Who Is Your Library’s Chief Customer Officer?

Chief “anything” officers are rarely found in libraries of any type, but the concept of a single administrator who takes responsibility for the end-to-end implementation or responsibility for some part of the operation has found a home in some library organizations. Perhaps the most common one is the Chief Technology Officer. One “Chief” position that I am not expecting to see in libraries anytime soon probably has more to do with the other “C” word in this post’s title than the possible value of the position itself. Despite the general resistance to the customer concept in our profession, the idea of a Chief Customer Officer strikes me as an important organizational commitment to achieving a total user experience.

According to the article “How Chief Customer Officers Orchestrate Experiences” there are over 700 U.S. firms with an executive leading the customer experience effort. It’s a relatively new position at most firms with 44% having spent two years or less in their current positions. What we might be seeing is an elevation of the experience focus at these firms. It is more commonplace to find positions like user experience specialist or even a director of user experience in retail and service firms, but it appears more firms are deciding to add an executive level position dedicated to full accountability for the customer experience.

The big question concerns what these CCOs actually do. What makes their position unique with the organization? According to the article the function of the CCO is to:

Design experiences rather than processes. Customer experience transformation involves changes in the fundamental ways that a company operates and delivers value to customers. The big uptick in CCOs with operations backgrounds signals an awareness of this fact. These leaders need to reframe problems and opportunities from the customer’s perspective, not the internal point of view that business process improvement takes too often.

While that’s short on specifics it suggests to me that the CCO is tasked to shift the organization culture to one in which the customer experience is at the center of decision making so that there is a more customer experience centricity to the work of that firm. I can also see the advantages of having an executive with the resources to bring together the different operating units to work towards totality in the experience so that it works well across all touchpoints.

While it would be interesting to see some libraries devote an executive position to the user experience, and I think the Columbus Metropolitan Library may be the only one that has, for now it may be reasonable to anticipate more user experience positions at the departmental level – although I suspect many of those positions will be more focused on usability and library assessment as opposed to changing the experience culture of the library. But if the library world follows what happens in the corporate world, and occasionally it does, as the focus on user experience continues to build in libraries, we may eventually see more CCOs in the library C-suite.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

4 thoughts on “Who Is Your Library’s Chief Customer Officer?”

  1. Another perspective is that every member of the organization has a thread of CCO in his or her job. Shouldn’t everyone in the org be a COO at their level, especially since the customer will interact with the “rank and file” rather than the C-suite folks? Not to say that a Customer Experience Champion isn’t important — it is. Good thoughts, Steven.

  2. I like this concept, Steven. Thank you. Have you seen a definition of customer service (in libraries or elsewhere) that you esteem?

  3. Thanks for your comment Garrett. I believe one could locate a definition of customer service in libraries, but I suspect it would be a definition derived in the marketing or experience literature. What I have found useful is some of the staff development materials on customer service produced at the Howard County Library System (LJ’s 2013 Library of the Year). You might want to contact them to see if they’d be willing to share some of their materials with you. You can find more information here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *