J. N. Halm’s thoughts: The Chief Customer Officer – Walking the Talk 

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A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption on our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider on our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

I have seen this statement on framed canvases and engraved beautiful plaques hanging in reception areas in companies all over this country. Sometimes, it is found on desktops or as wallpapers on computers. It is quite popular, I must say. I believe the reason behind the popularity of this saying is to ensure that at every point in time, employees are reminded of why they get up every day to come to work.

I have deliberately left the quote without a source not because I am claiming it as something I originally came up with but because it has just too many names attributed to it. The exact quote or variations of it have been said to be the brain child of so many individuals. The earliest attribution, according to Quoteinvestigator.Com, was to Kenneth B. Elliott who was the Vice President in Charge of Sales for The Studebaker Corporation, the American automobile company that ceased operations in 1967. In a magazine interview Elliot laid out five principles which look like the foundation (or source material) of this oft-used statement.

Along the way, the statement was also attributed to the founder of American retail giant, L. L. Bean, Leon Leonwood Bean. Sometime in 1946, this same quote was attributed to the then Chairman of American credit rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, Paul T. Babson.

I have always found it intriguing that of all the individuals to whom the above quote has been attributed to, Mahatma Ghandi remains one of the most enduring. How did the humble lawyer turned social activist turned world leader make such a powerful statement about the customer? What prompted him to say this? Under what circumstances?

A read through the great man’s biography shows very few instances in his life where he could have made that statement. It was not as if he had a booming law practice back in India when he returned from his studies in England. Apart from the stint in South Africa, where he had gone to represent a wealthy merchant in a law suit, I do not see how Ghandi was so well-abreast with customer service matters for him to have made the afore-referenced statement. But all this is not to say Mahatma Ghandi could not have said it. There is always that possibility.

However, the truth of the matter is that, regardless of who the author is this piece of timeless wisdom, the importance of the customer cannot be debated. Every business owner starts a business because of a customer. Every business leader, manager, and supervisor knows the business exists to serve customers. Employees know that without customers they will not be paid. Customers also know their importance. Therefore, statements such as the one at the onset of this piece are expected in offices around the country. Hanging them at front offices and reception areas are not out of order.

Nonetheless, it is one thing to know the importance of something and a totally different thing to act accordingly. Many people know it is important to one’s health not to smoke, but that knowledge does not stop many people from smoking. Many people know it is important for their health to eat right and exercises regularly. But how many of us do something with that knowledge?

If the customer is truly the most important person on the premises, what do businesses do with that knowledge? If the customer is really the purpose of the business, what do companies do to show that they believe that? There are many ways by which companies can show that they actually act with regards to the knowledge that the customer is very important. However, there is one way that I do not see adopted lot in this country.

In businesses all over the world, one is sure to find some designations among its executives. Apart from the Chief Executive Officer, there are the Chief Finance Officer, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Information Officer. In some companies, there is also a Chief Administrative Officer. The importance of these executives to the prosperity of the organisation is something very few people would dare argue against. As far as I am concerned, if the quote at the beginning of this column is truly something companies believe in, then there are a number of questions that arise.

If the customer is the reason for the establishment of the company, where is the Chief Customer Officer (CCO)? Where is that one person, within the Executive Committee, with the mandate to ensure that when executives meet, the customer’s voice is strongly represented? Where is that one individual whose only job will be to champion the case and cause of the customer? When it comes to the giving of great customer service, many businesses talk the talk, but can they walk the talk? Can they put their money where their mouths are? On the face of the evidence, I have my doubts.

Some organisations might argue that the Chief Executive Officer is the CCO. I beg to differ. If you know the things that a typical CEO has to deal with on a daily basis, you would know that adding the CCO’s job to the one’s plate would not yield the right results.

I am sure many readers would simply dismiss the idea of organisations having Chief Customer Officers as one of the many PR stunts meant to get organisation to improve their quality of their service. However, the truth is that, this is not a publicity stunt. The practice of having a CCO within organisations has been around for a while and from all indications, it is slowly catching up. I am aware that in this country, it might be a new idea but out there, it is not.

The CCO’s position is becoming so well entrenched in many countries that there is even Chief Customer Officer Council set up in the United States with the sole aim of ensuring that the CCO receives all the support he or she can receive on the job. The Council, among other things has become a valuable resource for CCOs all over the world.

The Council, primarily, provides a platform for peer-to-peer exchange of ideas through its regular summits, roundtables and conferences. The Council has an online community where CCOs can interact with each other. The Council is also able to undertake research and provide important resources such as a resource library to its members.

There is growing evidence that many organisations are catching on to the trend. The 2019 edition of The Global Chief Customer Officer Report published by London-based, global executive search firm, Talecco and consulting firm, Comotion produced some very interesting insights. The study showed exponential growth in the number of organisation employing CCOs over the years. The Report revealed that globally there are about 11,500 customer specific roles among senior executives.

Some titles these individuals have include CSD – Customer Services Director, CD – Customer Director and CX – Customer experience Leader. In some firms, the Chief Customer Officer position is referred to as Customer Success Director.

Not surprisingly, the greatest numbers of CCO are concentrated in North America with more than 7,800. The annual reports by the CCO Council confirms that a growing number of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies keeps engaging more CCOs. Interestingly, sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest number with just 18 positions.

I believe many business, at this juncture, would want to know the specific job of the CCO. That will not be too difficult to find out. I will turn to the CCO Council for that information. According to the Council, the CCO is

“an executive that provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.”

As an executive who must report directly to the CEO, the CCO must “be the ultimate authority on customers, understanding customers better than any other individual in the company and perhaps better than some customers may even understand themselves.” The Council further adds that the CCO must “create and drive customer strategy across the company.”

In my opinion, one other advantage of having an executive solely in charge of customers is that the one is able to get the CEO involved in making customer-centric decisions. If the CCO has to report to someone like the Chief Finance Officer, things might not get done. However, when matters come directly to the big boss, things can happen more quickly.

As I read through the report from Talecco and Comotion, I could not help but wonder how many of the 18 senior executives recognised as CCO positions were in my country, Ghana. I could not help but wonder if we have more than 10 of such individuals in the country. With such low numbers among senior executives fighting for the customer at the Executive Committee of organisations around the sub-region, one begins to understand why the quality of customer service in the region in general and this country in particular is still so poor.  Top of Form

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