Do you have what it takes to become Chief Customer Experience Officer? This VP Marketing did.

We live in a social, consumer-driven economy that is highly complex and offers many points of interaction for the customer.  Companies that will thrive, are those that can engage with their customers meaningfully across all touch points.  Corporate marketing  can no longer control the message or the brand.  Engagement with the customer must become the responsibility of the entire organization.   In effect, as Tom French, Laura LaBerge, and Paul Magill of McKinsey stated so clearly in their July 2011 article, “We’re all marketers now“.  In this new era of engagement, marketing is the organization, and it’s all about the Customer Experience.

What does this shift mean for the VP of Marketing or the CMO?  If marketing is the organization and engagement is the responsibility of the entire organization, then these roles have to evolve, and perhaps this builds a strong case for companies to now rally around a Chief Customer Officer rather than the person who runs Marketing.

Westminster Savings, a British Columbia, Canada-based Credit Union (ranked 14th largest in Canada by asset size), has recently gone through some structural change as a result of this type of progressive thinking.  Maury Kask, who’d been in the VP Marketing role for over three and a half years, was just promoted into the newly-created role of SVP Chief Customer Experience Officer, at the beginning of March.  I caught up with Maury on the phone last week, to better understand what the implications of this move were for the company, his own career, and for other marketing professionals who can see the writing on the wall.

Here are Maury’s responses to the questions I asked:

1. When did the topic of Customer Experience first pop up on your radar screen?

Maury:  Last February, as we were starting our strategic planning process, Customer Experience became an increasingly important part of the discussion, because we were starting to think about who we were, what made us different, and what was going to be the future value proposition to help us differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.  This is when the subject of Customer Experience began to get talked about in earnest, in the company.

2. Can you share a bit about your career background?

Maury Kask - SVP Chief CE Officer

Maury:  I’m a cross-functionally experienced marketer.  My background spans strategic marketing, branding and communications, e-commerce, product marketing and promotions, corporate sponsorship and citizenship, sales, and anything in between, which I’ve been doing for about 23 years.  I have a background in information technology, consumer packaged goods, transportation, hospitality and tourism, Telco, and five years working internationally.  I have only been working in Financial Services since 2008.  Instead of staying in one vertical and rising up through it, I wanted experience in a variety of sectors to increase the value I can provide.  I’ve worked in different businesses of different sizes – from a small software start-up in Seattle Washington with 6 people, right up to a global multinational with close to 1,000,000 employees.

3. What is the mandate of a Chief Customer Experience Officer?   What does the new structure look like?

Maury:  At the strategic level, it’s being the champion for the strategy, leadership, planning, and execution of all Customer Experience related strategies at an enterprise level.  This is a fundamental part of our new Strategic Plan. Tactically, the mandate is a comprehensive view, and probably a very authoritative view of our customers and developing and executing strategy to enhance our differentiation, maximize acquisition, retention, and customer profitability.  It requires a comprehensive, strong view of our customers that is very insight-driven, that helps us to differentiate in a very undifferentiated space.

The functions that I directly oversee today are traditional marketing, communications, internal communications, community investment, products and services and how they impact our channel and delivery strategy.  I also oversee our mobile and e-commerce channels as well as our customer Contact Centre. I work very collaboratively with other delivery channel owners.  We’ve also created a new position – Manager, Customer Experience – that directly reports into me.  I’ve got everything from traditional, promotional and marketing communications that customers are seeing and experiencing – advertising, and all the associated components, all the way through to the products and services they use.  I impact the delivery channels in which they use them, and that extends down into how customers engage with us, and ultimately how we translate our brand promise into what we do in the community.

For me, the move doesn’t feel risky. It feels like a natural extension and kind of the world that every marketer wishes they had…

4. When we talk about career moves, people often play it safe and stay within their comfort zones; where they’ve developed most of their experience.  Moving from Marketing into Customer Experience, is a bold, risky move.  How do you see it?

Maury:  Going back to my first comment, as marketers, we regularly talk about the need to live and breathe our brand. In this new position, not only can I promote that mantra, but I’m now also responsible to help make it happen throughout the organization, which is a very enabling move for me. I’m also expected to work cross-functionally to look at all policies, practices, processes, the entire customer experience, everything that should be a reflection of what our brand promise is. It’s hugely fulfilling.

For me, the move doesn’t feel risky. It feels like a natural extension and kind of the world that every marketer wishes they had, because as a marketer you have control of your functional area and you try as best as you can to impact others.

5. Doesn’t it scare you?

Maury:  The things that scare me about it are probably 1. The size, the scope, and the complexity of the challenge probably presents a bit of a scare for me because now I have to look at things through an entirely new lens and a much deeper lens; and 2. I don’t have an Operations background here and a lot of Chief Customer Officers come from an Operations background in some way, shape or form. I’ve worked in Operations in other industries but not in Financial Services; so this is new for me. Fortunately I work with a great team of people at Westminster Savings and we’re all out to do our best together.

I’m very fortunate to have the full support of the Executive team.

6. As a Customer Experience practitioner, I know first-hand how difficult it is to get buy-in from the Executive Team about investing in Customer Experience. How difficult was it for you to get buy-in from your peers and the CEO, for this new position?

Maury:  I’m very fortunate to have the full support of the Executive team. As part of our strategic planning process, the Executive Management Team collectively agreed that someone needed to take ownership of it at the Executive level, and I was approached as a candidate. This was presented to our CEO and he agreed.
So at the start of last year I was put in charge of leading the development of our Strategic Plan. As part of building our strategy, talking about our strategy, and helping to prepare the document, I became a bit of an authority on our strategy and what we’re trying to accomplish. So from that standpoint, it felt like a very natural progression to go into this kind of role, because for the most part, I was assigned to leading the Strategic Plan over the course of that same year.

7.  What are you hoping to achieve for the business in this new role, that you were unable to do as VP Marketing?

Maury:  First, I’ve got to take off my VP Marketing hat. While I still oversee the marketing function, I’ve got to take that hat off in order to see our business differently. Working with the rest of the Executive Team, I’m looking to make a very strong cross-functional impact. Based on our Strategic Plan initiatives we know we have to break down some silos and make our Customer Experience even better than it has been in the past. We know it’s already very good, but our challenge is how to make it even better and take a customer view across our process – re-look at everything we’ve done from a policy, procedure, practice, and strategy perspective and look at it from a total customer view. It’s going to mean working horizontally across the organization, working collectively with the executive management team, and ultimately it’s all about delivering some differentiated Customer Experiences that are going to set us apart from everybody else.

Based on our Strategic Plan initiatives we know we have to break down some silos and make our Customer Experience even better than it has been in the past.

8.  What sort of advice can you share with other Marketing Professionals about the importance of Customer Experience?

Maury:  I’d probably come back to what I’ve said before, which is, in most service-oriented businesses, it’s almost entirely about the Customer Experience.  If you’re not thinking about how your organization delivers on its brand promise, then you’re not thinking about Customer Experience and you need to be thinking about it.  Customer Experience is a fundamental part of what we’ve done in a marketing function for quite some time.  Now the opportunity for marketers who’ve always taken a customer insight-driven approach to building marketing strategies, is how to extend that to directly impact a customer’s experience.


So for Maury Kask, this move from VP Marketing to SVP Chief Customer Experience Officer, made perfect sense.  His immersion in leading the Strategic Planning process for the past year, and incorporating the Customer Experience as an integral part of the plan, made this new role a natural fit for him.  How about for others?  What if you didn’t come from Marketing or Operations? What if you had to gain the support of your Executive team? Do you feel you have what it takes to become Chief Customer Officer?

Disclosure: Westminster Savings is a client of Strativity Group, the company I work for.

By the way, Maury’s promotion is so fresh, that at the time of this writing he hasn’t even had a chance to update his LinkedIn profile.