Should a chief marketing officer take on the responsibility of customer centricity?  

Editor’s note: Stephen Crewdson is senior research lead, Gongos, part of InSites Consulting. 

Outback Steakhouse recently made the bold decision to cut its chief customer officer (CCO) role entirely. Will the choice come back to haunt them?

From where I sit in my role working for an agency focused on operationalizing customer centricity, this move feels like a major misstep. The CCO role is critical to the success of modern businesses, and it’s growing more so by the day. In fact, in 2021 alone, brands such as McDonald’s, Hostess and CVS have added the title to their executive roster. Let’s take a closer look at why cutting the role of CCO is likely to have negative implications.

Successful customer centricity demands cross-functionality.

Far and away the most common approach to customer centricity is to have it stem from an organization’s customer experience or other customer success office. But few, as is the recent case of Bloomin’ Brands, hand over the reins to a chief marketing officer (CMO). But customer centricity must be cross-functional to succeed, not limited to one department. 

Outback will make customer centricity the responsibility of its CMO – but when marketing leaders are placed in a silo to prioritize the customer, a gap of experience is created. Most marketers don’t have a background in the nuances of the customer experience journey – no matter how incredible their brand marketing experiences may be. This can leave the customer high and dry, feeling as though a business doesn’t understand them or their motivations and goals.

In the same vein, diluting customer centricity among the many priorities of a marketing team means it can’t have the same considerable impact it would as its own area of focus. If something is everyone’s responsibility, it’s no one’s priority – it’s only through dedicated leadership that organizations can best advocate for the customer. And that’s why losing the CCO is a miscalculation.

The CCO fosters a customer-centric ecosystem – not just on the marketing team, but at the company level. This includes aligning the organization internally to succeed with an authentic, customer-centric presence. Other key functional areas, aside from marketing, need to be folded into the customer-centric model: human resources, operations and product innovation, just to name a few. All these teams and stakeholders need to be shepherded together, by a CCO, to build a healthy, ever-growing ecosystem of customer centricity.

The CCO connects cross-functional teams, empowers frontline employees to interact with customers and translates the vision of leadership to all. Without them, it will be tough for Outback to harmonize decision-making with customers in mind.

The CCO makes it possible to move beyond a theoretical model of customer centricity.

It’s widely accepted that the customer is central to organizational growth – the question is how we move beyond a theoretical model and establish structured practices for delivering on customer centricity. The best place to start is by making this a dedicated CCO role responsible for creating organizational readiness for customer centricity to flourish.

Marketing data and strategy is important, but it’s imperative to consider what is being measured with respect to KPIs. After all, the most critical component of establishing customer longevity is a strong, qualitative understanding of what matters to them. 

CCOs champion customer loyalty and are conduits for growth through customer lifetime value.

Competition for customer loyalty has never been fiercer than it is in 2022. Companies need to dig deep to earn the trust and business of their customer base.

As the pandemic has brought us supply chain issues and disrupted retail access, consumers have – out of necessity – cheated on their preferred brands to meet their needs. In many cases, these alternative brands stuck. Smart businesses will meet this challenge by dedicating resources to truly understanding and prioritizing their customers, delivering top-notch experiences to win back the loyalists they might have lost. 

Customer expectations 

Amid staff shortages, supply chain issues and budgeting, it may be tempting for brands to consider cutting out the role of CCO, but heed warning that doing so is likely to have big repercussions. After all, if you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business. 

As Outback enters the uncharted customer frontier of 2022 without an executive wrangler, it will be interesting to see the impact it has on customers, especially in an era when expectations of brands are at an all-time high.