Who “owns” the customer? The answer may surprise you!

What’s your gut reaction when you hear the question, “Who owns the customer in your organization”? A frequent response I hear is, “Everyone does!”. While that may be an expected, even a noble answer in the world of customer experience, is it the right one?  To ensure the best customer experience in an organization, should every employee, at every level, in every function, take ownership of the customer?  Should they own both the transaction and the relationship?  Is everyone responsible for customer revenue, profit, retention and satisfaction?  Is it even the right question to be asking when it comes to creating exceptional customer experiences?

This is a frequently asked question.  There are numerous articles written by authors suggesting a variety of learned opinions on this question. Sometimes the discussion is about “who” owns the customer.  Other times there is a focus on the “what” or “how”.  Perhaps a few examples might help determine the best approach. 

For instance, Company A segments its customers based on certain criteria such as revenue level.  Each customer within a segment is assigned to an account manager.  In turn, this account manager is responsible for cross-sell revenue, profitability, satisfaction and retention of the customers within his or her assigned segment.  New customers acquired by “hunters” are then assigned to account managers or “farmers”.  While dependent on other functions to perform and deliver the intended experience, ownership is clearly identified within the sales and account management organization.  In this example they are the voice of the customer representing their needs and expectations to other departments. 

Now let’s look at Company B.  In this example, Company B has a traditional sales and marketing function that has primary responsibility for acquiring and retaining customers.  Goals for this organization include revenue generation and retention. They influence but are not directly accountable for customer profitability.  The organization assigns two company wide goals for revenue and satisfaction to all employees regardless of their function.  Employees benefit from achievement of these goals on a quarterly basis.  However, they are not negatively impacted if the two goals are missed.  The intent of this company-wide goal is creating a culture of customer ownership that will drive behaviors aimed at improving both revenue and satisfaction.  In this example, everyone owns the customer. 

For our final example, Company C spreads ownership by function.  This is defined by the customer’s journey with the organization’s products and services.  A prospect is owned by marketing until their first purchase and then ownership transfers to sales.  As orders are processed and delivered, the operations team assumes ownership to ensure customer expectations are met and the experience is aligned to the overall CX strategy.  In this example satisfaction measurements and customer ownership are segmented by function and each is measured accordingly. 

These are three examples.  I’m sure there are many others you can share from your own experiences.   Is one of these approaches better or worse than the other? Does each have its own set of advantages and disadvantages in achieving the desired experience?  Is having an identified customer owner within an organization imperative to executing a successful CX strategy?

When I’m talking to organizations about developing and executing effective CX strategies, this question of ownership frequently comes up.Frankly, I think we are asking the wrong question.We should be asking, “How do we add value to our customer relationships, regardless of our function within an organization?”It’s the value we create by having an experience strategy aligned to customer expectations that produces mutually beneficial results for the customer, the organization and the employee.Ultimately, this value creation is representative of our brand.It’s not about ownership, it’s about creating a culture wherein all employees have a stake in executing the customer experience strategy.It’s ensuring that every employee takes accountability for that experience.Once we have an integrated customer-focused culture, the question of ownership becomes obsolete, as it

Robert Azman