John Lewis, Apple and Amazon are regarded as the most customer-centric brands in the UK, according to research undertaken by Oresa Executive Search, but questions about this result were raised at a recent event held by the company.

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Tim Mason in full flow

Attending the event at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel in London Tim Mason, former marketing director at Tesco, suggested only John Lewis was a valid contender because both Apple and Amazon are technology-led businesses where the thinking is not really around the customer as highlighted by the view of Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs’ who stated: “Customers do not know what they want.”

But Mason reckons these companies will have to change over time: “People buy the innovation but when the world catches up then they have to listen [to customers]. How do they transition around this change?”

He reckons it is tough for retailers to follow some of the innovations that both Amazon and Apple constantly throw out: “They are about people with ideas and most people don’t have any ideas. The question is: how do we do this [innovation] and create the capability of doing it? Ideas do not come out in retailers.”

Part of the reason for this, Mason believes, is that the people with power in retailers are generally in finance positions and not within the marketing department where the creative thinking is most typically housed. If marketers want the power to bring about change then he recommends they either “go to a marketing-driven business or go and mine coal!”.

This does not describe a particularly great backdrop for the increasingly high number of people taking on the role of chief customer officer (CCO) – whose primary objective is to deliver a more customer-centric organisation across multiple channels – because many of them come from the marketing side of the business as this has historically handled customer-facing aspects.

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The Oresa research – ‘Decoding the Chief Customer Officer’ – found 66% of respondents believe there is a need for the role of CCO and a hefty 90% believe the CCO role will increase in importance over the next five years. The report suggests the CCO should be the “voice of the customer in the boardroom”.

For Vince Gwilliam, senior partner at Bridgepoint, there is a worry that this voice will not be heard as he states: “Marketing directors never get the CEO jobs and the CCO is not a truly empowered role.”

It might still be relatively early days for the CCO role and as the functions it encompass become more clearly defined and recognised throughout retail organisations then the power base will potentially increase – and the voice be heard. Or then again it might just be yet another transition role that becomes redundant once retailers become comfortable with themselves as truly multi-channel operations.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider