In Search of the Chief Experience
By Amit Asaravala
In the early nineties, most tech companies had four top executives: chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief technology officer, and chief financial officer. The number of C-level officers has grown as a result of the structural changes taking place in the new economy. It's no longer surprising to learn of a company's new chief evangelist, or to read about chief privacy officers, chief knowledge officers, and even chief talent scouts.
One position that more and more service companies are making room for is the chief experience officer (CXO). In June of last year, HannaHodge (www.hannahodge.com)a user experience firm based in Chicagobrought Marc Rettig on as its chief experience officer, responsible for ensuring that user experience is integrated with every step of the process at HannaHodge. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the role of the CXO with Challis Hodge, CEO of HannaHodge.
How do you define the CXO position?
The CXO should ensure that an organization delivers the appropriate experience at every point of contact it makes with the public. This CXO must understand the processes, methods, and tools necessary to understand people, and should be able to translate that understanding into successful points of contact with users, customers, shareholders, employees, partners, and visitors.
In a professional services environment such as HannaHodge, our CXO is both inwardly focused and outwardly focused. HannaHodge was founded and built on the very premise that user experience was going to be a critical factor for businesses that succeed in the future and that delivering quality experiences would require a new way of working and thinking about business. In both corporate and professional services positions, the CXO should be responsible for keeping the entire organization focused on the user and the points of contact with the user.
How does the CXO differ from, say, a chief creative officer or a VP of customer service?
Both a chief creative officer and a VP of customer service have very specific viewpoints into the world of a user. In contrast, the CXO must understand and advocate for the user, bring together multiple skills and viewpoints across an organization to solve the user's problems, and do so in the context of all the biases brought forward by each participant in the process.
Companies that are looking at the position of CXO simply as a subcomponent of a much larger business framework are missing the boat.
At what point did you decide to create the position within HannaHodge?
We saw the need for a CXO from the beginning, primarily because we were doing something different and difficult. With all the hype about user experience in the industry today, if you look under the hood, most companies aren't doing anything radically different from three years ago. They're still working in silo disciplines with hand-offs and struggles over who owns the relationship with the user. We knew that our success would depend on developing and maintaining a process, culture, and training program that had every team member contributing and working toward the same goalthe goal of the user! We call this our Experience Engine. Our CXO is the mechanic.
Only a handful of companies have a full-time CXO. How do you see that changing over the next five years?
In the professional services business, it's my hope that we'll see fewer CXOs, because there's a real need for consultants and solutions providers to adopt a completely new way of workinga process that is holistic, interdisciplinary, and focused solely on understanding users and delivering the right user experience in the context of business goals and technology constraints. If this is achieved, then the role of CXO will be distributed across the entire company and the position will no longer be necessary.
In larger corporate environments, I believe we'll see the adoption and creation of the CXO position increase dramatically. Business success will depend on it. Customers rule!
What sorts of companies would benefit from employing a CXO?
Any company that comes into contact with people and that seeks to build a long-term sustainable business and brand equity. Remember we're talking about the points of contact with shareholders, business partners, governments, employees, andyescustomers. In addition, I think companies seeking to move their entire organization to a user-centered model for the purpose of identifying innovative business opportunities can also benefit from a CXO.
User experience is the perception that results from every point of contact a person has with a company, its products, and its services over time. It follows, then, that if a company is going to be successful it must be able to deliver on user expectations at every single point of contact it has with its customers. A company may be successful in the short term even if it delivers poor user experiences, but to build a sustainable business for the long term, making the experience a key part of business practices and processes is critical.
Amit is editor in chief of Web Techniques magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.