Let\u2019s face it: The work of making the customer\n happy rarely tops an IT professional\u2019s to-do list.Unlike slashing costs, boosting revenue or pushing the\n envelope on innovation, increasing customer satisfaction simply\n (and unfortunately) doesn\u2019t fall under the umbrella of\n buzz-worthy IT undertakings. No wonder then that only 10\n percent of this year\u2019s \u201cState of the CIO\u201d\n survey respondents consider external customer focus to be an\n executive leadership competency most critical to their role as\n CIO. Add to that the fact that respondents say they spend a\n mere 9.4 percent of their time interacting with external\n business partners and customers and you get\u2014yes\u2014a\n customer focus gap.\n MORE ON State of the CIO\n \n The CIO's Time to Shine\n \n The 2008 State of the CIO: Business Strategists on the Rise\n \n Six IT Leaders Who Matter\n \n How to Sharpen Your Commercial Instincts\n \n 2007 State of the CIO\n \u201cMany CIOs are a little cavalier about making raising\n customer satisfaction an explicit goal,\u201d says Harley\n Manning, vice president and director of Forrester\n Research\u2019s customer experience group. Rather, he says,\n objectives such as cost avoidance and innovation are far more\n likely to receive top billing on a CIO\u2019s project roster.\n That\u2019s because not only is bolstering customer loyalty a\n hard sell among corporate bean counters, its (arguably)\n intangible benefits and its (allegedly) nebulous returns often\n make it a thankless job. After all, when it comes to customer\n feedback, CIOs typically hear one of two things: harsh\n criticism or the sound of one hand clapping.But despite this history of practical difficulties and\n emotional disincentives, some of today\u2019s top CIOs are\n making customer satisfaction a priority\u2014and reaping huge\n rewards as a result. They\u2019re discovering that focusing on\n the customer can yield substantial benefits, including (but not\n limited to) saving money, increasing sales and enhancing\n productivity\u2014as well as keeping the customer\n satisfied.In fact, by tackling customer-centric IT projects, CIOs can\n reshape their role as key corporate players and position\n themselves for greater enterprise responsibility by aligning\n with the major concern of their executive peers and bosses.\n Business, after all, is all about serving the customer. If you\n want to be part of the business (and you do, don\u2019t you?),\n you want to be a part of that.Customer Focus Means Organizational ChangePat Lawicki lights up when discussing her customer-centric\n IT initiatives. As CIO of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a\n $12.5 billion San Francisco-based utility, Lawicki serves15\n million customers scattered across two-thirds of California.\n Among them are Silicon Valley behemoths such as Hewlett\n Packard, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Cisco. So when the\n California energy crisis, the Enron debacle and an executive\n staff overhaul in 2005 threatened to permanently tarnish\n PG&E\u2019s reputation with its customers, Lawicki began\n working on a series of customer-focused projects.Pacific Gas & Electric CIO Patricia LawickiThe centerpiece of her efforts was PG&E\u2019s\n SmartMeter program which provides customers with an automated\n gas and electric metering system allowing PG&E to collect\n data without setting foot on a customer\u2019s property.\n Electric meter data travels along a system of power lines to a\n PG&E data center for processing while gas meters rely on\n radio frequency transmitters to deliver data back to the\n company via a public wireless network. Once a SmartMeter system\n is up and running, PG&E can collect energy usage\n information regularly and pinpoint power outages as they\n occur.Future plans include allowing customers to access their\n usage data online, and the information is broken down so they\n can better manage their energy consumption and expenses. For\n example, a homeowner may discover that running the dishwasher\n every day at 4 p.m. is 20 percent more expensive than waiting\n until midnight. \u201cThe SmartMeter project is geared toward\n letting our customers have more control over their energy\n consumption while helping them save money in the\n process,\u201d says Lawicki.By end of 2008, it\u2019s expected that 1.6 million new\n meterswill be installed across northern and central California,\n and within the next three years, PG&E wants to have the\n SmartMeter program up and running in nearly 6 million homes and\n businesses.But as they provide customers with real-time insight into\n energy consumption, saving customers cash and the hassle of\n having to call PG&E to report outages seems like a\n no-brainer. Lawicki says that launching customer-focused\n initiatives (including a service that allows building\n developers to apply for new gas or electric service connections\n online) wasn\u2019t as simple as flicking a switch; it called\n for a complete overhaul of the company\u2019s IT organization\n in order to enable it to function as a single, centralized\n entity.The first step was creating a Solution Delivery Center\n dedicated to the consistent delivery of IT solutions. This\n group of employees, including IT staff,the VP of marketing and\n subject matter experts from other lines of business, focuses on\n the skills needed to provide services and solutions to\n PG&E\u2019s business partners and customers. Prior to\n introducing the Solution Delivery Center, Lawicki says\n IT-related processes, such as providing Web-based customer\n support, depended on whichever PG&E department a customer\n was dealing with. By replacing a hodgepodge of departmental\n styles, approaches and systems with a body that ensures\n consistent, enterprisewide IT processes, PG&E cleared the\n way for undertakings such as the SmartMeter project.The creation\u2014and reexamination\u2014of IT roles also\n readied PG&E for other customer-centric endeavours. A newly\n fashioned chief customer officer, responsible for all aspects\n of customer service at PG&E, works with the IT department\n to design customer-focused strategies and develop products\n around customers\u2019 needs. Even Lawicki had to step back\n and assess the part she was to play in the company\u2019s new\n approach to customer satisfaction. Upon careful consideration,\n she began to see her role at PG& E as\n \u201ctransformational\u201d and, drawing on her years of\n weathering mergers and acquisitions, started to analyze\n \u201cthe large amount of technology investment that was\n required\u201d to revamp PG&E\u2019s approach\u2014and\n her own\u2014to her customer\u2019s satisfaction.\n 3 Tips for Customer-Focused IT Leaders\n \n\n 1. Talk to the Users\n Develop a customer-focused project in a vacuum and\n you\u2019ll end up being the only one who likes it.\n The counsel of third-party providers and your customers\n is essential.\u201cHire a project manager who knows your\n customers\u2019 line of business,\u201d says\n Adirondack Medical Center CIO Mike Kelly.\n \u201cInvolve your customers from day one. Let them\n know that this is their project, not yours. Provide all\n the support they need.\u201dPacific Gas and Electric CIO Patricia Lawicki is\n quick to agree. The success of her automated gas and\n electric metering systems hinged, she says, on taking\n \u201ca holistic approach\u201d by \u201csitting\n down with all of the lines of business and instilling\n the concept that the sum of the parts is greater than\n any individual project.\u201d\n\n 2. Focus on the ROI\n Convincing corporate bean counters that a\n customer-centric project is worthy of a sizable\n investment is often a hard sell. That\u2019s why\n it\u2019s crucial IT project evangelists convert\n intangible benefits such as increased customer\n satisfaction into hard ROI figures that will pry open a\n corporation\u2019s coffers. Says Harley Manning,\n vice-president and director of Forrester\n Research\u2019s customer experience group, \u201cMy\n first piece of advice would be start with the hard\n metrics. And when all you have is soft metrics, take\n the time to make the connection to a hard\n metric.\u201d For example, try translating customer\n satisfaction into measurable variables such as customer\n retention, increased revenue per transaction and lower\n customer support cost.\n\n 3. Be Patient\n If you\u2019re expecting customers to fall madly in\n love with your creation the moment it goes live,\n you\u2019re likely to be disappointed.\u201cYou need to transition people as gracefully\n as possible to a new system,\u201d says Leonard\n Peters, associate dean and CIO at Columbia Business\n School in New York. So when Peters introduced faculty\n and students to a new course management system, he made\n certain to offer targeted and customized training.\n Training opportunities ran the gamut from classroom\n sessions and one-on-one consultations to student forums\n and lunch-and-learn programs.Change is hard and people don\u2019t like it, even\n when the change is for the better. Give your customers\n time to get used to it.To Serve the Customer, Engage the CustomerLeonard Peters, associate dean and CIO at Columbia Business\n School in New York, knew it was time to replace his\n school\u2019s \u201cantiquated and clunky\u201d course\n management system when he began to receive \u201ca ton\u201d\n of complaints from faculty and students.Leonard Peters, CIO at Columbia Business SchoolSo, in fall 2005, he began evaluating a number of vendors.\n After an in-depth review of courseware products, he chose Angel\n Learning. Deployed at the beginning of the summer 2007\n semester, the Web-based e-learning solution lets students track\n upcoming and overdue assignments, send and receive e-mail,\n schedule events, check grades (if used by faculty), participate\n in discussion groups and create teams for project work. It also\n allows faculty to administer pre-course work more easily and\n communicate requirements for multiple courses from a single,\n Web-based application.But the intense competition among business schools for\n students and faculty meant Peters couldn\u2019t take any\n chances on the system\u2019s design and functionality. In\n addition to working with Angel Learning to customize it, in\n 2005 Peters partnered with both faculty and students in order\n to create a baseline of requirements. He cobbled together a\n group enrolled in the school\u2019s New Product Development\n course to determine what the system\u2019s key attributes\n should be. He then used a videographer to record faculty\n members and staff sharing their thoughts on the antiquated\n system\u2019s shortcomings and their expectations for the new\n solution.Dubbed \u201cVoice of the Customer Sessions,\u201d Peters\n shot 28 hours of video, edited it into 40-minute segments, and\n then posted them on the business school\u2019s intranet as\n streaming media clips for all to see.By engaging the School\u2019s customers (its faculty and\n students) in the system design process, Peters says,\n \u201cPeople felt like we really got it; we really understood\n what the challenges were and where we needed to take the course\n management system. And that helped generate enormous\n credibility.\u201dPeters\u2019 strategy of soliciting customer feedback in\n the design phase didn\u2019t end with the roll-out. Currently,\n Peters performs weekly health checks of the system\u2014the\n results of which are regularly communicated to faculty and\n students, along with notifications of system updates and\n modifications. There is also an advisory team that has\n constituents from around the community who are focused on the\n continued improvement of the environment.For example, some faculty members post quizzes on the\n system. Answers are hidden until a pre-determined time and\n date, at which point they\u2019re automatically released for\n public viewing. An early, unintentional release of quiz\n answers, however, would be ruinous. So Peters performs regular\n checks to ensure that the system is configured properly, and to\n notify faculty members of upcoming content release dates.\u201cProbably one of the best things we do is the health\n checks,\u201d says Peters. \u201cMore than anything, it\n ensures quality.\u201dIn fact, by keeping faculty and staff informed of the course\n management system\u2019s technical glitches, modifications and\n latest capabilities, Peters has greatly reduced the number of\n help desk incident reports from 70 during the week of September\n 17 to a mere 11 during the week of October 8.And, he says, the kids love it.Unlike the User, the Customer is Always RightAdirondack Medical Center\u2019s private practitioners\n didn\u2019t just ask for a new electronic health records\n system in early 2004, \u201cthey demanded it,\u201d according\n to Mike Kelly, CIO of the $80 million New York-based healthcare\n network. Composed of an acute care facility, two long-term care\n facilities and numerous outpatient facilities, AMC services 50\n private practitioners who either care for patients or refer\n patients to the organization\u2019s services.Mike Kelly, CIO of Adirondack Medical CenterOne of the primary goals of AMC\u2019s EHR system is to\n share patient information across New York\u2019s 26 regional\n healthcare facilities in a secure, HIPPA-compliant manner.\n Electronic patient medical records may include reports on past\n diagnoses, surgical procedures, imaging studies, allergies,\n drug histories and laboratory test results. By providing\n doctors with greater access to this information, AMC\u2019s\n goal is to ensure that physicians can provide patients with\n care appropriate to their conditions and that the delivery of\n this care is accurately recorded and preserved.On this last issue, Kelly says that \u201cOur physician\n community is justifiably concerned that in order to be paid for\n their services in the future, they\u2019re going to have to\n provide greater documentation that they actually delivered the\n services that they claimed to provide.\u201dBut while it was clearly time for AMC to graduate from its\n antiquated system of paper charts and place patients\u2019\n medical records on their physicians\u2019 laptops and\n desktops, Kelly and his IT department knew the transition\n wouldn\u2019t be easy. Although AMC\u2019s physicians were\n \u201ceager adopters of medical technology,\u201d Kelly also\n was aware that his customers\u2014those same\n physicians\u2014were a notoriously demanding group and jealous\n of their time and that it would be a hard sell convincing them\n that enduring stringent HIPAA-mandated online security measures\n would be worth their trouble.\u201cOur physicians viewed authentication, backup,\n permissions and access control as nuisances designed to\n aggravate them and slow them down,\u201d Kelly says.Rather than fight a lonely, uphill battle, he developed a\n number of strategies to garner support. For starters, he held\n regular meetings with AMC\u2019s medical staff to involve them\n in the decision-making process on everything from software and\n hardware purchases to ISP and networking selections. In this\n way, Kelly sought to reduce potential friction and encourage a\n sense of collective ownership of the project. Next, he hired a\n project manager with extensive physician office billing and\n management experience to lend expertise, credibility and an\n objective voice. Finally, the IT department held training\n classes for end users, including hospital sponsor meetings, at\n 7 a.m. or at 5:30 p.m. to accommodate the physicians\u2019\n schedules.\u201cOur physicians now understand that IT projects are\n very complex and very time-consuming,\u201d Kelly reports,\n \u201cand, as a result, they\u2019ve become our biggest\n fans.\u201dFor good reason: Since introducing the EHR system last year,\n some of AMC\u2019s private practitioners reportedly have been\n able to treat an average of five additional patients a\n day\u201420 additional patients a week. By tracking\n patients\u2019 visits electronically, AMC has managed to cut\n the time it takes its many of its physicians to be reimbursed\n by 20 percent. And plans include building a patient portal\n (scheduled for a 2009 release) so that patients can take a more\n active role in their health care choices.Making the ChangeWhile no strategy\u2014whether it\u2019s getting\n ground-floor support, forging alliances or collecting\n feedback\u2014can fully prepare a CIO for the rigors of a\n customer-focused IT undertaking, or guarantee its ultimate\n success, understanding the nature of the beast can make a huge\n difference.AMC\u2019s Kelly, for example, knew that physicians\n won\u2019t stand for being dictated to. Columbia Business\n School\u2019s Peters understood that implementing anything for\n a group of academics was as much about about managing their\n expectations as it was about devising an implementation plan,\n no matter how sophisticated. IT accomplishments in higher\n education are often measured by alumni support and school\n spirit\u2014customer satisfaction\u2014not simply by dollars\n alone. \u201cThe returns we get are very different from a\n corporation,\u201d Peters says.In all cases, however, CIOs who are embarking on\n customer-facing projects need to remember something no\n businessperson ever forgets: The customer is always right.Cindy Waxer is a frequent contributor to CIO.