Two years ago, a study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that 80% of US consumers would pay more for a product or a service to ensure a superior customer experience.

At the time, Jerry Gregoire, a former CIO at Dell Computers, said, "The customer experience is the next competitive battleground."

Now in 2016, the customer experience is more important than ever. New survey information shows that 39% of CEOs see customer experience as the most effective method for creating a competitive advantage, ranking a quality customer experience ahead of other elements, such as talent (20%), product (15%), and efficiency (7%). .

It's easy for CEOs to step onto soapboxes to emphasize this to other C-level officials and to employees and managers, but if companies are to be successful in mastering their understandings of customer experience, it will take more than words to effect what could be major internal cultural shifts.

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One important key to delivering a superior customer experience is to get relevant information and insights on the customer's experience to and from every touch point in the company. Given today's analytics tools and reporting, this is more technologically achievable than ever before.

"If you leverage the wealth of data that you can now digitally collect on your customers and how they are using your products and services, you can see which customers are happy with you and which are customers that are in danger of being lost as accounts," said Craig Soules, founder and CEO of Natero, a cloud-based SaaS company that focuses on analyzing the customer experience.

Soules' firm is one of a number that pull together variegated data on customers into a single repository. It uses machine learning and a complex of algorithms that provide insights into questions like, "Why have some our customers left in the past?" and "What are the leading indicators of customer churn?"

With tools like this, CEOs have improved their ability to get customer experience analytics to all points of the enterprise. Among these "need to know" business units are:

  • Sales and marketing, since they are front lines into the customer.
  • Finance, since high customer churn rates should be factored into management reports.
  • Customer service/help desk personnel, since they deal with the customer and also receive the complaints.
  • Those in charge of supply chains, warehouses, distribution centers, and logistics, especially if reports indicate that shipments/returns are slow or handled poorly.
  • Purchasing, if product price points are an issue, since purchasing can revisit sourcing to look for cheaper components.
  • HR, especially if customers are disappointed with the skill levels of employees in service, sales, etc., they interact with.
  • Accounting, because billing systems can be so onerous that customers can't stand them.
  • Facilities, because customers (if you are a restaurant chain) can be disappointed with a messy bathroom, even if they like the food the service.

All of these are the 360-degree views of the customer that present different sets of challenges to different business functions--so to execute the customer experience completely, the CEO must engage everyone in the job.

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Some companies do this exceptionally well. They are truly customer-centric, and they have some of the highest customer retention rates in their industries. From a competitive standpoint, it is becoming the job of CEOs whose organizations fall short to gain ground and improve--which is why quality of the customer experience has become such a central concern in the corner office.