New CCO Janey Whiteside prepares Walmart for the future

Walmart has hired its first chief customer officer. (Walmart)

Last week, Walmart announced the creation of a new executive role aimed solely to improve customer service. The new chief customer officer, Janey Whiteside, joins the Walmart team after 20 years with American Express, so she is well acquainted with the importance of customer service in modern retail. 

The role, set to begin Aug. 1, will cover both online and offline store management. Whiteside will work out of the Hoboken, New Jersey, office, the home to Walmart's acquisition

Brennan Wilkie, senior VP of customer experience strategy at InMoment, notes that Walmart's new hire is another aggressive move by the retailer, an "explicit rival of Amazon." Wilkie says that the string of acquisitions, partnerships and technology innovations are transforming the big-box retailer into a viable competitor both online and offline. 

"Introducing a dedicated chief customer officer with the explicit mandate of caring for and connecting both the in-person and e-commerce aspects of the customer relationship will help Walmart navigate this evolution much more successfully," Wilkie told FierceRetail. 

Plus, Wilkie says that picking an executive from American Express was a good move, as it has a good track record of knowing its customers.

"Walmart’s move is a good reminder for other retailers to remain open to expertise outside their specific vertical," he added.

Walmart is joining a growing list of retailers such as JCPenney and Kohl's that have implemented customer service roles at the executive level. However, Wilkie says the numbers are still small and 2018 is a good time for retailers to start modernizing and brining in executives that are centered around customer service.

"Today’s CCO needs to keep both customers and employees top of mind," Wilkie said. "The CCOs themselves aren’t the ones rolling up their sleeves and making changes operationally, so they need to be the ones inspiring the culture of the organization to drive the customer change for which they themselves are advocating."

Wilkie says that the next five years will be critical for retailers as they evolve their value proposition to meet the changing way customers engage with brands.  

"The journey to interconnectedness will no doubt create challenges and CCOs will be needed to push the agenda of looking at the experience from the customer point of view, versus staying siloed in the artificial constructs of digital and physical," Wilkie said. "Today’s customers are multiplatform—from browsing and buying, to returns and feedback. Having a CCO can help keep that perspective central to both tactical and strategic decisions across the business."