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The Customer Experience Conundrum: Where Does It Belong in Your Organization?

Do you have a Chief Customer Officer? A few years ago, Gartner reported that nearly 90% of organizations did. Where this vital function should sit in their organizational structures is the lingering question of customer experience management.

Like many things, there is no one perfect solution. Instead of prescribing a one-size-fits-all answer, let’s unpack the various possibilities.

The Standalone CX Department

Some organizations have embraced the importance of CX by creating a standalone department, often headed by a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or a Chief Experience Officer (CXO). This reflects a dedicated commitment to the customer experience, and it can be a powerful statement to both customers and employees. In fact, Gartner’s 2019 CX Management Survey indicated that 46% of CX leaders report directly to the CEO, underscoring the strategic importance placed on this function.

However, embedding a customer-centric culture can be challenging when CX is isolated from other departments.

I’ve seen CX teams that are solely responsible for creating and deploying customer feedback mechanisms. It’s vital to define what the CX team will do and provide enough cross-functional visibility and support so they can actually influence the experience. Too often, that is not handled well, and they end up as a bit of an island in the organization.

Related: Experience Action Podcast Episode 5 – 5 Questions for Customer Experience (CX) Leaders


CX Embedded in Marketing

Historically, many organizations have positioned CX within the marketing department. The rationale is straightforward: marketing is outward-facing and focused on understanding and fulfilling customer needs. Qualtrics XM Institute’s 2021 State of the XM Profession Report indicated that more than 40% of CX leaders spent time in strategy, customer service, marketing/PR, and operations.

However, a potential downside is that the broad scope of marketing activities can sometimes overshadow the focus on customer experience. The role of the Chief Marketing Officer is a tough road these days. The average tenure is just a smidge over three years. It’s the lowest it’s been in decades, according to a 2022 study.

There are pros to including CX in marketing, including teams who understand and utilize customer feedback, behavioral analytics, and market research. Yet traditional marketing goes up to the sale. So if the customer journey is really being defined as the marketing funnel experience, then customers will miss out on a winning customer journey.


CX in Operations

Increasingly, companies are integrating CX into operations, driven by the understanding that delivering a seamless customer experience is a cross-functional responsibility. According to a survey conducted by GetFeedback in 2021, 20% of CX professionals sit in the operations department under Information Technology (IT).

This can be a successful approach, particularly when organizations value operational efficiency and want to ensure that customer interactions are streamlined across all touchpoints.

Evaluating operational effectiveness in relation to customer happiness can be a powerful lens. It’s easier to make a case for a better experience for the customer when the operations team is identifying the weakness. When the Starbucks CEO spent time as a barista, he identified how the different sizes of lids were not only an operational inefficiency, but it slowed things down for customers.

However, if the COO is only interested in lowering expenses and improving internal processes, that can be a losing proposition for the customer. It’s important to include both sides of the equation if CX is within the Operations function.

Related: Is Customer Experience Worth It? And How Much Should You Invest?


CX Dispersed Across the Organization

Another option is to have CX dispersed throughout the organization, with various teams owning different aspects of the customer journey. This approach is built on the belief that every department has a role to play in the overall customer experience.

The advantage is that this promotes a customer-centric culture across the entire organization. The challenge, however, lies in ensuring alignment and consistency in CX initiatives.

I often warn about the desire to say “CX Is Everyone’s Job” because it quickly becomes nobody’s job!

In an ideal world, CX leaders would get to a place where their role is simply nurturing and ensuring this cultural ideal. But I disagree with those who say they should be out of a job. Customer experience requires attention, discipline, and meaningful leadership. We’d never say the Chief HR Officer should work their way out of a job because culture will be perfect eventually. Why do we think that way about customer experience?

Related: Download the CX Charter Guidebook


CX Center of Excellence

A Customer Experience (CX) Center of Excellence is another strategic option for organizations. It operates as a centralized hub responsible for developing and disseminating best practices, providing guidance, and fostering innovation in customer experience across the organization. Unlike a standalone CX department, the CX Center of Excellence is not solely responsible for delivering customer experiences. Instead, it focuses on equipping various departments with the tools, methodologies, and knowledge they need to excel in their own CX efforts. Its core objectives include creating a unified vision of exceptional customer experience, encouraging cross-departmental collaboration, and driving a consistent, superior CX across all customer touchpoints.

For instance, Microsoft has a dedicated CX Center of Excellence, which plays a crucial role in transforming their customer interactions. The center spearheads initiatives to gain deeper customer insights and works closely with other departments to implement these insights. This center actively supports other departments by providing necessary tools and guidelines, organizing workshops, and sharing best practices for improving the customer experience. In both examples, the CX Center of Excellence doesn’t solely own the customer experience; rather, it empowers the entire organization to deliver it effectively.


Every Team Starts with a Change Agent

I know many leaders who have titles totally outside of the customer experience world. Yet they see the need to lead around customer experience in their organizations. So they do! They don’t have a team. There is no Center of Excellence. Some in their organizations don’t know what customer experience management is yet.

If you are a change agent, keep going! One leader turns into one leader with a team member. Then another. Then cross-functional collaboration leads to real change. And then you’re deciding where to put the team you’ve built!


The Path Forward

Where you place customer experience in your organization will be influenced by your company’s culture, resources, and strategic objectives. Regardless of its position on the org chart, it’s imperative to remember that effective CX is a company-wide commitment.

Equally important is the need for CX leaders to possess the courage to ask for a seat at the executive table. B2B and B2C companies that implement innovative CX strategies are 3 times more likely to substantially outperform their business goals (Adobe 2020 Digital Trends).

Having a CX leader at the executive table is not just about representation; it’s about having a dedicated voice that keeps the customer at the forefront of strategic decisions. Ultimately, the customer experience shouldn’t be an afterthought; it must be a central tenet of your organizational strategy.

While there’s no universal answer to the CX conundrum, one truth remains: organizations that prioritize and integrate CX into their core operations are more likely to provide meaningful experiences for customers, retain loyalty, and drive long-term growth.


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About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

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