Owning the customer experience: the evolving role of the CMO

By Alice Blair, senior marketing manager,Engage Hub

Traditional C-Suite positions across organisations have transformed drastically as a result of technological advancements and, in turn, data-driven environments.

Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), for example, have typically overseen communications, brand management, advertising and campaigns – and they still do, but, in this day and age it is in a slightly different capacity.

With so many ways for marketers to learn about their customers – through big data, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and marketing automation among others – there has never been a more pertinent time for CMOs to become customer experience experts. And in order to cultivate this expertise, their remit has expanded to data analysis, customer service and user experience (UX).

CMOs are now responsible for more areas of the business than ever before and are provided larger budgets to spend on the right technology. After all, marketing represents a huge portion of customer interaction and is often the first touchpoint between customers and brands. The challenge for CMOs then, is ensuring their marketing teams are up-to-date on the various digital tools on offer and understand how to use data in an ethical and effective way.

Owning the customer experience 

There is no denying that customer experience is vital for business growth – in fact, 42% of consumers say they’d turn away from a brand after only two negative experiences. To reflect the current competitive market, more than 50% of organisations are redirecting investment to customer experience innovations.

Shifting a brand’s customer experience priorities involves digital, organisational and cultural change – and as with many change management exercises, there needs to be clearly defined roles from the beginning. The question for many organisations has focused on who should ‘own’ the customer experience to ensure the best results – especially as it touches so many aspects of the business. Common choices have included customer services, marketing or sales.

A recent Marketo report found that 90% of CMOs believe that they will be responsible for the whole customer experience by 2020. And while it is encouraging that marketing is taking initiative, to deliver the most effective customer experience the answer is not as clear cut as assigning a departmental ‘owner’ as such. Given the increasing overlap across teams there is a high chance that an organisation risks missing out on customer experience opportunities if the responsibility is not shared across departments.

The inter-departmental approach is more challenging and change may seem harder to imbed initially. However, organisations will reap the rewards that result from the customer experience improvements. To aid the process, the correct data orchestration technology will lead to greater operational efficiency.

Data-driven decisions: from subjective to objective

Within customer experience change projects, CMOs play a large part in analysing data and using it to enhance customer experience across the business. The vast amount of data available has led the shift away from subjective decision making in marketing, providing concrete answers to questions that had previously been a matter of opinion.

For marketing teams working on a campaign there are a glut of tech solutions at their disposal. AI-driven tools can now statistically detect which designs will be the most successful and keyword analysis can determine which headlines will drive the highest engagement. So, for example, after hours of work on a campaign and the CEO feeds back with “can we change the colour to blue, because I prefer that to orange”, the team will be able to validate the colour choice based on data analysis and customer preference.

Additionally, tools such as heat-mapping can illustrate which areas of a website receives the most eyeball time. And A/B testing, with real time feedback, can ascertain which customer segments respond most favourably to specific messaging and channels allowing marketers to personalise the customer journey. Equipped with all these solutions, the excuse of “I like it better” can no longer drive marketing spend – solid evidence is required to justify gut feelings and opinions.

The expanding CMO remit

To be able to demonstrate ROI, CMOs need to have a holistic understanding of the customer journey. This includes every touchpoint within it, what technology influences it and what data derives from it.

This shift in ownership and accountability is reflected in marketing spend. According to The Gartner Spend Survey 2016-2017, marketing leaders now allocate up to 27% of their expense budget to technology – an increase from previous years. It is therefore vital for CMOs to have the finger on the pulse of emerging trends affecting each stage of the customer journey, particularly to stay ahead of the competition and optimise the experience the brand delivers.

Traditional high street retailers offer a prime example of companies that have failed to keep up with the latest technological curve – leading to disastrous results. Toys R Us, Maplin and House of Fraser are just a few brands that have been plunged into administration since the beginning of the year. Being unable to react quickly to digital trends is proving to be a death sentence in an increasingly competitive market.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, traditional businesses are finally getting to grips with transforming in-store offerings to compete with online brands – Zara being a key case in point. Most importantly, the biggest differentiator is focusing on customer experience above price and product.

CMOs are now responsible for more areas of the business than ever before and armed with bigger budgets to spend on technology. By utilising consumer data gathered at various touchpoints in the customer journey, CMOs can ensure alignment between departments. And finally, technology and data are eradicating opinions from the Board Room so that stakeholders can make informed, data-driven decisions that are right for the customers.