My interest was piqued, last week, by this headline in an email newsletter: “Huawei appoints Wonder Woman actor Gal Gadot as Chief Customer Experience Officer.”
Though Chief Experience Officers aren’t rare at technology companies today (the same newsletter mentions appointments at firms like Cisco, and Marvell), I’d never heard of a movie star taking on the unglamorous work of leading a customer experience program.
Putting skepticism aside, I searched and found a video from Huawei’s presentation at the 2018 international consumer electronics show (CES), in which Gadot introduces herself as Huawei’s “Chief Experience Officer.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much to say about experience. She praises Huawei’s record for “constantly innovating and bringing cutting edge technology to their customers.” She mimes the activities that Huawei’s latest device supports (keeping up with fans on social media and calling her agent). She tells us it enhances her life and “could be perfect for yours.” And, by the way, she wants us to know that Huawei is pronounced “Wow Way.” (Someone should tell the people who make Huawei’s TV ads and web videos, who pronounce it any which way but that way).
The promise to enhance our lives sounds vaguely “experiency,” But raising brand awareness, describing product capabilities, and gushing about bringing technology to customers, are not the things that real experience executives spend their time on. You’re more likely to find them discouraging companies from just “bringing technology to consumers,” and instead bringing customer insights to bear on decision-making, introducing customer-centric design approaches, and driving collaboration across organizational silos to improve customer journeys.
Based on the video, I’d describe Gadot as a brand ambassador for Huawei. The “Chief Experience Officer,” title is window dressing for a curiously old-fashioned endorsement; an actor playing an ostensibly authentic, but stiffly scripted version of herself. It brings to mind Ronald and Nancy Reagan showing viewers in the 1950s how innovative lighting could transform a home. Back then, General Electric felt that it needed celebrity power to overcome the challenge of promoting tinted lights on black and white TV.
People don’t care who’s leading experience at the company that makes their phones, so does it matter that Huawei didn’t put a real chief experience officer, or a real female executive in its CES video? Certainly, it’s a trivial issue compared with the egregious problem of sexism at CES, and the flagrant instances of customer experience lip service by firms that make insincere claims about customer-centricity. The airline industry is a serial offender in this regard; Frequent fliers are inured to United Airlines’ habit of dressing up cutbacks as Service Enhancements, and airline doublespeak has sucked the life from words like “improvement,” so observers referred to “genuine improvements,” when British Airways upgraded its meal service. Banks are just as bad. In 2015, for example, the UK’s NatWest bank ditched the Customer Charter that it had launched to revive consumer trust after the financial crisis. It retreated from its commitments, to the dismay of communities where it had promised to keep branches open.
While they may be indifferent to the existence of a chief experience officer at a company, customers do care about the experience that device makers deliver. Their perception of that experience is influenced not just by the devices themselves, but by everything that helps them to get value from the devices, including software, networks, cloud storage, apps, stores, and customer support. That’s why Huawei competitors, like Samsung, have launched services like Premium Support, which provides in-person help to customers. Companies that want to orchestrate offerings like this often appoint a chief customer experience officer to lead the effort.
From Huawei’s consumer-facing, digital channels, I get the feeling that there is room to improve the orchestration of the Huawei experience today. Although the web and mobile sites feature slick video content that matches the current TV campaigns (optimized for device screens), and highlight the strengths of Huawei’s devices (industry-beating cameras), the interactivity on the site seems dated (presenting a dull grid of thumbnail images). The sites are also let down by mediocre copy and a few technical glitches.
I would like to see Huawei divert some of the budget that it allocates for superstar brand ambassadors into an enterprise-wide, customer experience program, led by a real chief experience officer. Such programs aren’t flashy, and they tend not to generate headlines, but they work wonders for customer loyalty, long after the buzz of a celebrity endorsement has faded.