Should MSPs Hire a CXO?
Just about everyone knows the saying, “The customer is always right.” It’s not literally true – customers behave badly, too – but it conveys a more general truth, which is that businesses tend not to stick around very long without customers.
It’s not surprising, then, that the traditional lineup of C suite roles – think CEO, CFO, CMO, CIO – has expanded to include some newer titles, such as the CXO, or chief experience officer. It has actually been around for a while; research firm Forrester was offering webinars about the CXO role a decade ago, for example.
What might have at first sounded like a passing fad has proven to be a lasting trend. Consulting firm Janco Associates, which focuses on the IT industry, recently declared the CXO one of the toughest roles for companies to fill, in spite of lucrative starting salaries.
CXO job descriptions vary, but they fundamentally boil down to one thing: a relentless focus on the customer (or user, in some contexts) experience on all fronts, including digital. (And let’s face it: The customer or user experience is almost if not entirely digital for many businesses today.) The fact that this is increasingly an executive-level post makes sense in terms of the competitive landscape. In 2017, a Gartner survey found two-thirds of marketers said their companies compete mostly on the basis of customer experience; 81% of those marketers expected their business would compete mostly or entirely on the basis of customer experience in two years — which is, like, now.
A managed service provider might be thinking: Yeah, this doesn’t apply to us.
If you’re focused on the SMB market, or if you’re a smaller company yourself – or both – you’re right – but only partially.
“I think MSPs focused on the SMB market may find it challenging to dedicate a full-time person as a CXO,” says Mark Nelson, senior director and leader of the managed services team at West Monroe Partners.
Don’t stop reading, though, even if that describes you. The rise of the CXO in larger enterprises speaks to the growth of customer experience as a critical competitive differentiator, and there are key lessons learned here even if the actual role isn’t likely to take hold in your company. In fact, the health of your business may depend on those lessons.
“Even if an MSP does not have a dedicated CXO, an MSP needs to have a client experience program that focuses on every aspect of the solution being delivered and how it affects your clients,” Nelson says.
He also notes that client experience is fundamental to any MSP relationship, and in midsize and larger firms, the CXO could be a natural evolution of existing client experience or “key account” programs that are likely already in place in those organizations.
Nelson’s not alone, either.
“Without question, the customer experience should be prioritized within the organization,” says Dave Sobel, senior director, MSP evangelism, SolarWinds MSP. “Does an MSP need a CXO to do that? No. Does leadership need to be on board with prioritizing the customer experience? Absolutely.”
That’s the bottom-line takeaway: You don’t need a CXO to prioritize customer experience, but you do need to prioritize customer experience. Too many MSPs aren’t doing that, according to Anurag Agrawal, principal analyst at Techaisle.
Consider this nugget from a Techaisle survey of channel partners: “Only 55% of MSPs are focused on meaningful customer partnerships — meaning that 45% are not, which is ridiculous,” Agrawal says.
Agrawal concurs that in small and even some midsize MSPs, a distinct CXO role isn’t a likely trend. In those shops, the CEO is ultimately …