The C-suite is suddenly getting more crowded. According to a recent study by the CCO Council, “the chief customer officer is becoming a staple of modern business.” The annual study reveals that more established brands are hiring C-level professionals who will lead the charge to resolve customer issues, create profitable customers and drive the company-customer relationship. 

The study found that 10% of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted the role, a percentage that jumps to 22% among the Fortune 100.

But what exactly is a chief customer officer? And what are they meant to do? Having the right mandate is just one of the challenges confronting the newest member of the executive team. As a relatively new position in many companies, the CCO’s day-to-day tasks are broad—and also vague. Essentially, the CCO is expected to form deep personal relationships with the company’s customers to truly understand them. 

This broad description sometimes discourages companies from hiring a CCO. 

Overall, however, the emergence of the CCO role at major companies signals a change in marketing thinking. “Job title changes might seem subtle but there is a quiet revolution of thinking going on,” writes MarketingWeek editor Ruth Mortimer. “The marketing division has been tied even more firmly to the wider business performance. I think we will see more companies anchoring marketing even more firmly to the bottom line in this way throughout this year.”

Perhaps more importantly, the rise of the CCO role recognizes that the customer revolution is here. Customers today are armed with more information and more choices, requiring companies to embrace transparency and to build trust. Many companies are realizing that the empowered customer of today wants to be treated as a partner—and that marketing organizations need to be more customer-centric than ever before.   

“Customer-centric organizations are highly collaborative; it’s the secret sauce to delivering consistent, meaningful experiences and relationships,” writes Christine Crandell in Forbes. “Only through enterprise-wide transparency, information sharing, proactive feedback, ideation and communication patterns that transcend hierarchical organization structures can teams respond to customer expectations and quickly resolve issues.”

Indeed, marketing’s job today is much less about broadcasting to customers about what they should buy—and much more about engaging them: listening to them, designing with them, creating experiences for them, earning their trust, advocating for them. While many of these functions are owned by different teams, they need to be brought together, and the CCO role is well positioned to do just that.

If the career paths of past CCOs are any indication, companies that have established this role appear to be succeeding. CCOs now enjoy “significant promotion,” according to the CCO Study, with many former CCOs rising internally to COO, president of a business unit and even to chief executive. Companies “recognize the value of the chief customer officer as a stepping-stone into roles of greater responsibility and authority.”

Indeed, the sudden rise of the chief customer officer is a sign that companies finally appear to be taking their customers more seriously as people, instead of treating them like anonymous fields in a database.

About the Author: 

Nick_Stein1Nick Stein is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Vision Critical, a customer intelligence platform that helps Banana Republic, Yahoo!, Time Inc., and more than 650 other global organizations build engaged, Secure communities of customers they can use for ongoing feedback and insight. Formerly an award-winning journalist at Fortune magazine and CBC's The National, Nick holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University and a BA in English from McGill University. Follow him on Twitter: @stein_nick
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