What Does a Chief Customer Officer Do?
A Q&A with Gainsight COO and Customer Success Thought Leader Allison Pickens
If you've ever wondered what a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) does, you're not alone.
That's why last week I asked Allison Pickens, Chief Operating Officer at Gainsight (the leading Customer Success platform provider), that very question.
As Allison explained, "the role of Chief Customer Officer is a very important one, but also a newly created one. It didn't exist with all that much frequency five years ago."
That newness has created a lot of ambiguity, so I wanted Allison to provide some clarity on the purpose of the role.
We asked her to break down the CCO's responsibilities, explain the CCO's dynamic with the rest of the CS team, and share some tips for anyone with ambitions of becoming a CCO.
Read on for her answers!
What does a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) do?
Typically this role is responsible for all client-facing functions post-sale.
So that often includes overseeing customer success management, professional services, customer support, customer operations, customer experience, and potentially an account management team that's responsible for renewing and expanding existing clients (although sometimes that team reports into sales). It may also include a pre-sales technical team (solution engineers or solution consultants).
There's not a single definition of Chief Customer Officer, but that tends to be the most common scope in terms of functional areas managed.
What metrics is a CCO held responsible for?
They're often accountable for the gross retention number - the percentage of dollars that we are preserving or renewing year over year. Often this person is also responsible for the net retention number, which includes expansions of existing clients, such as upsell or cross-sell.
What are three ways that a CCO adds value?
1) The Chief Customer Officer is aligned to revenue.
Gross retention and net retention are revenue-related targets. And therefore, if you're a CEO, one of the people that you're looking to in order to make sure that your business is growing is your Chief Customer Officer.
2) The CCO aligns various functions on the executive team around client success (and translates it into stronger revenue results).
- The Chief Customer Officers meets with the sales leader to make sure that we are selling to the right customers and that the handoff from the sales team to the professional services team is seamless.
- The CCO makes sure that the marketing team is finding customer advocates within the installed base and creating case studies based on the successes those customers have had with the product or service.
- They work with the product management team to make sure that client feedback is being heard and that actions are being taken to improve the product and the customer experience.
- The CCO might also work with engineering to ensure that there is a strong process for fixing bugs when they're discovered by clients and by the customer support team.
3) The CCO helps the executive team learn about the future strategic direction of the company based on what they've learned from clients directly and from the entire Customer Success team.
Learning from clients is very important for figuring out the future direction of the company.
If you had 30 seconds to convince an up-and-coming tech startup that they should appoint a Chief Customer Officer, what would you say?
As an up-and-coming tech start-up, you've probably been focused on finding product-market fit, as well as getting an initial set of customers who attest to the value of your product.
Your next step is to figure out how to scale your business. And if you are exclusively focused on the selling aspect of scaling and not on the customer success aspect, you will end up with a leaky bucket of clients leaving you at the same time that you're selling more clients. It's very challenging to grow a business when you have a leaky bucket. And for that reason you should invest in the customer success team and a CCO.
What should a CCO be focused on and how does that impact the rest of the CS team?
1) Own The Achievement of Financial Targets (Gross Retention, Net Retention, Services Gross Margin). The CCO should be forecasting the trends in those metrics several quarters out, so that they have a longer term view of the business. You're accountable for those targets and, therefore, for knowing the direction that those targets are heading in.
2) Set The Vision & Motivating People to Achieve Goals. Why is this set of functions so important? Why should people be excited to come to work? And in those moments when things are hard, why should people pick themselves up show up to work the next day?
3) Be Aware of the Details of What's Going on in the Organization. I think leaders in general need to operate at the level of the forest, but they also need to be able to go into the weeds in areas of critical importance.
For example, Services Gross Margin is one of those areas where the CCO needs to be focused. They should be knowledgeable about the most minute details of the financial model that builds up to the Services Gross Margin forecasting.
It's important for the CCO to be present with folks around the team, for many reasons, but partly so that the CCO knows what's going on within the team and the customer base. They should be doing round tables, one-on-ones, and generally finding ways to gather data and anecdotes that can help them make decisions.
Can you help us understand the differences between a Chief Customer Officer, a VP of Customer Success, and Director of Customer Success? And what folks in those roles need to do in order to be successful?
CCO - Vision
I talked about the responsibilities that a CCO should have: owning the most important financial targets, setting the vision, and being aware of the details in key areas.
VP of Customer Success - Strategy
A VP-level person should be able to own the next level down of operational metrics. They should understand how to set a target, how to achieve it, and how those targets contribute to the CCO's financial targets.
Where the CCO is focused on vision, the VP should be focused on strategy. So what's the path to get from point A to point B.
The VP should have deeper relationships with individual team members as well as clients. The VP of Customer Success should be aligning frequently with executives at clients.
Director of Customer Success - Tactics
A director level person typically manages individual contributors directly, where the VP might manage several directors. Each Director of Customer Success is managing probably about eight individual contributor CSMs.
The director should be able to own operational targets and design tactics for achieving those targets. For example, when we're planning for a big client meeting, how do we work with that individual CSM to design a thoughtful agenda for that meeting, cover the right things, and work through that conversation with the senior clients to get to the right outcome.
Which of these roles should a company hire for first?
As a startup at very early stages, you'll probably start with hiring one or two CSMs. It might be that those CSMs are reporting directly to a cofounder of the business.
At some point you're going to need someone who really understands strategy. As you grow, I'd recommend hiring a VP-level person who can help you be thoughtful about the way in which you're designing your methodology, especially when you get into that scaling stage. That methodology allows you to scale because it's essentially a repeatable process for achieving success for clients. So I'd recommend hiring a VP first. Eventually, as you grow your team, you'll have the need for a couple of directors who report to that VP and each of them manages individual contributors.
Once you have Customer Support, Customer Success, and potentially a Professional Services team, that's when it's valuable to hire a CCO who can manage all of these functions and ensure alignment between them.
What should someone looking to advance their Customer Success career and take on one of these leadership roles do to prepare?
If you're looking to learn about Customer Success best practices, you should come to our annual Pulse Conference and check out the Gainsight blog, as well as Pulse+, which offers regularly updated Customer Success trainings.
Finally, if you're looking to rise in your career, make sure that you're working for someone who you have a lot of respect for and who is not just going to be a friendly boss, but who will advocate for you. You should work for someone who's in your camp, fully recognizes your growth potential, and wants to help you grow over time.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
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