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Get Your Technology Teams Thinking Like the Customer

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The world has become increasingly digital, and companies are thirsty for customer connection. Gathering their feedback is no longer simply interesting – it's imperative.

Customer buying behaviors have changed significantly in 2020 as the pandemic changed our interactions and the digital economy boomed. Companies that have engaged their customers, and created experiences that made commerce easy, saw major success during this challenging time. The engine room behind this experience is obviously technology, but technology leaders must approach this challenge in new and different ways.

It’s easy to forget about the customer, especially in the technology organization. CIOs are asked to serve the “internal customer,” who often requests help in automating the organization’s business processes. Enterprise software is often purchased and implemented to create process adherence and efficiencies. But technology teams can gather requirements and build or implement systems that could engage the “external customer” more. CIOs can have a massive impact on how organizations do their work, and they can meaningfully change the culture of the businesses (and customers – both internal and external) they serve.

1) Create the customer tape measure

How do CIOs create a customer-centric culture? Let’s start with something simple. During weekly status meetings, bring your customer to the table. Include customer metrics (e.g., Net Promoter Score [NPS], Customer Satisfaction Score [CSAT], customer retention rates, etc.) in the statistics you review each week. If you believe that “what gets measured gets managed,” then the customer measures must be visible. While these metrics may feel harder for the CIO to control, it will keep the customer present in your teams’ minds. Engage with the team in questioning how the technology organization can affect these measurements and how the technology priorities are impacted by the customer’s voice.

You can go further, too. Your teams build reporting for the wider business. They are asked to conduct analysis and answer statistical questions. Bring the customer voice and data into your answers. Include these same customer metrics in the analysis and reporting that you measure for your own organization.

2) Wire the customer into core business processes

The larger an organization gets, the more insular it becomes. The best customer-centric companies wire the customer’s voice into the way they run their business. In the past, there were teams or departments responsible for listening to customer feedback, interpreting it, and prioritizing how the company responds. This didn’t always work. Have you ever delivered technology that the “customer really wants” and seen very little adoption or interest from the customer?

We don’t need to take this approach anymore. Technology today allows organizations (empowered by technology teams) to get beyond aggregation and interpretation. Technology leaders can build the voice of the customer into product development, or customer support, or marketing, or health and safety, or inventory management, or maintenance and service. The voice of the customer can be a key input to how the company responds operationally, and the technology team makes that happen.

3) Empower the whole organization

The technology organization also defines the software catalog and desktop for a company. Imagine if feedback tools were part of the core applications on the desktop – just like Slack or Teams or SharePoint or email? What if every part of the business felt empowered and enabled to engage their customer in their part of the business? For example, customer success leaders could integrate NPS into their customer engagement processes. Shipping and distribution teams could wire customer feedback into their delivery route planning. The possibilities are endless and scale infinitely if they empower teams to engage and solve for their customers’ needs themselves.

There are obviously important ground rules to empowering the business. By definition, gathering customer feedback creates some important considerations. CIOs can make sure that data is protected and that a wider information architecture is in place and still allow their business users the creativity and innovation that comes at the front line. Gartner describes this thinking as “bimodal," allowing for both predictability and exploration. CIOs are best positioned to bring both considerations to their companies and can drive customer-centric cultures through empowerment and control.

Summary

Changing culture is the hardest part of leadership work. It only happens little by little over long periods of time. It requires discipline and consistency. CIOs sometimes focus on their customers as the internal business leaders across the enterprise. While this is certainly true, they are positioned to help their companies in much bigger ways. CIOs can bring customer metrics into the technology teams. They can wire the voice of the customer into the business processes that they design and automate. And they can enable all parts of the business with the architecture and tools to engage the customer on the front lines. In this next evolution of customer-centricity, businesses must take a systematic approach, and CIOs are positioned to lead.

David Roberts is CEO at Alchemer.

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