Listening Meets Action: The Evolution of the Chief Experience Officer
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After 25 years at Microsoft, I left to become the Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at Qualtrics in January. I started my career on the front lines, listening to customer support questions and worked my way up to leading some of the largest product engineering teams at Microsoft.
At Qualtrics, I’m privileged to be able to combine my experience building and leading great product teams with thousands of conversations with other business leaders to translate them into the most exciting new role in the C-suite today — the Chief Experience Officer.
Here’s why it’s exciting:
The role of the CXO is to unite two very important jobs of the C-suite: universal listening and meaningful action across the entire business
The job starts with listening deeply to customers, employees, product users and the market’s response to the brand. All good leaders listen in their functional areas — some facing internally and some facing externally to stakeholders like Wall Street analysts. But in the C-suite, the role of the CXO is to listen to a variety of stakeholders, articulate their insights, and drive change at the highest level by asking the simple question:
“What are we going to do about what we’ve heard?”
Since I joined Qualtrics in January, I’ve had the chance to connect with many of my fellow CXOs across the world, and I’ve noticed three big trends among the most successful CXOs.
1. Successful CXOs start with their people
The CXO is an enabler – bringing together a diverse group of talented people and empowering them to provide breakthrough experiences to the end customer.
A recent article by Dominic Barton, CEO of McKinsey & Co, explains the crux of the problem — In a rapidly changing world, critical insights and competitive differentiators can often be hidden in the layers of the organization closest to the customer. Dominic explains why HR is increasingly getting a seat at the top table, on equal footing with the CFO: Because people allocation has become as critical as capital allocation.
A company’s culture is the sum of the purpose and behavior of these influencers. Empowering top talent with the right culture and right organizational structure can make an 8x-100x difference in productivity.
Experience management starts with people.
I lead the Qualtrics HR team, which is designed to drive conversations about empowerment and outcomes. One of the most important things I did in my first 90 days as CXO was to meet people who were making a difference in their regions and their roles, and ask them what drove their success and what was blocking them.
What I found in those conversations was that clearly connecting their work to the company mission was a key driver of success. As the CXO, my role is to articulate and share our mission with our employees and to ensure that our leadership, promotion, and training – our very culture – support that mission. While this is still a work in progress at Qualtrics, there is a great foundation to build from and I’m excited by the opportunity.
2. Successful CXOs build great experiences right into the product
When you empower smart people and give them mission clarity, magic happens. These empowered individuals dig deep to solve problems, they delight customers, and they create business impact by translating mission into tangible projects.
Good leaders create a culture that rewards action and experimentation, while never compromising on the customer experience. Having a CXO who sets a high bar for experience means that teams will spend more cycles acting on employee and customer feedback before they release something in the market.
Another way to ensure scalability and standards is to constrain the number of ways in which teams can impact the customer. Amazon famously limits all intra-company interactions via APIs/services, at the risk of being fired.
My favorite approach is to have people build a clear hypothesis for every idea before it becomes part of the product. It requires deep understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve and the context for which it can be solved.
While I was at Microsoft, I enforced the idea of design tenets — core principles rooted in deep understanding of the changing nature of work and office productivity (check out a talk that I gave at the HBS Digital Transformation summit on this topic). I challenged the team to manifest their different ideas an dtest their hypothesis with prototypes and design alternatives before settling on the final plan.
At Qualtrics, I am proud to lead the Design team as well. In the old economy, great customer experience meant a friendly smile or a warm welcome while an employee served you in person. In the digital economy, empathy for customers shows up in great design. CXOs must set the bar for great product design that gets the experience right the first time.
3. Successful CXOs use technology to scale their impact
Every successful company struggles with the tradeoff between the volume of interactions and the quality of each individual interaction. Whether it’s call center employees serving customers, or HR personnel reviewing employee benefits — as the volume of requests grows, the further we get from the human contact that has always driven great service.
Successful CXOs have to go digital to scale the human‐to‐human connection with our customers and employees
One of my favorite hotels exemplified this deep empathy with a simple touch. During a prior stay, I mentioned that I’m a light sleeper and that the blinking light on the smoke alarm had kept me awake. On a subsequent visit, I was surprised to see that the hotel had placed blackout stickers on all the display lights in my room. A hotel employee had noted my prior concern in their system, and my check-in process had triggered a housekeeping request for a darkened room.
Technology can create many barriers to daily human interaction. We are all constantly inundated in a stream of data that from multiple systems and inboxes. Great CXOs find ways to aggregate information from operational systems and tie them to the voice of customers and employees. They connect the teams that analyze the insights from these systems with the teams that act on them.
Great technology allows empowered employees to cut through the noise. It’s listening and always learning, backed by deep data analytics. And it delivers predictive intelligence that allows you to anticipate and react to the fast-changing world around you. (And that’s what Qualtrics does!)
From the moment I walked through the door at Qualtrics, I could see something special was happening. Qualtrics has evolved past its roots of enterprise feedback collection, to a digital-first, AI-powered intelligence engine. We’ve become the tool of choice of progressive CXOs everywhere who want to combine universal listening with the ability to take action.
CXOs everywhere are nurturing people, driving vibrant product experiences, and scaling with the right technology
As the CXO of Qualtrics, I’m honored to serve these experience champions. And I’m proud to be among them as we make a difference to our employees and customers.