Learning & Development

5 Skills That Will Define CX Leadership for the Next Decade

We’re all consumers and have a seemingly endless choice of brands to shop and engage with, but what really makes customers loyal and coming back for more are the experiences they have. So when we think about the customer experience (CX), we think of traditional sales and marketing touch points along the customer journey. However, many would argue that those collective (digital or in-person) interactions with a company, usually on their path to purchase, must be end to end and not just focused on the conversion funnel.

But when it comes to searching and hiring a “CX leader,” who can—or who should—take up that mantle to drive CX for a brand? In the absence of a depth of decades of centralized CX across corporate entities, one could argue it’s the chief customer officer or even the chief marketing officer, but as we adapt to new technologies and shifting consumer behaviors, CX becomes a fairly amorphous term. It has become a business imperative and growth driver for every part of customer-facing organizations.

5 Skill Sets That Drive CX Success

I don’t believe we’ll see a widely adopted, formalized path to a CX role take root for at least another decade, so what kind of talent and skill sets should companies evaluate in the meantime? The answer is, of course: It depends. First, let’s look at the five key skill sets that currently ladder up to CX:

  1. Marketing: Given the traditional role of marketers, their goals are well aligned with CX, as they are tasked with targeting and amplifying a company’s value proposition, which ultimately leads to more sales and market share.
    1. Think: research and related data around consumer insights, feedback, and identifying specific trends, wants, and/or needs
  2. Digital technology: Understanding new and emerging technology is imperative to mastering all of the various digital touch points brands use to engage with consumers.
    1. Think: navigating digital products and services, optimizing websites, and implementing e-commerce and even social commerce
  3. Design: Human-centric design and problem-solving literally put consumers at the center of the development process to inform how products/solutions are made and utilized.
    1. Think: how to build intuitive products, features, and capabilities that resonate with consumers
  4. Operations: From a CX perspective, this skill set is crucial for managing customer service and support, which requires no small amount of organization or logistical wherewithal.
    1. Think: frontline engagement with customers (à la contact centers) such as connecting them to other parts of the business for support and issue resolution
  5. HR: Last, but certainly not least, HR offers a unique skill set that’s focused on the employee experience, which has several CX-related traits and qualifications.
    1. Think: parallel learnings from engaging with employees’ needs, concerns, and experiences, which provide a familiar framework to do the same with customers

From here, we can start mapping any combination of these five skill sets to three corresponding steps I keep in mind when identifying the right talent to fulfill a specific, CX-focused role. Together, these can help any consumer-facing brand in any industry home in on what’s needed to begin charting out its CX leadership needs.

3 Steps to Carving Out a CX Leadership Role

  1. Let the outcomes define it. It’s not as obvious as one might think—getting a checklist together from the above will inform the combination of skill sets needed to achieve those specific business objectives through a customer lens, which could be anything from launching a new product to ensuring e-commerce is up to snuff.
  2. Build it from the top. After you identify and prioritize key outcomes, you have to prioritize the right mix of skill sets—nobody can do it all, so any CX leadership role must be rounded out and complemented by a senior director, for instance, who adds value with different skill sets.
  3. Keep an open mind. With a targeted list of outcomes and corresponding skill sets, the CX leadership role can take life, but avoid limiting the scope of talent or type of industry a potential candidate comes from—a cross-industry hire from telecom, health care, or financial services, for instance, could be ideal, as those are industries that are making strides with CX due to their digital-first customer engagements.

Without any formal CX career path today, any CX leadership role needs to be built from the top down. Prioritizing is key—once the key outcomes are determined, you can map the different skill sets needed to create the specific CX leadership role to achieve those goals. So, for instance, if you’re looking to improve the customer journey, you might want a combination of marketing and operations; if it’s omnichannel transformation that’s needed, digital technology and design skill sets might work best. From there, those skill sets can be augmented or can complement another similar hire to round everything out.

There’s something to be said about identifying and creating a CX leadership role—would it be easier if it were a black-and-white, perfectly defined role? Perhaps. But right now, it presents a massive opportunity for us to customize and define it in a way that works for each industry and each company. I’ll take that as a (creative) win.

Greg Rodarte is a Client Partner at Marlin Hawk based in Denver. In addition to leading the Denver office, Rodarte leads Marlin Hawk’s executive search and strategic intelligence mandates across the healthcare services industry. Additionally, he works with clients outside health care within the marketing, sales, and CX functions. Before joining Marlin Hawk, Rodarte worked at two global executive search firms, where he recruited executive-level talent for some of the largest universal banking platforms. He holds an MA in educational leadership from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in international politics from Georgetown University.