WHY I BECAME A CXO (WHO LOVES TO FLY)
I have a secret: I’m claustrophobic. It’s not debilitating, but I have trouble in cramped spaces and I hate being boxed in. When I fly, for example, I refuse to sit in the middle. And if that’s the only seat left on the last flight out, I white-knuckle it the whole way.
Back in the early days of online travel booking, this caused me a lot of problems. That’s because it was only after choosing a flight and paying for it that passengers could see which seat they were assigned. For me, that included the occasional dreaded middle seat. I realized this one element – seat uncertainty – marred my entire flying experience.
At the time, Rokkan was in the middle of a website redesign for Virgin America. I was also leading a team tasked with finding ways to improve Virgin’s customer experience across the board. Naturally, I started work on seat selection before you buy. Presenting customers with the ability to see and choose an available seat before they paid increased their satisfaction and improved their overall experience, which, I can tell you, doesn’t just start at takeoff.
In addition to changing their digital platforms to allow for seat selection, we also showed taxes and fees before purchase to be more transparent. Both decisions influenced Virgin America’s overall approach to customer experience, and soon the company added call-center support that quoted the final price and seat availability before purchase. While this allowed customers to shop around, it also led to brand loyalty that helped overcome the competition.
The program was a big success for Virgin America, and an eye-opener for me. I understood how important and complex the customer journey can be, and that many companies had lost sight of this fundamental and critical issue. That’s when I decided my focus at Rokkan would be trying to understand our clients from the perspective of their customer.
By 2012, I had been so focused on the customer experience that I gave myself a new title. When I typed Chief Experience Officer into Google, I saw the health care industry had been using the term for years. It made perfect sense – from the reception desk to the nurse to the doctor to the surgeon to the prescription to the follow up, the customer experience at hospitals is literally a matter life of death. I wanted to bring the same urgency to our clients, so I became Rokkan’s Chief Experience Officer.
In the years since, thousands of agencies and brands have carved out a place in the c-suite for the CXO, and in many cases, consumers are winning big as a result. The principle is simple: identify every point of entry the customer has with a brand, make each one as easy, meaningful and enjoyable as possible, and thread them all seamlessly together. In my world, that means bringing the digital and physical touchpoints together.
The world of online travel continues to evolve, and we have helped it innovate – but always with an eye toward making the customer experience better. When we developed a new mobile app for JetBlue, we didn’t start with the UI, features or functionality – we started with customer need. For JetBlue, we knew we weren’t just trying to replicate the dot com – no one wanted to book a flight on their phone. Instead, we decided to enhance the experience by allowing folks to use their app as a boarding pass. It worked.
While the ‘customer experience officer’ has become a bit of a buzz term, that doesn’t mean it’s not a vital role. On the contrary, the customer experience is central to any company’s mission. I would go so far as to say every CEO has to be something of a CXO (or at least employ a good one). After all, if your company has customers and your CEO doesn’t care about them, your customers don’t care about you.
As the world becomes more connected and customized, there are new challenges for CXOs like me. Technology, customer behavior and business needs are always evolving. That’s what makes this job fun and exciting.
And I never forget that I am also a customer who is far less frequently squished into a middle seat.