Is your company committed to customer experience? Do you have an executive whose only job is to enhance the customer experience at your company?

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Customer-centric leadership expert Jeanne Bliss pioneered the role of the chief customer officer, holding the first-ever CCO at Lands' End, Microsoft, Coldwell Banker, and Allstate.

Jeanne is the president of CustomerBliss, where she helps C-suite executives build customer-centric organizations. Her clients include AAA, Johnson & Johnson, and Brooks Brothers.

She's also the author of three best-selling books, including I Love You More Than My Dog and her most recent book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0.

I invited Jeanne to Marketing Smarts to talk about the evolving role of the chief customer officer, why every company should strive to implement customer-centric leadership, and how you can adopt (and hold to) customer-centric practices, even in the event of an economic downturn or other business disaster. 

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Your customer experience isn't going to improve itself (you need a customer-centric leader) (07:30): "There is a very strong understood connection between organic growth and growing your customer base and profitability—that it can't be all about your sales acquisition engine. That's good, but if you're leaking 90% of what you brought in the quarter before, out of your existing customer base, you could have grown but you don't. There's got to be something pointing to it, and usually it's the [customer] experience.

"As a result, CEOs have realized that after all these years...saying 'go be customer-focused'—it doesn't happen organically. The silos don't organically decide to put aside some of their own silo-based metrics and unite to deliver an experience. You need somebody sitting at the center of it, at least for a while, orchestrating it.

Smart B2B companies will lift customer experience approaches from the best B2C companies (09:24): "The best B2B companies emulate the behaviors of the most loved B2C companies. If they're smart, they're also going to the great companies. They're experiencing the joys of people like Danny Meyer, who's eliminating tipping [at his New York restaurants] because he wants to create a better experience."

B2B and B2C companies alike can create an incredible customer experience (they just have to empower their front-line employees to surprise and delight people) (10:30): "MSA [is] the world's largest manufacturer of hard hats. So this is B2B all the way. They sell to fire departments but also municipalities and any company that needs safety equipment, not just helmets. One of the things they realized was that they were putting their front a predicament of having limits on what they could and couldn't do for the customer. They had to keep 'touching the desk' to get permission....

"So...they gave them a virtual wallet, where they could put their humanness into the deciding factor and say, 'You know what, I'm just going to send them 15 free hats because I have this virtual wallet that I can spend down to take care of human lives. If I really somebody's emphatic and needs it and their back's against the wall, I now have the ability to be that person to make it right for them. You have to hardwire some of [that] in, especially in B2B."

Want to improve customer experience, enhance employee happiness, and maximize productivity, all in one stroke? Implement "Kill a Stupid Rule Day" (28:38): "One of the most fun things that we get people started on really early is something I call a 'kill a stupid rule campaign.' We allow and enable the employees to identify dumb things that are happening, and then the leaders have to kibosh those things to enable employees to keep doing the good work...

"[Companies have] some of the most goofy rules. One was a really big corporation, a B2C company, and you could look at the products online, but you couldn't use your VISA [credit card] unless you called them first.... All these hoops, and they'd been doing it forever. And so then they had like 50,000 phone calls into the call center about it, and we're like 'just get rid of the rule.' Hello!

"People are doing stuff because they've always done it, and then there's this whole infrastructure of expense and cost around managing the rule that doesn't make sense, and managing the exceptions of the ticked-off customers, and then there's the front line who's frustrated, and on and on and on we go.

"If you can be fearless enough to say, 'Identify these goofy rules that made sense at one point and we're going to kibosh them and we're going to also celebrate you for identifying them,' now we get rid of fear and we kill stupid rules, and you start the energy in your organization of getting people kind of jazzed about this work. That's where some of the grass roots stuff can really take hold."

To learn more, visit, and follow Jeanne on Twitter @JeanneBliss.

Jeanne and I talked about so much more, including customer journey mapping, how aspirational chief customer officers can find the right company, and the first step to creating a customer-centric organization, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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