Not A Typical CIO: Lessons Learned as Chief Insights Officer

In today’s customer-driven economy, the role of chief insights officer is one designed to help organizations practice customer-centric thinking.

Janelle Estes, Chief Insights Officer at UserTesting

October 14, 2022

4 Min Read
customer experience abstract with a range from frowning to smiling faces as ratings
worawut via Adobe Stock

In today’s customer-driven economy, it's clear that being a customer-centric organization is critical for success. But who's responsible for making sure that actually happens?

Enter the role of a chief insights officer. While my specific title may be unique -- other companies might call similar roles “chief customer officer” or “chief experience officer” -- the bottom line remains the same: it’s an investment in deeply understanding our customers, our market, and the industry at large so we can make customer-centric decisions across the company.

Since taking on the CIO role in 2019, I’ve learned a few key lessons about the realities of becoming a customer-centric company.

1. Being truly customer centric is deceptively difficult

Every company wants to be customer centric, but how many really are? The answer is not many. According to one report, 75% of organizations believe they are customer centric, yet only 30% of consumers agree.

Teams are eager to make customer experience (CX) and customer feedback core tenets of their culture, but most organizations are still in the early stages of making this a reality. Building empathy for the customer -- true empathy that exists beyond analytics and big data -- doesn’t come from analyzing dashboards and metrics, but from finding effective ways to get inside customers’ heads to understand their needs and what’s working or not working.

Companies can achieve this by integrating customer perspectives into key processes and workflows within the organization. This could look like a product team getting customer feedback at several points throughout the process of bringing a new product to market, or a marketing team incorporating customer feedback into every step of building a new ad campaign.

2. There’s a disconnect when it comes to executive focus versus employees’ experiences regarding customer experience

Executives understand the importance of customer centricity, no doubt. Many will say that it’s critical and a key investment area for their company. But when you talk to the employees of those same companies, they often rate their team’s focus on customers as relatively low. One study reported that although 95% of executives believe the customer experience is important, only one-third of employees think their organization takes a proactive approach to it.

It’s evident that there’s a discrepancy between what leaders say about CX and what’s actually happening on the ground in their organizations. Filling this gap means empowering employees with the tools and resources they need to facilitate great customer experiences.

Additionally, frontline employees need the autonomy to do right by the customer in real time. For example, The Ritz Carlton’s ‘2,000 rule’ lets employees spend up to $2,000 dollars per incident (without manager approval) to solve problems for customers. Ensuring employees have everything they need to make customers happy is an example of being genuinely customer centric.

3. Tying customer experience efforts to the business’ bottom line is imperative

All companies care about customers. After all, happy customers lead to increased engagement and customer loyalty over time. But at the end of the day, businesses equally care about their bottom line: making money, reducing costs, and being profitable.

When embarking on any customer-related initiative, it’s essential to provide a clear connection of how focusing on the customer experience will improve the company’s bottom line. To do this, companies need to have a specific goal in mind, understand how CX-related technology or tactics will help them meet that goal, and socialize that information. This is the secret ingredient to bringing people along, getting buy-in, and moving to a customer-centric organization.

An example of this is how investment management firm T. Rowe Price solved a problem that was affecting its bottom line -- a drop-off in new account sign-ups. First, the company got clear on its goal: to capture new customers via an account-creation form. Next, they observed potential customers going through the account creation process to determine why the dip in sign-ups was happening. When they identified and resolved the fundamental issues, they saw the drop-off rate decrease.

4. There’s room to evolve what customer centricity means

Businesses have made strides in recent years when it comes to customer experience, but there’s still a lot of opportunity to improve. In many companies, CX is relegated to a group of people within the organization whose job it is to represent the customer and empower others to be customer centric. In the future, I believe we’ll move away from this siloed approach and the customer experience will become the responsibility of every single person within an organization.

Leading meal kit provider, HelloFresh, accomplishes this by collecting customer data and then sharing those insights company-wide on a monthly basis. Regularly bringing customers into the fold like this builds employees’ customer intuition over time, increases their desire to understand more, and to apply what they’ve learned.

Chief insights officers and similar titles will continue to play an important role in closing the gap between a company’s values and its actual practices. In addition to helping companies get closer to customers, customer-focused executives will be able to influence industry trends and shape the future of customer centric behavior.

About the Author(s)

Janelle Estes

Chief Insights Officer at UserTesting

Janelle Estes is Chief Insights Office at UserTesting, a human insights platform, and the co-author with CEO Andy MacMillan of “User Tested: How the World’s Top Companies Use Human Insight to Create Great Experiences.”

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