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Does your company need a chief experience officer?

People and Culture

The C-suite has been expanding over the past decade to meet new business imperatives with focused attention. Technology, marketing and growth are among the most popular chief executive categories — but perhaps the most interesting is the title of Chief Experience Officer.

In today's digital age, customer experience (CX) is arguably the most important factor in a customer's purchasing decision, and reducing customer effort has become a major priority for brands. At the same time, employee experience (EX) is also growing in importance. With a historically inelastic job market, competition for talent is fierce, and creating a strong culture where great employees want to stick around can support a company's long-term success.

Over the last couple of years, there's been a push to combine the external customer focus of a Chief Customer Officer (a more established title, particularly among Fortune 500 firms) with internal employee experience functions. Companies like PwC, Adobe, Hasbro and MasterCard have created the Chief Experience Officer role, or CXO. It's different from existing C-suite roles in that it blends internal and external-facing functions in ways that directly and indirectly benefit customers.

More and more companies are creating a C-level role explicitly dedicated to building a customer-obsessed culture, that blends customer experience and employee experience. But, does that mean that every company needs a CXO in order to compete?

The CXO and competitive advantage

The argument for creating a role that combines CX and EX is compelling. According to a Harvard Business Review article from earlier this year, "Customer experience and employee experience are now two of the driving forces of business. Independently, each function leads to valuable relationships — with customers and employees — but when CX and EX are managed together, they create a unique, sustainable competitive advantage."

Reducing customer effort is a key driver of customer experience, and engaged employees are demonstrably better at delivering seamless service to customers. Having a C-level leader with ownership for both customer and employee experience can help those two disciplines reinforce one another and prevent harmful disconnects from forming. This gives companies with CXOs something competitors don't: A continuous view of how employees and customers are feeling, and the ability to manage that sentiment and its impact on profitability.

Meanwhile, the CXO also serves as the de facto culture leader, ensuring a company's set of norms and behaviors are transparent and clearly connected to the customer. "Culture is so important to organizations, because having engaged employees ultimately creates customer and shareholder value," says customer experience expert, Blake Morgan. "That's why combining the customer experience and the employee experience under one executive role could be a game changer."

How a CXO connects employees and customers

When considering whether your company needs a CXO, make sure to look at internal metrics like employee retention rates and engagement rates. Do they square with your customer metrics like NPS and CSAT? If there is a disconnect, or if both are low for your industry, then a CXO could drive improvements.

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There are a number of functions a CXO leads that directly impact the customer experience, according to HBR. Those include helping employees and leaders better understand each other's needs, as well as the needs of their customers. When company leaders have an ear to the ground and truly understand their employees, they're more likely to design systems, processes and experiences for both customers and team members that increase engagement and loyalty.

It's standard for most companies to introduce new and existing employees to their company culture, but a CXO will ensure that introduction includes an up-close look at the challenges and intricacies of the customer experience. Companies like MailChimp train every new employee on the same platform their customers use. Regardless of function or department, every new hire gets their dose of culture with an equal serving of CX.

These programs, though small when viewed discretely, could add up to a real competitive advantage. "The CXO role may eventually become a huge differentiator between brands who are serious about CX, and those who are paying it lip service," says Morgan.

These improvements don't demand a CXO role to be in place, but they do require equal focus on the employee and customer experience. For companies looking to supercharge that alignment, creating a CXO position to drive continuous improvement through CX and EX could make a lot of business sense.

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