Chief Experience Officers: Guides to the Experience Staging Journey

Published: Feb 07, 2018
Modified: Jun 01, 2020

By Joseph Pine II and James H Gilmore

In the two decades since we wrote The Experience Economy (Harvard Business School Press, 1999), interest has exploded in going beyond providing goods and services to staging experiences: memorable events that engage each individual in an inherently personal way.

But for most goods manufacturers and service providers that seek to shift into the Experience Economy, experience staging is still uncharted territory. Even those who have always been experience stagers—including theme parks, restaurants, and retailers—have gained a newfound vocabulary and set of tools for what they do. But experience staging still remains more art than science.

That’s why thousands of companies across the economic landscape have created the position of chief experience officer, or CXO. And while CEOs do not know what this new C-suite title is exactly, they increasingly know they have to have one. They then fill the position with people of varying backgrounds (outside of financial) and ask their CXOs to get a handle on this new “experience thing.”

Newly appointed CXOs sometimes don’t know themselves what they’re supposed to do, and often the position is seen as the answer to every new question. The natural result? A loss of focus, effectiveness, and business success—with precious little improvement in experience staging.

The roles of the chief experience officer

What are the roles CXOs must inhabit to successfully lead their companies into the Experience Economy? They must serve as:

The Catalyst. In chemistry, catalysts cause or accelerate reactions among two or more substances, releasing energy as a result. In a similar manner, chief experience officers must spark energy, excitement, and action among people throughout the company—people who rarely report directly through to the position—so that operations can reorganize itself around experience staging on top of (or even rather than) the mere manufacturing of goods or delivering of services.

The Designer. In fields as diverse as art and fabrication, designers take raw materials and shape them, artistically and skillfully, into a form that fulfills their intention. Likewise, chief experience officers need to take the raw material of company capabilities and work with the organization to shape them into experience offerings.

The Orchestrator. In music, orchestrators compose or arrange notes, motifs, and themes and align them with instruments, parts, and players to form an audience-pleasing whole. So too must chief experience officers align the various elements of operations to fit into a cohesive whole through a customer-pleasing theme.

The Champion. In the social and political arenas, champions fight for a cause they believe in or on behalf of people they believe in. In the arena of today’s Experience Economy, chief experience officers must fight for the needs, wants, and desires of customers and make sure that the company’s offerings create value on behalf of each individual guest.

Guiding enterprise transformation

The four roles of the chief experience officer—Catalyst, Designer, Orchestrator, and Champion—come together into one unified whole. And from that recognition comes the fifth role of the CXO: The Guide. Making a manufacturer or service provider a true stager of experiences requires a transformation of the enterprise.

In mountain climbing and other outdoor endeavors, guides equip, accompany, and propel a party to its destination. In the same way, CXOs have to propel their enterprises into becoming premier experience stagers with the ongoing ability to regenerate new and wondrous economic offerings—which include the goods and services atop which experiences must be staged.

And when that happens, the position of chief experience officer will have achieved its purpose of inculcating experience staging into the very fiber of the enterprise.

About The Author

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore are the co-founders of Strategic Horizons LLP and the co-authors of, among other books, The Experience Economy, recently named one of the top 100 business books of all time by 800CEOread. They can be reached at [email protected]