Putting the “IT” in Profit

BrandPost By Cindy Waxer
May 18, 2021
IT Leadership

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Credit: istock

As we begin to emerge from a major economic disruption, forward-facing leaders are refocusing their efforts on growth and profitability. CIOs are no exception.

According to IDG’s 2020 State of the CIO survey, two-thirds (67%) of CIOs say the creation of new revenue-generating initiatives is among their job responsibilities. And a full 40% of CIOs say they must play a strategic role for their organization. What’s more, 46% cite customer experience as a new area of expansion.

By shifting focus from optimizing IT infrastructure to driving revenue and innovation, IT leaders can help an organization focus on the customer experience, increase customer lifetime value, and drive growth.

But converting IT from a cost center into a profit center takes more than redefining the role of the CIO. Rather, key components — collaboration, automation, quality data, and meaningful customer experiences — are at the core of any revenue-generating, business-focused IT team.

Collaboration is critical

IT can play an essential part in ensuring sales, marketing, and service teams share resources and pool information in order to drive growth. This begins with deploying collaboration software tools that combine records of customer engagement, documents, spreadsheets, checklists, and chat in one place so that anyone with permission can access them anywhere, on any device.

Using a collaborative platform, sales teams can post questions to find guidance on how to engage with a prospect; marketing can update customer preferences to help sales close deals; and service reps can join public or private groups to address common customer pain points or better understand an individual’s previous interactions with the company.

Dashboards can also foster greater collaboration among disparate teams by sharing unifying key performance indicators across an organization. These days, organizations are overloaded with information, much of which exists in silos. However, by making data more accessible and easier to decipher, dashboards become a valuable tool in the collaboration process.

For example, a service team can rely on a dashboard to discover how a particular customer typically interacts with a brand. If that customer’s primary interactions with marketing come through social media, for instance, an organization can ensure future engagements take place on that preferred platform.

However, collaboration tools and dashboards must be readily available to deliver real business value. That’s not always easy given the growing number of remote workers and their impact on network bandwidth and infrastructure. Fortunately, a robust network can ensure consistent and reliable access to a customer relationship management system and its business-critical data.

For this reason, David Amaro, senior manager of corporate marketing at Salesforce, says, “It’s really important that you have a trusted platform that is able to scale with the demands of your business.” This is especially critical as the shift to digital engagement and marketplaces accelerates, leading to unprecedented volumes of customer and employee queries and increasing potential cybersecurity threats.

Indeed, with the increasing number and complexity of cyber threats, it’s not surprising that IDG’s 2020 State of the Network reveals that almost three-quarters of respondents (71%) are either piloting, currently using, or upgrading network security monitoring technology. Network security monitoring helps to identify slowdowns and problem areas, allows administrators to attack problems as they happen, and helps prevent future attacks.

Automating success

Productivity drives profitability — but routine tasks can slow workflows and impede progress. Consider, for example, the downstream impact of manual, repetitive tasks such as collecting basic information on the customer experience, or how logging sales activities hampers employee productivity. However, by automating mundane tasks, IT teams can drive productivity and achieve greater scalability. Use cases for automation vary based on task and role.

For example, rather than require sales reps to painstakingly log the details of a customer interaction, automation — such as voice recognition technology coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) — can instantly log key information into a CRM system, populating important fields and mitigating the risk of human error. Automation can also streamline business processes and achieve scale through repeatable workflows. With tools like Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ), IT can even leverage automation to expedite an organization’s approval processes, such as routing discount requests for a sales proposal to the right sales leader. Ultimately, reps are empowered to quickly provide a customer with an accurate quote or proposal.

Regardless of task, Amar Aujla, vice president of product management at Salesforce, says automation capabilities allow “employees to focus on more value-add services while making life simpler for sales and service reps.”

No wonder organizations are increasingly automating activities like gathering basic information and customer feedback. Indeed, 77% of agents say automating routine tasks allows them to focus on more complex work — up from 69% in 2018, according to a Salesforce State of Service report.

Data for the win

As competition mounts and new customer service modalities multiply, the demand for personalized customer engagement increases. It’s no longer enough for service agents to know how to close tickets, or for sales teams to record customer interactions. Rather, today’s employees are brand ambassadors responsible for delivering ongoing support and value.

Doing so, however, requires a customer-centric approach in which employees have a 360-degree view of the customer. This includes a history of every interaction they’ve had with a company — what they’ve relayed during a sales cycle, each time they’ve made a service call, what marketing campaigns they’ve engaged with, even what events they’ve attended. It also includes details about who they are, their buying behaviors and their service preferences.

CIOs can serve as stewards of these valuable details – vast volumes of data gleaned from enterprise systems such as CRM and collaboration platforms. “Data continues to be a big part of what IT must focus on,” says Aujla. Responsibilities, he adds, include “connecting disparate data and converting these sets into insights,” as well as adhering to the highest data management, security and governance standards.

Proactively mining data for insights, and sharing these details with sales and service teams, should also be a top priority for IT leaders as predictive analytics can “identify issues before they fully emerge and enable employees to take preemptive action,” according to Aujla.

Being a customer-centric CIO also entails an understanding of the challenges sales and service teams face and empowering them with the most innovative tools and technology to help them succeed. This requires meeting regularly with line of business leaders to identify industry-disrupting change, explore new business models, and reimagine customer experiences — efforts that ultimately tie data to profitability and growth.

Superior customer experiences

There is no underestimating the increasing importance of the customer experience and its impact on revenue generation. From curbside pickup to e-commerce, organizations have been forced to explore new and innovative ways to connect with customers and deliver products and services with unprecedented speed and flexibility.

For example, no longer can contact center agents simply field customer queries with a standard response and consider the case closed. Rather, they must listen to pressing concerns with equal parts empathy and a sense of urgency in order to be able to respond with bespoke, data-driven solutions. Even business leaders need to refresh the way they collaborate and communicate with employees in order to foster a customer-centric focus in the organization that delivers consistent customer experiences.

Complicating matters is the fact that market volatility and an uncertain economic environment are challenging organizations to gain — and maintain — consumer trust in order to build relationships that last. After all, trust is the fundamental building block of any customer relationship, and rises above all other imperatives, especially in times of uncertainty.

IT teams can help create revenue-generating opportunities by digitizing operations to better support multichannel, high-touch customer interactions. Initiatives range from using AI to convert data into actionable insights to building mobile apps that provide superior customer experiences.

In fact, according to IDG, 23% of IT decision-makers cite an omni-channel customer experience strategy as key to a positive customer relationship. And for good reason: by integrating all touchpoints in the customer lifecycle, from websites to live chat, organizations can deliver seamless interactions with customers across all channels, from anywhere. The result: long-lasting customer relationships and brand loyalty.

After all, says Amaro: “It’s so much more expensive and time-consuming to acquire a new customer than retain one. Sometimes, especially when you’re facing an economic disruption, a good strategy is to go back to the basics and focus on your existing customer base. That allows an organization to strengthen those relationships, increase retention, and maximize the overall lifetime value of those customers.”

The Role of the CIO for 2021 — and Beyond

Many CIOs believe their role is already expanding beyond traditional IT responsibilities, according to IDG’s 2020 State of the CIO research.

Nearly half (46%) cite customer experience as a new area of expansion as IT leaders enable sales and marketing teams to serve customers with relevant, timely, and personalized customer experiences throughout the purchase journey.

Other business initiatives within the widening CIO scope include cybersecurity (64%), data privacy/compliance (49%), operations (36%) and business development (36%).

High stakes for IT

Customers now demand highly personalized experiences, whether browsing a brick-and-mortar store or shopping online. Sales teams must respond to emerging buying behavior and market trends with unprecedented speed, and contact center agents need to be able to resolve issues and offer personalized solutions. To meet these demands business line leaders must empower their employees with the best-in-class tools and technology.

No wonder the role of CIO is evolving from managing IT infrastructure to playing a critical part in driving revenue and profitability. Savvy IT leaders can help organizations better engage customers, deploy new business models, and foster greater innovation. Collaboration solutions, automation capabilities, quality data, and meaningful customer experiences — they are all tools and techniques supported by IT and at the center of business success.

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