BT created the Chief Customer Officer role for the first time in May 2015, highlighting the British multinational telecommunications company’s renewed focus on industries’ most powerful stakeholder.
In real terms though, it was a little late to the CCO party.
Since the turn of the Millennium, the young C-Suite role has been growing in profile in tandem with the increasing dominance of the customer, and where only four Fortune 500 companies had a Chief Customer Officer, by 2014, that number had ballooned to 50.
Despite the upward trend however, the role has still had to convince industry insiders that it can dictate meaningful change from a position of authority, rather than simply acting as a figurehead as some would paint them.
Lisa Harrington believes she falls firmly into the former camp, that BT’s considered response belies a real urgency to turn around public perception using positive customer experience as an enabler for growth.
As proof, Harrington states early on she reports directly to the BT Group CEO.
“I’m responsible for driving customer focus into all aspects of BT’s business, but the position is slightly more abstract than a one sentence explanation: it’s about evangelizing the changes necessary for us to become a customer-focused brand.
“Great customer service is only one part of the story: it’s also about your interaction and relationships, your prices, your product quality, and overall satisfaction.”
In essence, BT’s Chief Customer role has to emphasize to the Board and the brand how its customers can grow with it, with a specific focus on strategy and investment directed for that growth.
If the role sounds more like a CEO’s Chief Adviser, that’s because it needs to be.
Business leaders are facing ever increasing challenges, such as competition, talent acquisition, and technology investment that threaten the productivity and profitability of traditional enterprises.
Growth, however, is the most elusive addition to the list – and as one its solutions, the customer, is now widely recognized as a source of sustainable business growth, it stands to reason that their chief enabler needs to be equally a source of direction for a company.
“BT needs to amplify the customer voice, and then listen to what they are saying about our service and experience. The role is supposed to initiate a re-energization [sic] of BT and our trajectory, and I believe the customer is the demographic to help us grow together.”
Harrington’s sentiments are backed up by recent PwC survey from earlier this year states that 90% of global CEOs agree that customers have the biggest impact on strategy; if the Chief Customer role can act as a conduit for customer ideas, brands like BT can begin to leverage customers as partners on its growth pathway.
As well as that, Harrington believes the Chief Customer role needs to naturally story tell.
If Harrington is to sell to her organization the value of the customer, she will need to employ classic marketing techniques, like storytelling, in order to fulfill her remit.
And that requires customer stories and perspectives, or, in today’s language: empathy.
“The way in which brands identify customer issues or opportunities is through properly understanding every interaction with BT, and over the first year of my role I have had to try and disseminate these customer narratives across the organization.
“We need to be consistent about the perspectives we are trying to understand, so that every employee receives the same level and quality of customer information that [the Chief Customer role] should receive.”
BT’s ear to the ground has brought up some interesting customer trends.
The public are keen for more self-service products, according to Harrington, and widely see self-sufficiency as the more appropriate way to use BT products.
These new services could range from using apps to find out where best in a home a router should be placed, to developing capabilities that allow customers to choose how and when they see bills and orders, whether they like face-to-face exchanges when necessary, and how they want to be communicated with in the future.
And BT and Harrington are learning more all the time.
“We regularly invite other organizations to explain some of their new ideas and thoughts which we can choose to test-drive in-house as well.
“Customer experience leaders from ISA, John Lewis, and Transport for London (TfL), have all traded interviews with us – in fact, Vernon Everitt from TfL was my favorite.
BT services can be found in over 170 countries, allowing millions of people to connect with each other, with information and entertainment, via its technology infrastructure.
It’s journey began by laying down some of the first telephone lines, and over the years it has sought to improve its network from a business and technology context – which has now had to adapt to the growing voice of the customer.
Harrington’s appointment is the largest hint yet of BT’s attempt to transition from a telecommunications and technology multinational, to a customer-orientated, customer-connecting network.