A growing number of IT executives find their role now encompasses focusing on the external customers. This necessitates working closely with the other business units to ensure end customers have consistent, positive experiences with which ever channel they use to interact with the company.
Lou Carbone, chief executive of Experience Engineering, says CIOs tasked with this goal need to answer a vital question, “How do I create value for the customer using technology?... That is, how do I create capabilities that facilitate providing customers with experiences as they desire?” Carbone suggests these CIOs may have to change their title to “chief facilitator”.
“Chief information officer to me sounds like something from about 200 years ago, like someone who kept inventory for you,” says Carbone, author of the book Clued In and a recent Auckland visitor. “How many widgets do I have in the storeroom, how many units do I sell? Who are my customers? Do I have a mailing list?”
It is an entirely different world, he says, for the chief information officer and the chief facilitator when it comes to creating a set of capabilities within an organisation to provide value for end customers.
Breaching the divide
For Kiwibank’s Ron van de Riet, meeting this customer-focused role means having ICT teams working with the rest of the business.
“It is principally getting the key technical people out of their technical space and into the business space,” says van de Riet, general manager IT and business delivery.
He says it is important to know what is happening in the business, along with the current and emerging technologies around the customer space. “You should be able to comprehend the business technology divide at the customer level and you need to relate that back to the overall business vision and value drivers.
“It is not [about] buying the technology. It is how you drive the technology to get the customer satisfaction that you need.”
This will not be easy. “A lot of CIOs find they are still very technically focused,” he says.
“The only real way that you can get it, is spend a bit of time with some key people and also organisations that really have that thought leadership,” he says.
Then, “when they are developing [a system] they can see how things work,” he says. “So it is not just sitting in the technical space. It is getting well-balanced individuals that can drive change in these sorts of areas.”
Customer facing teams
Kiwibank, for instance, has organised customer facing teams from “across the board” composed of product managers, marketing staff, business analysts and IT experts.
“They all sit in one customer facing team,” says van de Riet. “They all understand the strategies of the business. They are involved in the strategy setting of the business end to end.
“Though they are very small team structures, we encourage them to innovate in all sorts of areas,” he says. There are now two such teams. Under this set-up, even if the team members coming from IT still report to that department, “They actually sit in the day to day activities [of the bank]. They are living and breathing the actual business with the customer.”
When designing an internet site for the customer, for instance, they will look at how to make it simple to use. The teams also work to ensure “consistencies” across the channels. “If you want to go into internet banking you get the same experience you will get in a call centre or retail network or the branch. We specialise in things like usability; what works, what doesn’t work; keeping it simple.”
He says Kiwibank’s Intouch system is one of the bank’s biggest customer-facing projects and it is always evolving.
“That is a customer-facing tool used by our call centre and retail. It is a very smart system that is constantly growing as a project, but it is making it easier for dealing with the customer in terms of their banking needs.
You are automating a lot of manual tasks and you are getting a central view of the customer. You can see all your products that they have. Everything is just a few clicks away.
“It is trying to manage the fulfillment of your whole lifespan essentially and that will evolve in time to become a sophisticated, smart CRM system.”
Three critical areas
Van de Riet says there are three areas to look at when implementing strategies to provide shareholder value.
The first, he says, is information. “This is where you need to have good information to essentially understand the customers.”
The second is processes. For Kiwibank, this involves using a formal methodology to develop what van de Riet calls a “thinking style” around the customer experience.
“We use the Six Sigma philosophy around the customer experience,” he says. “It is getting the business analysts and technical people thinking about the customer.”
Implementing Six Sigma, however, has a different set of challenges. “You just don’t put it in,” he says. “It takes a huge amount of effort and sponsorship. It has to be at CEO level to actually start getting people to think about process and the customer.”
Third, he says, is the leadership, the culture and the values of the organisation. You need to have the right people and culture in the organisation, he says. This customer-focused perspective should start from the CEO down. “What we do a lot here is actually building those organisational models and capabilities just focusing on the customer, whether internal or external,” he says. “When you build those in the organisational model it has to come from the top and everyone really has to live and breathe that stuff.
The customer takes priority
Across the Tasman, the Child Support Agency Australia has revamped the systems at its contact centre. The business driver for the systems revamp was the results of a survey revealing customer satisfaction for the agency was 75 per cent.
For Peter Richards, deputy general manager, channel strategy, this was not enough. “We had to move to a more customer-oriented expectation,” he says. “We were busy patting ourselves on the back and forgot the 25 per cent of those who hate us in the gut and who will see the Ombudsman and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.” To show his commitment to the success of the project, Richards handed in his resignation letter — which was to take effect on the scheduled delivery date.
For Richards, this meant a lot of people had a stake in the success of the project and “had skin in the game”.
The resignation letter was not accepted and today the CSA, which is part of the Department of Human Services, has a more intuitive call centre with an inproved response for its more than 1.5 million customers.
The new system, for instance, could detect rising emotion in a phone call and could spot words like “I rang before”, indicating that a customer may be following up a case. Call recording also put an end to what Richards describes as a “he said, she said” situation. A staff member, for instance, was dismissed due to an inappropriate comment made to a customer. The staff member denied it was his voice, but the system recorded his user ID. Richards says the dismissal process took a week, when in the past it would have taken three months. CSA agents also get additional protection. In a recent incident, the police were called in to arrest a customer who threatened to shoot staff. The conversation had been recorded and was later used as evidence against the customer.
“Our goal is to become the most cost-effective CSA,” says Richards. But this goal can not be reached “unless you have customer satisfaction right”.
How to drive customer-centric IT
By Andrew Rowsell-Jones
Enterprises are looking to sharpen their customer focus as a way of attaining growth. To be able to focus on the right things, you have to know what your company’s customer-centric strategy is.
Management gurus Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema’s book The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market is worth reading on this subject. To grow, these authors describe three strategies exceptional enterprises follow:
- Product leadership: Delivering products and services that push the performance boundaries.
- Operational excellence: Delivering low price and hassle-free service.
- Customer intimate: Delivering not what the market wants but what specific customers want.
“Most companies are organised for the convenience of their management and not for the convenience of the customer,” claims Jay R. Galbraith, senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organisations at the University of Southern California. Instead, an enterprise should be organised according to whether its customer strategy pursues product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy.
Each of these growth strategies requires the appropriate IS model to support it. For the product leadership and operational excellence models, the IS organisation tends to be a support function focusing more strongly on internal customers. But for customer intimacy, the IS organisation moves into the front office and focuses strongly on the external customer.
To be customer-centric, the IS organisation must be flexible and agile and able to respond quickly and efficiently to customer needs. IS must evolve its capabilities and organise around the customer. For operational excellence and customer intimacy, customer needs must drive IS prioritisation. This requires business executives, embedded staff and core IS groups to work closely together in a coordinated way.
In effect, becoming customer-centric requires building a new set of skills and/or capabilities inside IS. These skills centre on using a fact-based management approach to identify a customer need or opportunity and rapidly create and implement a high-quality solution — skills often found in management consultancies.
Experience has shown that many customer relationship management implementations fail because they don’t clearly connect with customer needs. Before developing any system, get a clear statement of the customer strategy and the particular focus within it. Make sure you can connect each IT strategy element with a defined customer need and can see clearly how this will deliver business benefit.
The customer strategy your enterprise is following will provide a guide. Each of the three customer strategies has clearly defined IT needs. However, with the sponsorship of a senior executive, there are four things a CIO can do to sharpen the enterprise’s customer focus, whatever the customer strategy: Synchronise the enterprise around customers; create a knowledge base to share information across the enterprise; provide customer metrics; and present a unified face to the customer.
Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programmes.
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