Answers to two questions from new Customer Experience leaders: Where do I start, and to whom should I report?
I attended and spoke at the CustomerGauge Monetize! event in central Amsterdam last week. It was fabulous event, held in a theatre that has been created in an old church building. I was able to socialize extensively with the attendees, the speakers, and various people from the CustomerGauge team. I found my interactions with their software developers particularly stimulating.
Two questions came up most
I have not attended this type of conference in a while and did my best to learn what was on customer experience leaders’ minds. The most common questions I was asked were, “Where should I start?” and “Where should I report?” These are simple questions, though the answers are not simple. Or at least the answers are not simple if you exclude “It depends.” as an acceptable answer.
Where do I start?
The best way to ensure that you have the support of the leadership team from the start is to go and ask each of them what you should do. This is a tactic works best at two points, one of which may surprise you. I believe the best possible way you can start is to try to talk to other members of the management team you are trying to join while you are still in the interview process. I did this once, for my biggest promotion. I had already met two of them and made it my business to meet several others before I interviewed with the head of HP EMEA. When he asked me the inevitable question, “What do you think should be your priorities?” I was able to answer, “Well, here is what various people on your team suggest. I agree with these three suggestions and want to add a fourth of my own. What do you think?” I suppose this also addressed a more general interview technique which is that the person who shows they want the job the most usually gets it.
My second suggestion for where to start is almost the same as the first. It consists of going through the same process with your new teammates, just after your appointment. In both cases you should be trying to get their suggestions for work that crosses organizational boundaries. I don’t think there is any point in asking (for example) the support leader what the support team should do.
Just the first steps
The above are my suggestions for the very first things you should do. They are designed to achieve consensus about the priorities. That consensus should make it easier to take the subsequent steps, which are mainly around ensuring you have the people and funding you need to implement what has been agreed. Once you are in motion you can take the time to work more deeply on your mid-term strategy.
If you have already been appointed some time ago and are still asking where you should start… well… you probably have a different problem. And I am going to try to answer it in a different way, by talking about where you should report, or at least the teams with which you need to have your closest relationships.
To whom should I report?
In a perfect world you would report directly to the head of the organization for which you are the Customer Experience leader. While I had that privilege, it is rarely the case. I have quite strong views on the next-best options, and they may not be what you expect.
The best reporting line is to the Chief of Staff, if your organization has such a position. That person usually sets the agenda for and runs all leadership team meetings. They always know everything that is going on. This ensures that CX will be on the leadership team agenda and will be well-connected to whatever is going on.
The second-best reporting line is to the sales leader, at least in B2B companies. The reason for this is quite simple. If your work is successful, win rates will improve. Reporting this way can also remove one of the major obstacles CX leaders face: resistance by sales people to customer interviews. Sales people commonly say “I already know everything that is going on with my customer so we don’t need to do any more research.” I have never found this to be true. Face-to-face interviews with the top customers always bring new surprises. Once you are seen to be addressing any negative surprises you will find it easy to get the support of the sales team.
Reporting lines best avoided?
There are two common places that CX leaders report and which I believe are best avoided. The first is Marketing. Indeed, this may be the most popular reporting line. The reason I don’t like it is simple: CX work is too far from the Marketing mission. Marketing exists to do demand generation and sales support, primarily for current-quarter business. Marketers refer to the necessary resources as ‘People and Programs’ and need funding for both. If there is insufficient funding for this core work, lower-priority work such as CX gets cut. The second place CX sometimes reports is to a support organization. I see two disadvantages here. First, that normally moves you a management level further from the top as the support leader rarely reports to the CEO. Second, it moves you to a team whose role is primarily a reactive one of ‘putting out fires’. I find this far less motivating than improving sales win rates, for example.
It was great to be in Amsterdam with such a large group of enthusiastic people. I learned a lot and can only hope that I contributed something useful to the audience. As you might expect, the organizers ran an NPS-type survey after the event and I am looking forward to seeing the results. The views expressed above are representative of how I tried to answer questions on these two topics during breaks in the conference. I hope you find them helpful.
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