There is little question that customer experience is now recognized as an important business investment. But who is truly in charge of CX? Which channels are the most critical? And how is the impact of this investment measured?

A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit reveals the global discussion around customer experience management and investment is as varied as the countries themselves. What does matter universally? C-suite — especially CEO — leadership in driving customer experience initiatives produces real business results. The study finds that delivering great CX isn’t just the right thing to do, but that prioritizing CX delivers better revenue growth, profitability, and customer retention.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s study surveyed C-suite executives across Asia Pacific, North America, Europe, and Latin America about the importance of customer experience in their organizations. Researchers asked a series of questions including how companies planned to invest in customer experience, who was in charge (or at least thought they were in charge) of CX, and whether or not they measured the ROI in this area.

What’s the bottom line? Executive managers at the C-suite level, particularly CEOs in North America, need to take more meaningful (as opposed to symbolic) ownership for the investment of CX initiatives. The more involved the CEO is, then the greater the value placed on CX by the organization overall, the more the ROI is measured, and the more employees understand the growing importance of CX on digital channels. The study suggests that CEOs generally believe they are responsible for CX (72% of CEOs report that the CX is ultimately up to them). However, their C-suite colleagues largely disagree that CEOs are the true leaders — in fact, only 28% agree with their bosses —which means that CEOs need to reconcile a serious disconnect between their belief in commitment to CX and the actual perception by their organization.

But it’s not just about blanket executive involvement, it’s about how and where they get involved in ways that will make the most impact. Based on the research, here are three ways that senior management can more meaningfully participate in customer experience initiatives within their own company:

(1) Focus on Increasing Digital Support, Especially in Retail
Face-to-face interactions with customers are a dying mode of communication. It’s increasingly vital that C-level officers focus on CX via web-based channels (including social media, online chat, and web self-help). While 45% of those surveyed think that currently face-to-face is most important, only 37% think that will be true in three years. So where’s the uptick? Social media, which is anticipated to rise as a CX channel from 27% to 35%, followed by online assistance (from 33% to 39%). The biggest believers in social media are those in retail, where more than half of respondents in that industry (54%) think that social media is the most important customer experience platform. Within the C-suite, CIOs should play a major role here, as they can drive the technological developments necessary to move forward a company’s ability to respond across all online channels.

(2) Get Crazy About Gathering Data on the ROI
Simply acknowledging that the experience of customers matters is not enough. Companies need to track and understand the returns on CX investment if they want to truly learn how to leverage their different ways of communicating with customers (and spending money to do it well). Thirty-four percent of respondents stated they didn’t track the ROI in CX at all, even though more than half of that group rated CX “very important.” The primary reason companies aren’t tracking is that they say they don’t know how to measure the impact. They report that they can’t differentiate improved CX from, for example, advertising, or the decline in a competitor’s reputation.

But frankly speaking, claiming a lack of data could also signal a lack of C-suite leadership. Fully 68% of companies who reported that the CIO is in charge of CX measure ROI; 65% measure when it’s the CEO leading the way; 55% when it’s the COO; and 52% crunch the numbers when the CMO manages customer experience initiatives. CEOs and their inner circle need to boost these numbers — and convince the stragglers to join the “put-someone-in-charge-of-CX” trend. Strong metrics were reported most evidently in regions like Asia and Latin America, where respondents were more likely to measure impact: 68% and 67%, respectively.

(3) Be Smart About How to Allocate Resources
Although the ROI tends to get more attention when a CEO or CIO is in charge, it’s important for any company to understand how they can best invest in their CX. If the whole C-suite gets involved, it may start a CX bidding war, which could be a good thing. CEOs and CIOs tend to be the most enthusiastic about the importance of online support, for example, and that may or may not be backed by hard data. Overall, 49% of those in IT functions thought online support was most important — as opposed to just 26% of their colleagues in finance. This could just be evidence of bias, with CIOs overemphasizing their own primary business line and CFOs having no metrics to contradict such claims. This is yet another reason for the C-suite to emphasize robust data collection. Knowing what’s working, where there’s room for improvement, and why specific allocations can improve a company’s CX allows for smarter investment decisions from all stakeholders in the C-suite. In theory, it results in a better experience for customers too.

While the study’s regional answers vary — Japan, for instance, was noticeably less invested in CX than its neighbors (lifelike customer service robots notwithstanding) — it’s clear that executive management must be heavily involved, no matter where they are, and that they track the success of their strategies. After all, if the top leaders of a company are going to truly step up to the plate to lead and truly own their CX initiatives, they’ll undoubtedly fare better if they understand what they’re doing and why.