CIO upfront: The CDO’s chief ally

CIO upfront: The CDO’s chief ally

Deepak Selvaratnam writes about a partnership that is behind the success of many digital transformation programmes he has worked with over the past year.

CDOs ignore customer service at their own peril!

Deepak Selvaratnam, Customer Services Audit

Over the past year, we have seen the appointments of chief digital officers (CDOs) with varying mandates, capabilities and impact within their organisations.

A common thread, however, links the successful CDOs we have worked with - they are supported by the customer service (CS) team - and vice versa.

The CS team actually interacts with the customer, understands ordering and the strengths and weaknesses of the fulfilment process.

There is no business unit with a greater emphasis on listening and learning from the customers on a practical, day-to-day basis. They typically record and report on what they discover from these customer interactions.

However, the residual knowledge within CS is often overlooked. So take the time to meet with them and better understand how they handle customer communication and fulfilment interactions.

An insider’s look at a global retailer

A global retailer we work with is a prime example. The partnership between the CDO and CS had been in place for a couple of years and become crucial to the success of their online channel.

Historically, the supply chain and other functions were geared to deliver product to physical stores where engagement with customers was face-to-face.

When the company chose to add and market online channels, CS proved invaluable with advice on what customers were currently calling and emailing in about.

General customer information requests, returns, complaints and dealing with trade, orders and account queries could be catered for as they developed and launched the new channels.

Together the CDO and CS team created a completely new and customer-centric, online shopfront. Over time, there were company-wide benefits, including CS moving from being the traditional cost centre to becoming a "shop" in their own right, bringing in about 12 per cent of the total revenue from this initiative and with the highest contribution to gross margin in the organisation.

Deepak Selvaratnam of Customer Services Audit
Deepak Selvaratnam of Customer Services Audit

Read more: Digital champions

Take the time to meet with the customer service team and better understand how they handle customer communication and fulfilment interactions.

‘Go to market’ support

Another client, a global insurer, launched online products to combat a startup of a niche competitor using online and social media to take market share.

Through the combined efforts of CS and the CDO, the time frame for the project from start to launch was about 16 weeks. The speed to market was achievable because CS was ready with practical observations and advice; and they were able to support the new infrastructure and engage with customers through a variety of media, including web chat, email and the phone.

An unexpected benefit came when the product development and marketing teams discovered their success and found new ways to leverage CS knowledge to beat the competition and meet the true needs of the customer through excellent customer service.

Maximise first contact resolution

CS usually has strong lines of internal communications already established and are familiar with fulfilment...and the potential backlash when fulfilment does not happen!

A central government agency we work with was experiencing a high volume of call backs. In fact, about 73 per cent of their customers were calling back. What we discovered was key departments were unable or unavailable to satisfy the customer requests when customers called, necessitating the high number of callbacks.

Through the strong partnership between the CDO and CS group, team members were appointed as customer champions to work this problem through. They identified how moving specific information online would give the customer freedom to interact with new, streamlined channels. Within three months. the callbacks were reduced by 80 per cent!

This partnership worked so well operational teams are now focusing on increasing the online support available to their customers and hope to increase online engagement with online/digital channels to 80 per cent within 18 months.

I end with a caveat: There are times and situations where the CS team is limited in the help they can provide. Not because they are unwilling but because they are underestimated and under-resourced (human and technologically). The CDO is well placed to support the CS team and then reap the benefits for the organisation.

Our key takeaways?

  • CDOs ignore customer service at their own peril!

Deepak Selvaratnam is the co-founder of Customer Services Audit. Reach him at

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Tags change managementGartnercustomer servicesoftwarepredictive analyticsforrestercall centreanalytics softwareCDOchief digital officerCustomer Services AuditcxDXDeepak Selvaratnam

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