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Who Drives Customer Experience: The CIO, The CMO, or Fill-In-The-Blank?

How many times have you heard or read about the demise of the CIO?  The way some experts describe it, these poor, unlucky professionals are slowly going extinct, what with cloud and systems integrators and who knows what else taking over their jobs.  According to the demise storytellers, the CIO is quickly becoming a mid-management team leader of a handful of folks who project manage consultants and outside developers, set policies for security and Bring Your Own Technologies (BYOT), and procure a bunch of services in the cloud.  If they are lucky, these poor sods will get a shot at becoming Chief Technology Officers, responsible for embedding information technology into the company’s products–but then again, the odds are stacked against them.[1]

Risk Uncertainty

In the meantime, there’s the CMO, living it up on customer experience street while the organization tries to turn digital disruption into digital or even business transformation.  According to many experts, who espouse the Rise of the CMO, the CMO’s time has come to seize the moment, seize the day and seize the customer experience mantle.  In this worldview, CMOs will drive everything and anything customer experience related, including moving the organization beyond digital transformation to encompass transformation across the board—new business models, new target industries—the works.  According to individuals who push the rise of the CMO, these executives will not only own marketing communications and promotions, why they’ll own customer support and service, sales, distribution channels, brands, product marketing—you name it.  CMOs will lead companies into the promised land of omnichannel, the internet of things, wearable computing, 3D headsets and all manner of new, wild, digital stuff.[2]

Okay, I exaggerate.  But only a little.  Far too many esteemed consultants and research firms have painted this picture.

It’s not true.

I hope you’ll read this report, Customer Experience Leadership Trends, 2015-2018, to get a full discussion of what is driving all the excitement about digital disruption and how this is creating the need for senior business leaders to shepherd digital and business transformation. The report then goes into who is driving customer experience today and who will shepherd it in the future.  But first, it’s important to understand the top headline for the report that is driving all this senior executive intrigue:

  • Digital disruption will push organizations to embrace business transformation, looking far beyond marketing, sales, service and support. According to a CEO survey by Accenture, breakaway market leaders in virtually every industry and geographic region (except the European Union) are aggressively embracing business transformation in response to current and anticipated disruptive forces. In fact, 52 percent of the executives surveyed expect digital to “completely” or “significantly” transform their industries—based on a survey of more than 1,000 executives across 20 countries and 12 industries. These senior executives are embarking on new transformation initiatives in the race to become, or remain, the new leaders in their reinvented industries. And those CEOs are looking to customer experience as a means of establishing, or maintaining, a leadership position in their markets while the business transformation projects are underway.

    What does that mean?  It means that digital transformation and customer experience will reach into every corner of an organization and shake it up as the business transforms itself in response to industry and digital forces.  When this happens, the senior most executives of the company will lead customer experience and business transformation—it won’t be left to a support executive like the leaders of IT or marketing.

So, what about the CIO?

  • Right now the CIO has the most clout of anyone in selecting customer experience software and services. Digital Clarity Group’s recent survey of 200 enterprises and SMBs in North America and Europe showed that CIOs were more influential in customer experience initiatives than any other executives, including COOs, presidents, and CEOs. The complexity, criticality and cost of customer experience initiatives make it almost mandatory for CIOs to lead the charge, at least until other executives gain skills and experience in managing complex, large scale and high risk projects. CIOs will influence technology solutions for marketing, sales, service, and support because many of the old-school, hardwired CIOs of yesterday are being replaced by business technology executives who focus on new challenges, like embedding high tech in products and deploying technology to gain, delight, service, and keep customers. Sometimes these next gen CIOs have run sales, marketing, or other customer-centric business units. Or, they may have been seconded from IT to the business to expand their horizons and customer-facing roles.  The bottom line?  The demise of the CIO isn’t true.

And the CMO?

  • In today’s organization, the CMO is usually in charge of customer experience inside marketing and doesn’t typically run customer experience across the whole (or even half of) the organization. CMOs were only the key decision-maker in approximately 10% of the customer experience initiatives in Digital Clarity Group’s survey of more than 200 business and IT executives. This is only slightly more than decision-maker roles for senior executives in procurement, legal/compliance, finance, and the board of directors. Plus, the percentage of CMOs leading customer experience in medium sized businesses is even less than enterprises. The one bright light is that CMOs are more influential in B2C than B2B businesses, but this involvement is still less than in 10% of customer experience initiatives.

So, who is fill-in-the-blank?

New customer experience roles and job titles will emerge from the lines of business, divisions, and regions as CxOs take on new responsibilities.  Sometimes you read or hear references to titles like the Chief Digital Officer, Chief Officer of Customer Engagement, Senior VP of Customer Experience, or other similar titles. These positions are not just trendy, they represent a real need and real development for the business to elevate executives (CxOs) to tackle huge initiatives like customer engagement, digital transformation or business transformation.

These executives are far from dumb.  They will reach out to and partner with CIOs, who will continue to play a crucial role in customer experience software and services – in numbers far larger than expected. And these executives will absolutely reach out to the CMO, who has been on the front lines grappling with the impact of digital disruption. In the end, this massive shift to customer experience will impact all executives and will require a leadership team that without doubt will involve both the CIO and the CMO. Stay tuned.

For more insights about this topic and the customer experience survey, see Customer Experience Leadership Trends, 2015-2018.


[1] According to Matt Weinberger, “The role of the Chief Information Officer is changing as fast as the IT landscape. Between BYOD, the tidal wave of big data metrics, the shift to the cloud, cost pressures, and any of the other thousand dozens of things that have shifted in IT over the last decade, the CIO’s job is no longer so cut-and-dried.” Galen Gruman has a similar view of the CIO’s diminishing role, “It’s a painful irony: As technology permeates the workplace, the CIO is becoming less relevant. I predict the position’s stature will further decrease in the coming years for many — though not all — companies.—-and-it-feels-fine.html

[2] According to Kristopher Spadea, “Some companies believe the chief information officer (CIO) should control the entire digital transformation process. In my opinion, since the core objectives include better engagement with digital customers (which in turn translates to higher revenue and increased profits,) it is the chief marketing officer (CMO) who should define the requirements.” McKinsey & Company has written an insightful  article about the evolving role of the CMO, observing, “Today, many chief marketers focus mainly on building brands, making advertising more effective, and perhaps market research. Although these responsibilities aren’t going away, CMOs must address several other areas as well: leading company-wide change in response to evolving buying patterns, stepping up efforts to shape a company’s public profile, managing complexity, and building new marketing capabilities throughout the company as a whole. The relative importance of these new priorities will of course vary by company and industry, but the broad importance of reinventing the CMO’s role as a strategic activist is similar across them.”


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