What is a Chief Experience Officer (CXO)? We’ve been singing its praises when the title started cropping up in boardrooms. “Thank the gods, UX has finally made C-level!” There were riots in the streets, free sharpies were given out on every city block, and colored pencils rained from the sky... Okay, obviously none of that happened. However, we were all elated to know that experience was finally being represented at an executive level.
But now that the CXO title has been around for a few years, I ask you: what does the CXO really do and how have things changed for us? How have we, as a profession, taken ownership of this role? What are you doing differently now that you have a CXO in your organization, and does that CXO even have a UX background? Furthermore, how do we ensure the CXO seat is filled by UX, and what skills does someone need to fill it?
I think that this role needs some serious examination. If we don’t investigate the definition of the CXO further and if we don’t answer the questions around what one does and why the position exists, then the UX field can never really own it. And we have to own it. We’ve waited so long for executive backing! But we need to present a united front and a solid definition of the role, else it will not be what we all have hoped for. If we don’t get there first, other parts of the organization will define it for us, and we will lose all hope of solidifying UX’s position at a higher level.
Let’s start by looking at how CXO is defined today. According to Wikipedia, a CXO is “an officer responsible of all user experience of an organization. This function is taking care of marketing communications, community relations, internal relations, HR relations, investor relations—and all other encounters an organization may have with its various audiences.” This kind of makes sense, but doesn’t seem like what we asked for. The definition on chiefexperienceofficer.com comes close, saying that the CXO is “the CEO’s strategic design resource” whose areas of concern include:
- corporate leadership in UX strategy
- software and hardware design management
- creative reviews and concept development
- intellectual property positioning and protection
Even this seems a little bit sketchy, but we’re progressing. There does seem to be a definition looming, but one can see how UX goals and experiences are not being fully represented.
So, let’s define it for ourselves!
First, let’s think about the intended output. What is the goal of having a CXO? Ideally, it’s to have someone responsible for curating and maintaining a holistic user-, business-, and technology-appropriate experience, thus backing up and advocating for the UX team. To do this, a CXO needs to:
- understand the users, business and technology
- figure out how the product should grow to support the intended experiences
- maintain an evolving plan of action to support and produce this output
Understand the users, business, and technology
In order to know our users, we need to institute a design research framework. A design research framework is a framework for conducting user research based on company and product needs and growth plans. This prevents the UX group from just conducting ad hoc research whenever there is a project; instead, they continually conduct research in order to keep the users participants in the product development. This research framework should aim to learn about user needs and find ways to use this information to enhance user experiences. Personas and related items should look at all user types and be created and maintained over time. In order to know our business and technology, the CXO needs to be a great listener as well as invite business and engineering team members into the experience work.
Figure out how the product should grow
Once the CXO and the experience team know the users, they need to define the experience strategy to meet and exceed user expectations. This means they also need to define the organization’s personality so that the experience can exude and tie to that personality. One way of doing this is to hold experience strategy meetings where the entire team (UX, business, marketing, brand and technology) looks at the current business model, users, branding and technology and brainstorms how they want the product to appeal and grow. During this time, they are basing the product’s appeal and growth on persona needs and goals, business goals, and tech goals.
After the entire team has brainstormed ideas around the growth of the product, they begin to get more specific by defining product features based on the ideas that have come up. No idea is a bad idea at this point, and each should be considered. Next, the features are aggregated and prioritized by everyone on the team. The output is an experience-based strategy and product roadmap. That roadmap shows the path of product growth and has taken into consideration each team member’s point of view, while focusing on the experience. This roadmap should be made public to the entire organization to ensure the organization’s focus is understood as well as to gain buy-in from employees.
Note: In bigger organizations, the CXO would partner heavily with product to ensure the roadmap “maps” to the number goals (revenue, reach, etc).
Maintain an evolving plan of action
The CXO needs to stay on top of the product roadmap and experience strategy, and continually update them in response to changes in each domain (users, business, brand, and tech). One stays informed about users through the design research framework. The business and tech concerns are the responsibility of other parts of the organization, but are things the CXO needs to be informed about to keep the experience strategy up to date. Thus, they should use their communication and listening skills to partner with leaders from these other teams in order to stay in the know, as well as include these partners in their own work.
By following these three steps, the CXO curates and maintains a holistic product experience that includes input from across the organization as well as from the customers the product is meant to serve. It is important to recognize that depending on the organization, the CXO may personally do this work or it may be someone within her organization, but the point is that the experience is being attended to, and the roles, purpose, and value of the CXO are being defined.
In order to take these three steps, the CXO and/or her team needs to be able to:
- create and conduct a strategic research initiative
- synthesize research findings into personas or goals
- communicate these findings to the rest of the organization, including the management team, the UX team, and beyond
This is a C-level position, so “experience” in every sense of the word is a key component of the role. A successful CXO should consume all the information she can about UX, understand the business side of things, have empathy, and learn about the responsibilities of all roles in the organization. In large organizations, it will be the CXO who puts together the team to take on these roles. In order to put that team together, the CXO needs to understand what it takes to go through UX processes to create the outputs that UX professionals create each day. We all know what happens when non-UX folks try to put together a team of UX talent. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times it doesn’t.
Lastly, using this model, we can see that a CXO is responsible for understanding the user and organization domain, curating that into an experience, maintaining that experience, and communicating that throughout the organization. CXOs either do this themselves (in the case of small organizations and startups) or have the skills to hire the right people to take on these roles. That, in short, is the definition I’m proposing for CXO. There are probably other and better ways to define the role, which is why I wrote this: to start the conversation.
By defining CXO ourselves, UX can make it a point to create our leadership instead of being left out of it. If we do define this ourselves, it will mean UX-minded people will have to fill the CXO spot, because they will be the ones that really know what the role is. By nailing down this definition, proving its benefit to our business and executive personas, and following through on that benefit, UX will be empowered to step into the C-level world.