by Greg Laugero

CIOs Feel Ripple Effect of Chief Customer Officers

Oct 12, 20124 mins

The new C-level executive in charge of 'customer experience' will have a profound effect on application development for all channels.

Getting closer to the customer: We hear and read about it all the time, and for good reason. Companies that do it well have superior customer loyalty and a steady flow of sales.

The challenge for CIOs is in the way the new corporate preoccupation with customer experience, or CX, affects their world. One result is the emergence of the chief customer officer.

When this newly minted C-level official arrives to rework the customer experience, the ripple effects eventually end up on the CIO’s desk, and you need to be prepared.

While delivering better customer experiences is all the rage, it’s easier said than done. The invention of a new C-level role is a typical response to vexing challenges–appoint an executive to drive change.

As Forrester Research defines it, the chief customer officer is “a top executive with the mandate and power to design, orchestrate and improve customer experiences across every customer interaction.”

You’ll hear those three verbs–“design,” “orchestrate” and “improve”–often in any discussion about customer experience and the chief customer officer. After all, ensuring that any point of contact with customers (“touch points,” in the CX vernacular) yields the kind of experience you want customers to have means consciously designing and orchestrating that desired outcome.

From the CIO’s perspective, this new position can profoundly affect application development processes now that someone is in charge of ensuring your company creates great customer experiences across channels. Insofar as software applications are key touch points (they show up in websites, mobile apps, kiosks, you name it), they become part of the customer experience design challenge.

This is more than simple usability, and it certainly is more than improving your requirements-gathering process. It’s about bringing a design mentality to the digital products and channels you create and support. Design starts with imagining how an application fits into someone’s life and makes it better. It’s about first understanding the problems you are trying to solve and then untethering your thought process from “functional requirements” that assume a PC is the primary delivery mechanism.

Design values ease-of-use as much as it values the functionality delivered. (That’s a new way of thinking for CIOs.) In fact, a product that solves a meaningful problem well and is easy to use is a better experience than one that has every conceivable bell and whistle but is delivered via the wrong device or presents an uphill battle in learning to use it.

One problem that CIOs face when CX comes to the fore is having the right skills in place. Chief customer officers, according to Forrester, typically come from marketing, sales, and operations. These roles are often capable of coming up with great ideas for better CX. But imagining a better CX is a far cry from actually designing it in all its nitty-gritty detail.

This is where CX becomes UX, for user experience. Having the skills in-house (not via an agency) to translate the CX vision into a detailed design is critical. You can’t just interview stakeholders and turn their ideas into requirements and pass them along to developers and expect good results. That way madness lies.

For a better customer experience, you need the skills to interview actual users, turn observations into solution concepts, and then turn those concepts into designs. You need to be able to specify the design with rich detail so you can deliver something that is easy to use while solving a meaningful problem. Without these skills, great CX will remain elusive.

Greg Laugero is co-founder of Industrial Wisdom. He helps Acompanies turn ideas into products with great user experiences. Follow him on Twitter: @prodctstrategy.

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