Monday, September 2, 2013

Does Your Business Have a Chief Customer Officer?

Department store chain Kohl’s has created a new role as part of its executive team. An executive from Starbucks, Michelle Gass, recently joined Kohl’s as its first Chief Customer Officer.

According to Wikipedia, a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is “the executive responsible in customer-centric companies for the total relationship with customers. This position was developed to provide a single vision across all methods of customer contact. The CCO is often responsible for influencing corporate activities of customer relations in the call center, sales, marketing, user interface, finance (billing), fulfillment, and post-sale support. The CCO typically reports to the chief executive officer, and is potentially a member of the board of directors.”

According to the Chief Customer Officer Council, the CCO is “an executive who 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.”

Let’s return to Kohl’s. There is no denying that its new CCO has experience with one of the world’s most well-known brands, but can that experience be applied toward apparel and housewares? In addition, how can the development of industry-leading coffee drinks, such as the Frappucino, help to re-energize the customer experience at Kohl’s?

When it comes to industries, the department store chain industry is radically different from the coffee bar/restaurant industry. While Starbucks revolutionized the coffee drinking experience and coffee industry, it’s light years away from apparel. While customers may purchase coffee machines in its stores, the majority of Starbucks customers purchase coffee or other drinks at its locations. And no one makes a trip to Starbucks to buy apparel.

When it comes to target audiences, visitors to Starbucks coffee stores differ from Kohl’s shoppers. While Kohl’s tagline is “Expect Great Things,” no one can say that shopping at Kohl’s is the same experience as shopping at Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s. At Kohl’s, the focus is “incredible savings, hassle-free returns, and easy shopping.” As a result, the entire concept of customer experience cannot be copied and pasted.

It is admirable that Kohl’s places the same importance on the customer experience as more highbrow companies, but the jury is still out as to whether the company can successfully execute customer experience marketing initiatives that will create the same level of customer experiences as industry leaders such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom.

What about your business? Do you have a Chief Customer Officer? If not, do you have plans for adding one in the future? Why or why not?


Thanks to fellow IBM blogger, Shadra Bruce, for her article’s inspiration for this post.

Note: Above abbreviations correspond to the following C-Level roles:
Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Administrative Officer/Chief Diversity Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer/Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Legal Officer, Chief Marketing Officer/Chief Branding Officer, and Chief Customer Officer.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.


  1. Hi Debbie, You raise some really interesting questions here. For me, whether there is a formal "Chief Customer Officer" is less important than whether a culture of customer-centricity is established and nurtured within an organisation. I think it's more important that someone -- at every level of the organisation -- is responsible for championing the 'voice of the customer'. This needn't be someone with a formal CCO title, but the responsibility needs to be there -- and this needs to be considered on projects, when processes change, when strategies change. A great question is "What would our customers say about what we're about to do?" and "Does what we're about to do mean we're appealing to new (or different) customers?". Two simple questions that sometimes have very far reaching implications!

    I take the view that every industry could (and should) provide good customer experience. Now, a good customer experience doesn't mean gold standard. For example, if you fly with a discount-carrier, you know that you won't get an in-flight meal, and you know you'll have to queue to check in *but* that's what you expect. The moment of truth comes when you have a question -- do they listen? Are their systems and processes fit to meet *actual* customer demand (rather than *expected* customer demand). What about if you turn up and they've overbooked, is it OK to be 'bumped' to the next flight? That might depend on how you are handled, how your expectations were set originally, and the element of 'control' that you feel over the situation. These are all customer service related issues.

    I agree with you entirely that customer experience can't be copied and pasted. Building on this theme, getting a *real* understanding of the customer, what makes them 'tick', their pain points etc is important.

    Setting expectations and consistently delivering against those expectations is key.

    Thanks again for the interesting article. It was really thought provoking!

    All the best -- Adrian

    ( @UKAdrianReed on Twitter )

  2. Wow, I am thrilled that my post generated such a kind response, Adrian - thank you very much!

    And I totally agree with you - while some companies don't need official "Chief Customer Officers," all companies definitely need someone or a designated team to "own" the customer experience or voice of the customer in today's social era. Otherwise, when problems occur, everyone will be pointing fingers instead of knowing how to resolve the problems (and actually resolving them quickly).

    To quote customer service guru Shep Hyken, "Customer service is not a department. It's a philosophy to be embraced by everyone in every department."


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