Two-thirds of people in a Zendesk survey said customer service is the most important part of making them feel loyal towards a brand

Group of diverse people having a business meeting

The CCO is the advocate for a premium customer service operation (Credit: Piqsels)

At a time of sky-high consumer expectations, the chief customer officer has arguably never had such a big role in the C-suite, says John Walls, senior director for customer success in software firm Zendesk’s EMEA team.


There’s a new arrival to the C-suite and it’s a role that is gathering momentum as the importance of the customer experience increases.

Enter the chief customer officer (CCO) – an indispensable individual for the future of business, particularly those with an emphasis on gaining and retaining loyal customers.

At a time when Covid-19 is dramatically shifting parameters from both a societal and economic standpoint, it’s important that businesses are able to adjust.

The right systems and people in place can help to prepare for the new economy that we will emerge into once we’re out of this crisis, and the CCO will be a vital person in this transition.


What is the role of the chief customer officer in the C-suite?

The purpose of the CCO isn’t just to create a figurehead that communicates the importance of customer experience.

It’s to lead the charge in defining the strategy, structure, culture and indeed the process and tools necessary for growth.

Customer expectations are on the rise year on year and businesses also expect to see an increase in the volume of customer interactions.

It’s essential that strong leadership is at the heart of navigating this to maximise business performance while building better customer relationships.

Zendesk John Walls
John Walls, senior director for customer success in software firm Zendesk’s EMEA team

Zendesk recently released its Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, analysing what matters most to people when they engage with businesses.

The report, which draws insights from global survey and Zendesk benchmark data, also looks at best practice within the industry.

Two facts stood out to me most when first reading this year’s findings.

First, customer service is the leading driver in the UK that makes customers feel loyal towards a brand (66%), sitting ahead of price and product/service offerings.

Secondly, more than a third of UK consumers (40%) would switch to another brand after one incident of bad service, with that number jumping to 80% if they experience multiple bad experiences with the same business.

In 2020, loyalty is harder to come by than it used to be. In days gone by, it wasn’t uncommon to stick with one bank, one energy supplier and one supermarket for life.

Now, as it becomes easier than ever for buyers to shop around to get a better deal, loyalty is harder to obtain – but not impossible.

Getting there relies on getting the basics right in terms of customer experience, and using the right approach to encourage customers to keep coming back.

This is where the CCO comes into their own. They’re the ones to create the strategy that puts the combination of culture, people, process and tools into action.

They are able to clearly communicate the benefits of a customer-centric approach to the entire business, which involves putting the customer first and lining up the organisation with that emphasis.

Having a representative in the C-suite whose sole responsibility is to make sure customer experience is prioritised will help focus efforts on the right combination of innovation and culture, and prevent it becoming a failed experiment.


Innovation for everyone

So, right now, which companies are electing leaders with the title of CCO?

The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 finds that younger companies have been the fastest to move in this area.

More than half of companies surveyed globally that have launched in the past five years have a CCO that owns the customer experience strategy.

Similarly, 64% of managers at companies started in the past five years were more likely to say they have a CCO.

Meanwhile, nearly half of managers (42%) expect to see growth in customer service requests over the next year, and so are preparing to grow their teams accordingly.

The research also found that currently, the most tech savvy industries are the ones providing the best customer service.

Software, hosting and web apps companies are currently sitting at the top of the leaderboard.

While it could be reasoned that they have a head start in leveraging technology for customer experience, this trend can’t continue for other industries experiencing high levels of disruption.

Premium customer service shouldn’t be reserved for the IT elite. The technology not only exists, but is accessible and simple enough that it enables this level of innovation for everyone.

All it needs is the necessary person in the C-suite who understands the importance of prioritising a customer-first approach, irrespective of the line of business their employer operates in.


Insights and action

The CCO is the advocate for the customer service operation.

They are the leadership representative directly responsible for the customers so they should always be abreast of customer sentiment.

And because happy agents create happy customers, the CCO also has to listen intently to the voice of the agents, monitor their performance and reflect their interests.

They can bring together an understanding of customer feedback with a broader view of business objectives and strategy to drive innovation that is most valuable to the company’s customer base.

It should all result in a customer service operation that is constantly improving.

Yet, only a third (36%) of customer service managers collect customer feedback to understand how they’re doing.

Key to improving that figure is appreciating the importance of communicating with customers in a way that they prefer and value.

For instance, speed is the top priority for customers, yet far too many people end up held in long queues when they call in for help.

Many prefer not to have to interact with humans at all – and when they do have to reach out for help, they understandably hate repeating information they have already provided.

A single thread of communication across channels helps to address this, and the use of AI helps identify priority cases and expediates them.

In terms of reflecting the needs of the agents, one correlation to bear in mind is the fact that tenured agents then to be rated higher by customers.

Zendesk’s research found that agents get a 2.3% higher satisfaction rating from customers on average for each year they remain on the same customer experience team.

So how do you retain agents? Many CCOs will recognise that great teams invest in agent training and giving agents the tools to become more efficient.


Why chief customer officer plays key role in C-suite

The CCO is an invaluable member of the leadership team at a customer-focused business.

They sit at the confluence of putting the people and practices in place to grow a business through the people the business interacts with every day.

And in today’s rapidly changing and unpredictable environment, it’s that focus on transparent and consistent service that will build loyal customers.

Radical improvement in customer service ratings are achievable but we need to work with the right tools effectively to make it happen.

The chief customer officer, as the person at the helm, should be the new driving force within the C-suite to bring this to bear.