CEOs Prioritize the Customer Experience, but not CMOs

February 26, 2021

IBM Top Priorities Outperformer CEOs Feb2021Customer experiences and customer relationships are top priorities for CEOs over the next few years, but CMOs are not seen as being crucial to these priorities, according to a recent study [download page] by IBM.

In the survey of 3,000 CEOs across 50 countries and 26 industries, customer experience was a priority for all respondents, but particularly for outperformers — defined as “those who thrived relative to peers in their industry, both before the pandemic as well as during it.” When asked to cite their highest priorities over the next 2-3 years, delivering a better customer experience was the top priority listed by 6 in 10 outperformers. As for underperformers, driving a better customer experience was still a priority, but was cited by fewer than 4 in 10 (38%).

The next-highest priority for organizations, according to outperforming respondents, is also customer-focused, with more than half (55%) pointing to the need to develop stronger customer relationships. Other priorities for outperformers over the next few years include improving efficiency (51%), increasing sustainability (37%), delivering more innovation in business models (37%) and delivering more innovation in products and services (32%).

However, in contrast to this overall focus on customer experience, CEOs do not believe that CMOs will play a critical role in the essential priorities of the next few years. Instead, at the top are CFOs (57%) and COOs (56%), followed by CIOs/CTOs (39%).

After this, only 19% of CEOs thought that CMOs would play the most crucial role in their organization. This figure has seen a decline over the years – in 2013, some 66% of respondents cited CMOs as crucial.

This finding adds to the ongoing debate as to who owns the customer experience. Research by The CMO Club early last year found that customer experience was the top area in which CMOs lead the C-suite conversation, but in a 2019 study by Deloitte, close to half of the Fortune 500 executives put the responsibility of customer experience into the hands of CSOs. All this is as even earlier research shows that marketing owns the customer.

On the whole, the IBM research indicates that CEOs are largely customer-focused. Of the 3,000 respondents, 50% fell into the customer-focused grouping, according to the study, while 30% were product-focused and 20% were operations-focused.

The study found that in 2020 customer-focused CEOs were 50% more likely to stress virtual engagement with customers than other CEOs, as well as being more likely to include customers in development and testing and in validating privacy and security policy.

The full report can be downloaded here.

About the Data: Results are based on a global survey of 3,000 CEOs.


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