Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bliss'ed Out

I'm not just a geek. I'm a geek with a passion for customer service. And now I have a new hero - Jeanne Bliss, author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, because she lays it all out there exactly as I've seen it over the years.

Wanting customer service done right, with the right kind of leadership, was the whole reason I got into management in the first place. Although I've worked with some great support professionals over the years, I haven't always found my passion for the customer matched, understood, or supported sufficiently high enough in the food chain to make a lasting difference.

I've theorized that getting attention onto the customer - the real nuts and bolts of what it takes to make customers truly happy with the products and services offered by a company - requires executive sponsorship and action of a level I've rarely seen before. With a nod to the other ways it is possible to make good customer relationships happen, Bliss essentially confirms that assertion with her own experiences and recommendations. I couldn't be more delighted.

A recent search of "Chief Customer Officer" shows CCO's are relatively new as a phenomenon , and some circles still argue the value of a CCO or Chief Customer Experience Officer (CCEO). Although the concept seems to be building momentum slowly, at least it's out there now.

In my estimation, it's not enough to say that we should be focused on customers. Having a deep understanding of what customer service really is and what it takes, operationally, to make customers satisfied and be business savvy enough to go about it in ways that are both effective and cost-conscious all push the degree of responsibility and interaction with other leaders of the organization up to C-level and even merit Board-level involvement.

Focus on the customer has to be real, and it has to exist throughout the company. It can't just be limited to technical support or customer service. Bliss has a good CCO-or-Not checklist for assessing whether a company needs a dedicated CCO to manage customer experiences.

The nice thing about the Chief Customer Officer function is that it more effectively describes what's needed in emerging companies.

In the early stages of a company, there is typically not enough volume to warrant a dedicated technical support or customer service person. But there does still have some be some understanding of how customer experiences will be managed, and how a service operation will grow. And the CEO needs the ear and support of someone who understands all of that so that it doesn't get lost in the process of getting funding and bringing the product to market.

Granted, it's generally overkill to have that expertise in play on a full-time basis. That's where on-demand or interim management can be helpful. Plenty of startups hire interim CFO's for similar reasons. Maybe it's time to think about an interim or on-demand CCO as well.

Clearly we're all still finding what constitutes level ground on this one, let alone best practices. I'd love your comments. I'm also looking for more resources to add to my growing collection of notes on the Chief Customer Officer function. I welcome your recommendations.

What if we paid the same level of attention to avoiding re-architecting customer service and corporate culture as we do to building good products?