How about this for a New Year’s resolution: Find out who
your customer is.
We don’t mean the people in internal departments using IT or
the business sponsor who shakes the money tree to finance
projects, but the people who pay your company for its product
or service. Real customers.
The Imperative to be
Customer-Centric IT Leaders
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Salesforce Lets Customers Share Data with Each Other
Just 10% of the 558 IT executives we polled in our latest
“State of the CIO” survey
identified “external customer focus” as critical to their jobs.
That’s not enough. The external customer is exactly whom CIOs
should understand, says Rick Roy, senior vice president of
customer operations at CUNA Mutual Group, a $3 billion company
that provides services to credit unions.
IT, operations and customer service are melding, he says,
especially in the financial services industry. But even across
industries, understanding how customers interact with the
company must inform the work of IT managers. Doing so can mean
more profits for the company, but it’s also “a tremendous
opportunity for career development,” he says. Roy was CIO at
CUNA Mutual before taking over customer operations in December
Following are three ideas about the intersection of
customers with technology that IT leaders should take into
Let folks talk; then listen to what they say
Giving customers online tools to review your site, service
and products can spur sales. Shoppers are willing to pay 20
percent more for services receiving an “excellent” rating from
fellow consumers, than for the same service receiving a “good”
rating, according to research firms comScore and The Kelsey
Group. The firms surveyed 2,000 Internet users in October about
the influence of peer reviews on purchasing decisions.
Ninety-seven percent of those who said they made a purchase
based on an online review said they found the review to have
been accurate, the survey says. Perhaps most telling is that
respondents said reviews generated by consumers had a greater
influence than those done by professionals.
That kind of interactivity is another layer to manage in the
relationship with customers, but consumers now expect to
collaborate with each other and with their chosen companies,
says Bill Band, an analyst
The problem, Band says, is that existing CRM suites from
Oracle and SAP, for example, don’t have built-in capabilities
for blogs, forums, wikis and social networking. Analyzing the
information generated in those interactive outlets requires
special tools, he says.
Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a
unit of media researcher Nielsen, has tools to mine what it
calls customer-generated media–the opinions and preferences
people express online. Marketing consultant Andy
who runs the Marketing Pilgrim site, has several ideas for
tracking what Internet users are saying about your company, including
tips on monitoring blog conversations and social media sites
such as Technorati.
As in so much regarding online retail, Amazon is the
granddaddy in customer reviews. But customers can chat
and review products at sites ranging from discounter Lillian
Vernon to luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz.
Twenty-two percent of retail sites now provide online chat,
compared to 12% of sites across industries, says The Customer
Respect Group, a research and consulting firm that helps
companies improve their treatment of customers online.
Gaining traction, the group says, is “proactive chat,” where
visitors are invited to converse based on their online
behavior. For instance, features such as “click to call a
customer service agent” can help companies limit site — and
Besides, block discussion at your site and you know people
will talk elsewhere.
Protect while you serve
With all this interactivity comes
data. Lots and lots of data for and about customers. IT
managers must help steer internal discussions with marketing,
legal and sales departments about whether and how to collect,
triangulate, analyze&emdash;and most importantly, protect&emdash;such
information. Privacy lapses repel customers.
Yet there are no federal data breach laws with which companies
can comply; the regulations differ state to state.
This means that IT managers in all industries, not just
retail, must batten down networking infrastructure. Healthcare
and insurance companies, for example, must guard personal data
even while opening up some internal files to customers who want
to choose and change benefits online, as well as review medical
data about themselves.
Senior IT managers also have to take their heads out of the
technology so they can learn how information flows through
their companies, says Tom Bowers, managing director of the
consulting firm Security Constructs and a former chief security
officer at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company.
Bowers says, for example, that CIOs should study how
customers and employees use e-mail, Web mail and chat forums to
share information. Doing so, he notes, is the only way to
understand where security policies fall down in the real
“CEOs don’t want to be on Larry King Live explaining a
breach,” he says.
And CIOs don’t want their employers to join companies such
as TJX, Monster.com
and The Nature
all of which made our list of the most egregious data breaches
of the year.
A home page laden with promotions
tailored to returning registered customers will be slower to
download than a sleek one light on advertising. If internal
metrics show that visitors respond to such in-your-face
marketing — buying right off the home page, for example —
then a potentially frustrating slow download might be worth
Amazon, for example, thinks that the math works, says Matt
Poepsel[cq’d.ksn], vice president of performance strategies at
Gomez, an online
consulting company. Poepsel monitored Amazon’s performance
during the holiday shopping season and watched while ShopNBC,
which is a smaller, less cluttered e-commerce site,
consistently beat Amazon in download time. “Amazon made a conscious
decision to develop a rich landing page,” Poepsel says,
“because there’s a lot of value they derive through the home
Overstock, on the other hand,
offer simple home pages that allow for quick and consistent
downloads, he says.
CIOs should watch out. Web designers have high-powered
workstations and spiffy tools like Ajax and
But customers may not be able to deal with such features. “Some
companies don’t understand bringing performance to the last
mile,” he says. “Design looks good in a data center but not to
users on other end of a cable modem [who might not be] getting
a good experience.”