Your Customers Should Hire Your Next CEO

You may not realize it, but your customers might have the best perspective on who should be your company’s next CEO. Understandably, they want the person at the helm to have the customers’ best interests in mind at every turn.

Given that 89 percent of companies plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016, an executive who has service on the brain is actually a sensible choice to lead a business. And customer-focused executives are often uniquely qualified to lead because they often have experience in operations, teamwork, problem solving, and leadership.

Let your customer service set your business apart

CCOs are already movin’ on up

More and more companies are creating customer-focused executive positions, such as Chief Customer Officer (CCO). In the last year alone, we’ve seen the number of CCOs nearly double to 2,000 across multiple industries. Increasingly these same executives are being tasked with greater and greater leadership responsibilities. Of the 260 random CCOs surveyed, nearly 9 out of 10 now sit on executive management teams, Forrester also reported. That’s double the rate from 2012. The executive positions themselves are being filled with people from varied backgrounds: service, yes, but also operations, general management, marketing, sales, strategy, finance, and so on.

That means these high-ranking service-minded execs are already well rounded and know the business from multiple angles—which makes them a smart bet for future placement in the highest levels of leadership.

Early on, it seemed as though there weren’t many promotion opportunities for executives in CCO roles. But recent evidence suggests that Chief Customer Officers and their service-minded peers are currently enjoying greater mobility in the C-suite.
Some companies have already realized the incredible value of these versatile, experience-minded leaders; businesses are beginning to staff executive positions with candidates who have substantial customer-focused roles on their résumés—many CCOs are eventually promoted to COO, president of a business unit, or CEO.

Customer executives are used to fighting for what they believe in

CCOs, who act as the champion for the customer, face a considerable challenge in most companies: they must convince the rest of their organization that ensuring customer success at every touch point is a prime directive. Getting execs to agree that a customer-centric strategy is needed is one thing; getting them to invest in it is another.

Wrangling buy-off and buy-in means working across many different functions, such as finance, marketing, product, support, and sales. CCOs have to be good at convincing stakeholders to work together and rally around a common cause: the customer. The ability to facilitate cross-functional collaboration and build consensus is a valuable skill for any future CEO.

Today, fewer than half of companies rate their customer experience as exceptional, but two-thirds “expect it to be” in 2 years. If the top brass is already convinced that providing exceptional customer experience is the best way forward, she or he can make it a priority throughout the organization and make that 2-year goal a reality.

Start building a future-ready customer-service strategy

Prioritization of customer experience comes from the top

Even as more companies create CCO roles, CEOs still hold all the cards as far as service-related business decisions go: a CEO is 8 times more likely to have direct control over customer experience initiatives than a CCO. But when CEOs operate from a service mindset, it pays off big. CEO leadership of customer experience has been linked to better business performance.

Moving a CCO into the CEO position only increases a company’s advantage and sets the tone for future strategic decisions. In a marketplace where customer experience is on track to overtake price and product as the key differentiator, elevating an exec from the ranks of the service organization—someone who is already passionate about customers, knowledgeable about their needs, and invested in a service mindset—to be a company’s most prominent figure makes good business sense.

Although your customers shouldn’t literally vote for your next company head, consider for a moment if they’re “voting” with their pocketbooks. Satisfied customers are loyal customers, so it’s worth looking at who is responsible for that loyalty. That person might well be the one best suited to lead your organization in the near future.

Are you ready to start building a strategy for exceptional customer experience?