When you’re offering accounting software that helps small business keep on top of the numbers, it’s perhaps only natural that your brand purpose would be about helping them grow. At Xero, however, people like Rachael Powell are focused on something higher-level: to improve the lives of small businesses and their advisors around the world.
Speaking in a video interview with HubSpot in December 2020, Xero’s chief customer officer pointed out that many small businesses don’t necessarily want to get bigger.
“They’re about doing what they do best, and they’re about serving their customers,” she said. “What we’re about is making that as beautiful and as simple for them as possible.”
Powell comes to her chief officer role at Xero with a diverse educational background. This includes a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology as well as a Masters in Business Administration. She has also worked cross-functionally in departments ranging from marketing and sales to HR.
360 Magazine asked Powell to answer some key questions about the evolving nature of being a chief customer officer and how she’s delivering on it at Xero.
What tends to be some of the major catalysts for appointing a chief customer officer?
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a shift towards customer centricity as a result of digital transformation. This trend was accelerated by the pandemic as the world moved to an online environment, raising the bar for seamless customer experience.
Today, consumers are researching, browsing, purchasing and reviewing products and services online. With access to more information than ever, their voice has become even more powerful. Companies are quickly realizing that responding to customer demands requires a dedicated executive who has a responsibility for overseeing every aspect of the customer journey. Business success is no longer just about having a great product, it’s about how your customers feel when they use the product.
If consumers don’t get a seamless digital experience, they can switch brands at the click of a button. Many companies are realizing the importance of prioritizing the needs of the customer in everything they do and showing that they are listening to, and solving for, the customer first and foremost.
A chief customer officer (CCO) can bring together every part of the organization that touches the customer journey in order to not only meet their expectations but to exceed them. In my role as CCO at Xero, I focus on all aspects of the customer journey – from sales and marketing, to comms, digital transformation, revenue management and customer support / success. This means we have a birds eye view of our customers and as a combined team we can lean in where required and take action quickly.
What kind of backgrounds or previous experience are the best fit to become a chief customer officer?
Being a CCO is less about previous roles and more about the skills and mindset you can bring. You need to have a growth mindset. Customer needs and behaviors are always changing – you need to evolve with them and stay ahead of the curve so that you’re able to anticipate their next move. You also need to be a change agent who can galvanize the organization around the customer by articulating their perspective to different internal stakeholders and clearly communicating a vision that ultimately improves the customer experience.
I see the essential skills for a CCO as having an understanding and deep empathy for your customers, strong decision making, systems thinking, and an ability to leverage different teams across the entire organization, while mobilizing them around a shared purpose. It’s also important to have a good understanding of business strategy and the ability to methodically execute that strategy, and in doing so ensuring that all stakeholders involved are aware of the role they play in improving the customer experience.
It’s critical that the CCO understands the end-to-end customer experience from brand recognition through to lead attraction, trial experience, through to the purchase decision and then ensuring that we continue to build confidence and trust with that customer over their lifetime with the brand.
It’s a role that covers so many facets of the company – but at the heart of it I believe you have to take a human approach. Customers are people, they need empathy, understanding and support and they want to be able to trust that you’ll listen and then deliver what they need.
I expect we will see more chief customer officer roles with a broad mandate emerging as organizations realize that establishing a brand promise and then delivering it in a timely way, are sides of the same coin that must be fully connected.
How well-defined is the job description for this role today, and how might it be improved?
The CCO role will look different depending on a company’s industry and size, but there are some common responsibilities. The CCO’s job is all about fostering a customer-centric culture and uniting the executive team around a clear vision for how to meet the needs of their customers of today, and plan for customers of the future.
The CCO’s job is to enable cross-functional collaboration and leverage different functions to create a seamless experience for customers. Another key part of the job is to measure and manage every stage of the customer journey so you can identify which areas may need additional attention. To do that effectively you need clear metrics and accurate, up-to-date data and supporting commentary from the experts in the team that lead each part of the customer journey.
I think there’s always more that you can learn about your customers. I encourage CCOs to ensure you are listening to your customers through a two-way feedback loop. At Xero, we have a voice of customer team dedicated to conducting research with our customers around the world, to understand their feelings and behaviors, and produce actionable insights for how we can better support them.
What kind of direct authority should chief customer officers have over other departments (e.g., who should be part of their team)?
It is fundamental for the CCO to take a big picture view of the customer experience. They are the conductor of the orchestra. They need to understand all the customer touchpoints and how they connect together. Their remit should include all customer-facing teams from marketing and sales, through to education and customer support, to ensure alignment that enables timely decisions that best serve the customer. Having oversight of all these departments as a CCO means you’re able to remove siloed ways of working and ensure all of these business functions are aligned and committed to the same goal – delighting customers.
In a fast-growing global company like Xero, strong collaboration is key to ensuring everyone is focused on getting the best outcome for the customer. CCOs don’t need to be an expert in everything, however it’s their job to surround themselves with the best people in the disciplines they lead. Providing clarity and alignment on vision and empowering the best people to leverage their strengths and experience to deliver on the company promise to customers across the globe.
Will chief customer officers remain as part of the C-suite, or is this role one that might fade away in time?
Digital technology will undoubtedly continue to influence the way consumers interact with products, services and brands. This pandemic has shown us that people will always crave connection even in a digital environment. Customer advocacy is paramount for a business to not only retain existing customers but also to maximize the viral effects of word-of-mouth that now happens at scale with the proliferation of social media.
CCOs are needed to be the voice of the customer and to ensure the business continuously strives to exceed expectations by anticipating their next need and delivering it to them in a timely way.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.