithers, courtesy of Stock.xchng)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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