Creating and Defining the Role of Chief Customer Officer

The below is based on the fifth episode of the Outside In podcast, which you can listen to here.

For many companies today, the appointment of a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is a new addition to the C-suite. And my frequent meetings with CCOs confirm this; many haven’t taken over the role, they’re charged with creating and defining it.

We’ll likely see this trend continue. As of 2014, just 22% of Fortune 100 companies had appointed a CCO, according to a Chief Customer Officer Council study. That number appears to be growing. Last year alone, new CCOs were appointed at companies like Pizza Hut, SAS, and Lowe’s.

With new roles come new challenges. For CCOs, one of the biggest is to dispel common misconceptions about the notion, and treatment within the business, of customer centricity. It’s not enough to be close to customers. A CCO must define how the business will draw from the inspiration of customers to transform company culture, differentiate against competitors, and grow.

No one articulated this undertaking better than Jose Vergara, CCO at McKesson Medical Imaging, part of McKesson Technology solutions. McKesson, a leading global player in healthcare information technology, medical supplies, and pharmaceutical distribution services, is the biggest company you’ve never heard of. With more than 76,000 employees worldwide, it ranks fifth on the Fortune 500.

I had the chance to interview Jose for the latest episode of Outside In, a customer centricity podcast.

Customer Success is Company Success

Jose approaches his role as CCO in a refreshing way. Rather than focusing on what’s good for the business as it relates to customers (in his case, health care organizations and physicians), Jose focuses on partnering with customers to enable and nurture their own success. “That’s the reason we embarked on this journey of customer success and customer experience. We not only sell products and tangible systems and solutions but we also offer a partnership. The reason that customers are doing business with us is because we’re becoming their partners in their own success.”

The healthcare space is getting increasingly more complex: government regulations, the Affordable Care Act, and the transition from fee-for-service to value-based care. “This is challenging our customers more and more,” Jose says, “so we need to understand what makes them successful, not only clinically but also in their business, and align our company to help them achieve their goals. We look at our success through the eyes of our customers. That’s how we’ll be successful.”

Turning Customer Relationships into Business Strategy

CCOs should play an active part when creating the company’s strategy to ensure continued growth and the achievement of other business goals. In this way, CCOs are needs alchemists – blending strategy, execution, and cultural transformation into the customer centricity mix.

Jose acknowledges that “a blurring between products” in all industries has increased consumer choice and furthered competition. But it’s those heavily commoditized industries that have the most to gain from – and should therefore have the most interest in – becoming customer centric.

“It’s more about the relationship you have with customers…the partnership that you establish with them than the products themselves,” Jose advises. In a global marketplace where commoditization and disruption are becoming the rule rather than the exception, that’s a critical point.

In talking with Jose, it’s clear that the role of the CCO is about much more than being the official customer champion of the C-suite. It’s a position of great strategy, complexity, and influence. In the years ahead, as sure as customers will change, so too will the role change. As Jose sees it, “I think it’s an evolution.”

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