Who should own the digital customer experience? Marketing or I.T.?

Justin Daab Customer Experience, Strategy, UX

It’s an age-old debate.

In a perfect world, every department within every company, and all of the incentive packages of everyone working in every department making up those companies would be aligned around delivering a seamless, amazing digital customer experience. But in our professional experience, there are frequent debates (some of them quite fierce) about what department or group “owns” it. That debate arises from a number of factors. The most common, as you may have guessed from reading the opening line of this post, is misalignment between budget authority, project accountability, and controls.

It’s not a people problem. It’s structural.

Often, I.T. teams are incentivized to get a digital property launched quickly, at the lowest cost that satisfies the technical and functional requirements. Just as often, marketing teams are incentivized to envision amazing experiences that customers will love and that drive conversions and revenue before they consult about the resource ramifications of their decisions.

In that situation, inevitably the two teams get so far down their respective planning paths before coming together to explore opportunities and evaluate compromises, that each sees the others’ goals as an impediment to achieving their own. Without a massive change in incentive plans and budget controls, how can a company remedy these issues?

Your customers should own the experience.

The first step in answering the question of what department owns the customer experience is to understand the question itself is a distraction from the real purpose of what you’re building. The customer should own the experience. Or, at least, what it takes to make their journey as engaging and emotionally satisfying as possible, in a way that is also lucrative for the business. Elevating the customer to the theoretical position of owner forces decisions made by all involved parties to be evaluated on their experiential value as opposed to their relevance to departmental incentives.

You should create the vision statement together.

Continuing with the idea that you should establish evaluation criteria for project elements based on their experiential value for the customer, a vision statement provides just such a guidepost. This can be a statement as simple as, “To minimize the number of clicks required to find and purchase a product,” to something that is complex enough to cover the emotional requirements of multiple target audiences, or specific parts of the journey. The main purpose is to raise the bar of expectations jointly, so that every interested party—from Marketing to I.T., Customer Service or the C-suite, understands that when the inevitable new opportunity or compromise discussion comes up, everyone has a uniform standard of reference.

You should designate ambassadors.

Creating any substantive digital property, whether it’s an app or a website, can be a long, detailed process. It’s not practical to expect full teams to jointly handle major decision-making regarding every detail. But you can designate one or more people from each department to be on call to attend meetings where those major decisions are being made. It helps to ensure a balanced dialogue around the table, even if it’s not an actual vote.

Ultimately, customers don’t care about governance. They only care if it’s bad.

It’s easy in an enterprise, or any size company for that matter, for the same incentive structures that help the company manage budgets and drive efficiencies to create unintended barriers between departments. And it is not unusual for those barriers to manifest in a series of small decisions that create larger issues for the customer experience. So, just remember, the customer owns the experience, and the rest of your decisions can only lead to a more fulfilling experience for them and a better business outcome for everyone in the company.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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