People buy experiences, not products. This was the rallying cry of the recently conducted Adobe Summit 2018. As Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said, “Consumers are seeking phenomenal experiences,” and successful companies know that “experiences rise above everything else.” But how does a company make experiences rise above everything else?

To achieve a singular focus on delivering lovable experiences, businesses committed to an all-out focus on customer experience need to accept a paradox:

  • On the one hand, everyone in the company must own customer experience, which is illustrated by Starbucks closing all its U.S. stores May 29 to educate its employees on racial bias.
  • On the other hand, someone needs to be accountable for the customer experience, whether the position is defined as a chief experience officer (CXO), chief customer officer, or some other title. And for everyone in the company to rally around experience, that executive – let’s call them the CXO for convenience — needs to be a chief collaborator across the entire organization just as successful product designers are — not an isolated customer experience expert locked away somewhere in a customer innovation center.

To get everyone in a company onboard the experience train, CXOs need to be successful builders of partnerships.

The CXO Defined

A CXO is responsible for the overall experience of an organization’s products and services. The CXO is charged with bringing holistic experience design to the boardroom and making it an intrinsic part of the company’s strategy and culture – not just one aspect of the strategy, but the entire strategy.

To keep an organization aligned on the customer, the CXO must have their fingers on the pulse of every touchpoint across the enterprise. This role ensures every experience maximizes customer acquisition, retention, and profitability across each touchpoint. In other words, the CXO and their domain curate and maintain a holistic user-, business-, and technology-relevant experience.

The CXO as Chief Partner

From a capability perspective, the CXO’s domain would include corporate leadership in the areas of user experience strategy, design management, experience definition, data, and intellectual property positioning and protection. In order for a CXO to perform at a high level, they must have deep relationships with the COO, CTO, the CIO and the CMO so that they are operationalizing the customer-experience mission collectively.

Let’s take, for example, a retailer or CPG firm. To develop and market lovable products, they need to coordinate a multitude of functions such as R&D, finance, marketing, sales, HR, and customer service. The CXO must partner with all those areas to do more than getting them to talk to each other but also to stay grounded in the customer experience, like so:

  • Product: what’s the experience model for a lovable product?
  • Finance: How might a lovable experience help us make more money?
  • Marketing: how might we frame the experience to the customer?
  • Customer Experience: how might we operationalize the customer experience pillars for this and all touchpoints?
  • HR: How might we align the company to support the employee experience in service of the customer experience?

How Hilton Rolls

For example, IDEO’s Rohini Venkatraman recently described in an Inc. column how Hilton’s customer experience strategy requires the company to look inward at its employee experience. As she wrote:

The company has realized that in order to realize its customer-driven mission, it first needs to focus on the experience of its employees. “Our mission is to be the most hospitable company in the world, and you can’t do that without great people, and you can’t get great people without being a great workplace,” Hilton’s chief human resources officer reported to Quartz. Now focused on internal upgrades like overhauling back-of-house cafeterias and locker rooms, the company is spending as much as $100,000 on improving staff experience at each hotel.

Here is a compelling example of how the experience touches all aspects of the company, including HR. I suggest that for Hilton’s employee overhaul to improve the company’s customer experience, its customer experience team will need to form a strong partnership with HR to align and measure HR’s agenda with the customer’s. For instance, how will Hilton capture and share learnings from its improved employee experience so that its people deliver on its mission to be “the most hospitable company in the world”?

Starbucks Makes a Dramatic Move

On a far more serious note, on May 29, Starbucks will close 8000 stores across the United States to educate and train its employees on racial bias – only the second time in the company’s history that it has closed its stores. Starbucks has always said it stands for more than profits, espousing values of humanity and inclusion.   In the aftermath of a highly publicized incident in which a Philadelphia store employee called the police on two black men who were using the restaurant as a meeting location, CEO Kevin Johnson did not cast blame on one employee; rather, he said that the entire company had failed to live up to its values and vowed to examine how the company’s own store-level processes and procedures may have contributed to this failure. As a result, Starbucks is making a dramatic and public move to provide its employees with the resources, education, and support to consistently provide an experience that activates its values of humanity and inclusion.

Like Hilton, Starbucks’s success depends on its customer experience. The company is taking action across the board to ensure that its people deliver an experience that reflects the company’s values.

The Glue That Binds the Organization

The IDEO and Starbucks examples underscore how critical it is to get the customer experience right – everywhere, every time. Think about the customer experience as a partnership or “glue” that binds various aspects of the organization together to facilitate experiences that drive loyalty, referral, and higher ROI. This mindset requires a business to think of its CXO differently.

As I  wrote recently, design leaders taking a seat at the table. This more prominent role creates opportunities to bring design leadership comprising collaboration, empathy, and customer-obsession to the boardroom every day. A more holistic view of the CXO might even transform existing executive officers to be focused on its customer, employees, and touchpoints – which is good news for the customer and your business. At Moonshot, we actively work with enterprises to build their capabilities in empathy and customer-obsession so they mature as a modern company selling experiences and ecosystems using creative problem solving and lean delivery to drive strategic directions.

Amish Desai

Amish Desai

Head of Experiences