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What Does Great Look Like in a Chief Customer Officer?

February 9, 2023

Post 2 of 4 in the Startup Series for CCOs.

I mentioned in an earlier post that few startups begin with a full-time Chief Customer Officer. The more likely scenario is that a startup promotes someone from within the service organization to the role when it becomes necessary. It’s possible the person who takes on the CCO role will be ideal for the job, but startups often end up searching for someone from outside the organization to lead the customer success team. Either way, whether promoting from within or hiring from outside, there are several telltale characteristics great Chief Customer Officers share, and there are three things they do particularly well.

First, the CCO is the primary evangelist across your executive team and entire organization. The message should be so constant and consistent that everyone in your organization will be able to finish the COO’s sentences. At Return Path, our CCO, George Bilbrey, was constantly reminding everyone that the purpose of Return Path was to do the job the customer hired us to do. In non-professional service businesses, where the bulk of the organization is not face-to-face with customers on a regular basis, it can be very easy for employees, teams, and projects to become internally focused. They focus on projects, milestones, internal metrics—all things customers don’t care about. The great CCO is the one who brings the Outside In every day.

Secondly, a great CCO is equal parts quantitative and qualitative. Almost all high-level work that the CCO and their team does includes quantitative measures: math, metrics, analytics, and statistics. Net Promoter Score analysis. Customer segmentation. Customer profitability. Anything worth knowing usually has a measurement behind it. The CCO must nail these, or, if partnering with the CFO or someone else, at least be fluent in them. On the qualitative side, the greatest CCOs are also the ones with the most customer empathy, something that comes by listening carefully to customers, and I mean really listening. Once they understand customers on an emotional level, the great CCOs have the ability to relate that feeling to other customers and others in the company. They can recite customer and experience stories like a politician giving a stump speech.

The final characteristic or skill of a great CCO is that they like designing processes. Account Management, Customer Success, Support, Onboarding, Professional Services, Knowledge Management—all the different teams reporting to a CCO—must work together in a seamless way to apply their specific areas of expertise to bring general solutions to the customer. The head of the team, the CCO, must be a rock star at process envisioning and design, and at engaging teams in the process. Otherwise, the teams will be inefficient, hand-offs will be missed, there will be no single source of truth, and customers will not be well served.

Whether your CCO is promoted from within your organization or hired from the outside, the great ones all have the same traits: evangelists for the customer, quantitative and qualitative skills, and a passion for processes that connect disparate parts of the organization into a seamless, functioning team.

-Matt Blumberg, February 9, 2023.