Building Champions: The New Role of the CFO

Customers have extreme expectations. Any gap in the quality of the customer experience translates directly into a knock on your brand, often expressed in social channels. The result? Reduced margins, reduced loyalty, and brand damage. Your chief financial officer (CFO) is a key champion for strategic efforts aimed at understanding and meeting the extreme expectations of connected, demanding consumers.

The CFO? Read on.

New Challenge Means New Opportunity

In my last column I talked about the new role of the chief information officer – the CIO – following investments in social technology. Extreme customer expectations mean new opportunity for CFOs as well: in a recent article entitled “The CFO Sentiment Study,” the CFO Alliance reported that CFOs “continue to take on more responsibility, with [more than] 56 percent having greater involvement in matters related to corporate direction, strategy, and creating long-term shareholder value,” adding that “improving and meeting customer expectations” is of great importance.

“As CFOs take a more strategic role it has become clear that finance and operations must work together to ensure customer delight and delivery against financial objectives.” For CFOs, the “Top 5″ operational challenges include, in order, driving growth, increasing gross margin, and improving responsiveness and meeting customer expectations.” – The CFO Sentiment Study, CFO Alliance (January 2013)

That’s powerful, for two reasons. First, it’s one more affirmation of the new mantra on “cross-team collaboration” and the benefits of taking an interest outside of one’s particular department or function. When CFOs bring their considerable analytical expertise and discipline to bear on proposed strategic initiatives, they’ll naturally bring a much-needed focus on hard return on investment (ROI). This discipline can have a dramatic impact on the acceptance by senior management of investment in new technologies including cloud, mobile, and social computing.

Second, for the CFO personally and professionally it means a larger role with new sources of opportunity for growth. Meeting extreme customer expectations means pushing harder into areas like cost reduction, where process innovation and positive changes to the consumer experience rather than ever-tighter controls is more likely to produce measurable results while also delighting customers. It means seeing corporate governance as inclusive of hiring policies that attract the best and brightest, along with contributing to the training and workplace experiences associated with a modern, connected workforce.

One of the more profound aspects of this new focus of CFOs is the consideration of the origin of trust associated with your brand: discussion on the social Web of expectations missed versus exceeded impacts brand trust as the promise made, for example through advertising, is tested against the promise kept in the real work of customer experiences. Where it used to be the marketing team that established the brand and declared what it stood for, brand is now a negotiated attribute. In markets defined by social media the brand still gets first serve, but it’s the customer’s return shot that establishes the new reality: “brand” is negotiated, not declared. CFOs are rightly concerned with such value, and are placing an emphasis on growing it. That’s good for the marketing team, because it gives you a common ground.

So, as you plan your social customer experience program, plan on a larger team. Include your C-suite, and in particular the CIO and CFO. Given the shift in markets driven by cloud, mobile, and in particular social technology, there is an opportunity to not only expand your team but to build executive champions in what previously may have been overlooked places.

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