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On Becoming a Chief Customer Officer

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 1/04/2016 Fritz Lehman

I like to take long, open-water swims. At first I'm consumed by the feel of the water, the sound of my breath and the rhythm of the movement. But after a few minutes, trivial concerns fall away and deeper thoughts surface, like what motivates me, why I'm here.
I like to set goals for myself. After 40 years of swimming, what brings me back to the water several times each week is the opportunity to do better - to refine my stroke, beat my best time or simply stay healthy. Having a clear intention keeps me on track.
Whether you're swimming long distances, taking on a new role or running a business, you have to understand why you're really doing it or you'll get lost.
If you're goal-driven, like me, I encourage you to go one step further and share the "why" with others. It can help motivate you, it can help you maintain your focus, and it can transform you from a lone swimmer in deep water to the anchor in a relay.
My why
When SAS CEO Jim Goodnight came to me with his vision for a new role - Chief Customer Officer - I was excited by the prospect, but I needed to do some soul searching before taking the plunge.
I met with the people in my life who know me best. During our conversations, one theme came up again and again. It centered on the SAS customer experience. I kept saying, "I believe we can do better and we should do better for our customers."
I realized that I want to be a driving force for that cause. That's my intention, and a good vision for anyone taking on a CCO position. I'll never be done defining my role. It will be an ongoing process. I'll keep modifying it and making it better over time, but for now, at least I have my "why."
A good start
I'm fortunate to work for a company that's always focused on its customers. We invest a tremendous amount in R&D. We built an entire division dedicated to customer care. We honor our innovative customers with awards and gather their input for product enhancements. We work to know our customers, both personally and professionally, and understand the needs of their businesses.

But even with this foundation, delivering a positive, individualized customer experience is no easy task in the digital era - especially when you're running a global organization with thousands of customers.

Improving the experience

In 2014, Gartner predicted 89 percent of organizations will compete primarily on the basis of customer experience by 2016. Last year, Gartner's survey of 400 executives revealed customer experience as a top priority for CEOs from a technology investment perspective.
"When it comes to top technology investments over the next five years, 37 percent of respondents ranked customer engagement management (CEM) as the leading technology-enabled business capability, followed by digital marketing at 32 percent and business analytics at 28 percent."
This shows that organizations both realize the importance of customer experience and are turning to technology to make improvements that will drive growth and protect the bottom line. SAS is no exception. We use our own technology to send customers more relevant and timely communications, improve conversion rates and implement a lead-nurturing strategy.
But we can always do better.
The next level
Long ago I read, "Technology is only as good as the people who use it." When it comes to customer intelligence, I think the same concept applies. To deliver an excellent customer experience, your employees must be focused on the right metrics and understand the "why" behind their efforts.
I'd go as far as to say defining and communicating the "why" behind your CI strategy is more important than the technology you use to implement it. Without a clear vision from the C-suite guiding everyone in the same direction, internal conflicts are harder to resolve, processes are harder to change, and a first-rate customer experience is harder to achieve.
As I see it, a CCO shapes and communicates the vision for the customer experience. The CCO listens to customers and breaks down the internal barriers to meet their needs.
I'm still on the journey, but at the outset, I reminded my team of the importance of relationship building. Last month, I brought in the owner of an iconic local restaurant to talk about how she adds personal touches and goes the extra mile to deliver the ultimate customer experience.
Making personal connections may be easier for a local restauranteur than a global corporation, but I don't think that should stop us.
Just as I refine my stroke in the pool, we can refine our processes for creating a unified view of the customer. Just as I increase my speed, we can speed our responsiveness to customers. And just as I keep swimming to get stronger, we will keep working to deliver a seamless, positive customer experience.
Because I know we can do better.
What's next
I hope you'll comment here or contact me about your experiences as a customer or as someone who works with customers. I'd also love to hear your "why" and how you deliver a unique customer experience.
And I'm always up for a chat about swimming, as you can tell.

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