A customer receives an order from a drive-thru window at a McDonald’s Corp restaurant. in London, Ontario, Canada on Wednesday January 8, 2020 during a test of the “PLT” Sandwich – Plant, Lettuce and Tomato with Beyond Pea Meat Patties.
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Along with supply chain issues, rising raw material costs and other lingering business challenges resulting from the pandemic, the creation of a new leadership position has been at the center of the concerns of senior executives at many of the world’s largest companies: customer manager. .
In recent quarters, companies from all walks of life – from McDonald’s, CVS Health, Under Armor and Walgreens to wholesale grocer United Natural Foods – have added leading work to help the boardroom stay better. in touch with a rapidly changing consumer landscape.
Prior to the pandemic, customer happiness was often tracked on the talking point lists of various internal teams forwarded to the C suite, but it is now considered essential to give a senior manager the responsibility for influencing the employees of the organization so that they are more attentive. the customer wants.
“A lot of organizations have been product-centric or channel-centric, but now there is this growing sense that there is this need to be more customer centric,” said Augie Ray, vice president of analyst responsible for customer experience at Gartner, a solidifying research and consulting company. “Certainly the pandemic made many organizations realize that they weren’t in touch with their customers – they realized they needed to be more in tune.”
Delivering better customer experiences and building stronger customer relationships were their top two priorities over the next two to three years, according to a 2021 survey of 3,000 CEOs at the IBM Institute for Business Value.
The role of digital in driving new sales
The phenomenon is not really new. Many companies have had a version of this role – Consumer / Customer Leader / Experience Manager – over the past decade. But the extent to which people’s internet use has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic is not expected to decline. More than three-quarters of executives say the change in customer behavior will continue after Covid-19, according to the IBM study. As the balance between physical and online purchases constantly changes, the roles of account manager in meeting rooms are reaching critical mass.
According to the 2019 Gartner Customer Experience Management Study, 90% of 401 companies said their company employed a Customer Experience Manager, up from 61% in 2017. Gartner expects this number is higher today; the results of its next poll will be published in the coming weeks. “We’re going in the middle of our bell-shaped curve in terms of companies creating these roles,” says Ray. “The role is recognition in many cases of what has happened before – many organizations that have had a VP of Customer Experience who has promoted someone into this new role of CCO.”
The role of a relationship manager, who reports directly to the CEO, can be defined differently across industries and vary widely from organization to organization. Typically the job is a fusion of marketing, branding and maybe sales with digital and data being the roadmap. The rise of mobile computing has led to a wave of digital directors responsible for digital interactions with customers.
“This has evolved into the Director of Clientele, who takes a more holistic look at the customer experience,” said Paul Papas, Managing Partner of Global Business Transformation Services at IBM Consulting.
The glut of online customer data collected during the pandemic has spurred some of the new thinking about the structure of the C-suite. “Sales and marketing have separated in big companies, and e-commerce and data have them brought together again [to enable] the rise of a director of clientele, “said Ivan Pollard, chief marketing and communications officer at the Conference Board and former chief marketing officer of General Mills. The increase in data has led to” a billion head-to-head conversations. one-on-one with clients who may be successful in affecting a company’s strategy, ”he added.
Many brands are adopting an omnichannel strategy in which online and the data collected reinforces the physical footprint rather than being seen as a threat to the sustainability of brick and mortar.
McDonald’s and new consumption habits
Manu Steijaert, who was named McDonald’s first global customer manager in July, leads a team comprised of the data analytics, digital customer engagement, global marketing, global restaurant development and solutions groups. catering, with a focus on “each and every digital customer touchpoint,” according to the company’s statement on the role.
Steijaert has a solid roadmap to follow, given McDonald’s reputation for embracing technology and customer focus since its 2015 turnaround, including the company’s pre-pandemic success with the breakfast menu. all day, an example cited in a recent Morningstar analyst note.
“When people are ready for the McPlant, we’ll be ready for them,” CEO Chris Kempczinski said on the company’s third quarter earnings conference call, speaking about the plant-based burger menu items. McDonald’s declined to comment.
McDonald’s also launched a new business strategy in 2020, based on the changing needs of consumers at the start of the pandemic. Investing time and money in delivery, digital and drive-thru are key goals; pushing the food delivery service “fulfilled a customer need that I think none of us fully appreciated even maybe a few years ago so this is here to stay,” said Kempczinski during the call.
Steijaert will likely play a role in how McDonald’s interprets customer data from its new loyalty program, where the underlying information provides a competitive advantage with the ability to build a database of order history and timing. and successful promotions, according to Morningstar.
His experience working in his parents’ McDonald’s stores while growing up, and later as the head of the company’s restaurant innovation team, speaks volumes about the direction McDonald’s is taking with the way it works. The company is rethinking its physical spaces as the pandemic continues to impact in-store meals.
“People are saying the pandemic will be all about drive-thru and delivery – obviously some of those habits will stick,” Ray said. “But there is also a strong desire to get back to normal… humans are still physical creatures and you have to understand the needs of people in the physical world and in the way they use your product there as well. “
Comparable store sales are critical to the growth of the business, and “data will play a key role in increasing the frequency of visits and increasing the number of tickets,” said Edward Lewis, research analyst at Atlantic Equities. “If you think about it, a lot has happened and having someone responsible for overseeing all of these areas is important and clearly something McDonald’s felt it had to do.”
Under Armor appointed its first CCO in October. Massimo Baratto will oversee the sportswear brand’s global marketing, e-commerce and retailing as it continues its turnaround and pursues market leaders Nike and Adidas.
“In terms of moving the brand forward, we will continue to follow our strategy, which is ultimately a consumer-driven strategy,” CEO Patrik Frisk said on the Q3 earnings conference call. company. Under Armor declined to comment.
Baratto will guide the company’s relationships with customers likely by adapting to how consumers’ sportswear and athletic footwear shopping habits have changed during the pandemic. According to Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor for market research firm The NPD Group, digital athletic shoe sales accounted for 30% of the overall market in 2019 and 40% in 2020, where they have busy. More people buy shoes through smartphones than laptops, and conceptually, customers are focusing on activities that keep them fit while continuing to distance themselves socially.
“I think brands have started to understand how much of their business comes from their best customers,” Powell said. “They are strengthening their loyalty programs and using this knowledge of what a customer is buying to use to shape their assortments in the future.”
Data from loyalty programs, such as customer buying habits, is a way for CCOs to use context to better humanize each customer experience. The data can also help call center workers gather customer context during phone calls, such as the web pages they viewed and detailed histories of shopping behaviors, which can promote a more lasting connection. IBM Papas explains.
While a CCO’s core job – keeping customers happy and keeping them loyal to your brand – is a goal that analysts say all companies need to address, it’s too early to know if the new leadership position holds. a long-term seat in the C-suite. “CCOs aren’t responsible for touchpoints – they don’t have a product team or digital team reporting to them,” said Ray. “Ultimately it is a role of great power, but it is a power that must be used to influence the leaders and front-line employees of the organization to become more customer-centric in their day-to-day operations. . “