“I see no reason why CMOs shouldn’t also take customer experience under their wing”

Should chief marketing officers really aspire to be CXOs? That stands for chief experience officer, although it is perhaps more often called chief customer officer. There are currently very few CXOs at brands – although they do appear at agencies – but the chief customer officer job title is slowly creeping into organisations.

Ashley Friedlein
Ashley Friedlein, chief executive of Econsultancy

Putting the semantics aside, the idea of a CXO is all about the theme of customer experience. There are many reasons for brands to focus on the customer and their experience. Over the last few decades, we have seen competitive advantage moving from the manufacturing and distribution sectors (think Ford or Tesco) to controlling or using information (Google or MBNA). Yet the future may see customer experience become the differentiating source of success and dominance.

In the world of digital marketing, it is clear that the criteria for success has moved over the years from essentially being first to market to needing to provide an outstanding customer experience to deliver a return on investment.

In the early days of search engine optimisation (SEO), for example, it used to be enough to buy links or stuff keywords onto the page to rank top; now it is about earning links and social media approval through useful content and outstanding customer experiences. Likewise, the brave new world of conversion rate optimisation is all about fine-tuning the customer experience to optimise performance.

Success criteria

Econsultancy recently polled senior digital marketers to discover what they felt were the most critical criteria to be successful in digital marketing. The answer was a relentless focus on optimising the customer experience came out top.

So should the CMO be responsible for this all-important customer experience? Certainly in some areas, not least marketing itself. The experience customers have of a brand’s marketing is incredibly important, particularly as we move into an era of ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ media where marketing assets are multichannel content, applications, utility and experiences rather than ads, press releases or direct mail.

But what about the total customer experience? If you are marketing a museum, then should the CMO be responsible for the state of the toilets, the parking facilities or the music being played in the café? In the digital world, should the CMO be responsible for on-site conversion rates, site speed and device compatibility, which are clearly part of the customer experience?

Entering a new era

What about comments on Twitter about the brand that appear in search results, impacting the customer’s total experience of the brand – should this be handled by the marketing department or customer service?

CMOs are entering a new era that is challenging but exciting. Most CMOs will soon have a bigger IT budget than their chief technology officer colleagues because of all the digital-related growth that typically sits under marketing, according to Gartner. I see no reason why CMOs shouldn’t also take customer experience under their wing. They should own the total customer experience, online and offline.

But what do we really mean by ‘customer experience’? In terms of the total customer experience, you need to look at all the possible customer touchpoints, digital and physical, and make sure they work together so that the customer journey is as pleasurable, as easy and as useful as possible.

However, the opportunity to surprise and delight customers through experience can be done with surprisingly small details and nice touches. There are some examples of this in the physical world, particularly among luxury brands. But it is harder to find digital moments of customer experience delight. Is this because the medium is less mature? Or it because the CMO hasn’t been involved enough with online?

Creating great experiences

What great customer experiences come to mind to you, either online or offline? I always find Google’s Doodles very effective in reinforcing the relevance of the brand in small but important ways. Amazon’s delivery experience also out-ranks the majority of brands. Others are now catching up – one-hour delivery slots from Oasis and others – but Amazon is still a relentless machine of customer experience optimisation.

You should also look at Old Spice’s latest Muscle Music ad, which is a brilliant interactive and amusing example of what advertising can become as an online experience (Mwlinks.co.uk/spice).

But is it possible to create great customer experiences in sectors as apparently uninspiring as, say, financial services? I believe so. Many years ago, I talked to a CXO at the then freshly launched online bank Egg. His idea was to send customers a case of champagne on the day they finally paid off their mortgage. This was a small cost to Egg given the value of the mortgage customer to them, but surely a big talking point and moment of experiential delight for the customer.

That CXO has long left Egg but it was a nice idea and one that surely the CMO should now steward? I am not convinced that the job title CXO needs to exist, but only because it should be the CMO stepping up to take control of the total customer experience across online and offline.

Ashley Friedlein is chief executive of Econsultancy.You can hear Ashley Friedlein talk at the JUMP event, run by Marketing Week’s sister brand Econsultancy, on 10 October 2012. Visit Mwlinks.co.uk/jump.

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