How the Business and IT Can Collaborate for Customer Success

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Why should the business and IT collaborate? Really, the question is why wouldn’t they collaborate? More and more, business units like sales, marketing, service, and operations have direct interactions with customers that are enabled or empowered by technology — technology that’s typically managed and deployed by IT.

To ensure that these front-line experiences are optimized for customers, business and IT teams must work together closely. After all, better customer experiences lead to better business outcomes. Fifty-five percent of CIOs are spending time learning about how better serving customer needs can create new revenue generation opportunities.

IT can no longer be considered a transactional back-office unit. Think about it: even when IT develops something like a billing solution, there’s customer impact: receiving a bill is a critical part of a customer’s experience. IT must consider its customers while developing how the billing solution will present information.

Seventy-five percent of customers expect companies to use new technologies to improve their experiences, and 67% say the way a company uses technology reflects how it operates in general. No matter what they’re doing, IT always has some impact on customer experience — and investing in customer experience is critical for growth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

When Business and IT Don't Collaborate

When business and IT teams don't collaborate effectively with each other, investments in new technology and digital experiences don't get used or they get used poorly, leading to suboptimal outcomes. Effective communication and collaboration between your departments is key to success. Without it, what gets produced is something assumed to be great, but may not be grounded in the realities of customer experience.

For a long time, technology was seen as very complicated and the realm of the back office. Customer-facing teams, such as sales, marketing, and service, didn’t see technology as relevant to their performance and therefore didn’t develop the skills to understand how technology works and enables their business outcomes. As a result, many organizations formed bridge organizations staffed with savvy business-technology leaders to “translate” between customer-facing business users and technology teams.

Unfortunately, regardless of how savvy those leaders were, they were at least once removed from the actual frontline user or customer, taking requirements from the frontline and translating them into technology requirements. This inherently created a disconnect between what solutions IT delivered and what business users really needed to drive customer growth.

The best way to overcome this disconnect is to create cross-functional business and technology teams that work together to understand end-user and customer needs and develop relevant and desirable solutions. In other words, cut out the middleman and build a direct collaborative relationship between the two teams that are best suited to drive value: the customer-facing end-user community and the technologists.

Moving Past the Past

Historical baggage often impedes collaboration between business and IT teams. In the past, waterfall or legacy methods of working resulted in long waiting periods between business ideas, funding, IT development, and delivery.

Things would change during that time, and what seemed like a great idea 18 months ago, became a suboptimal experience by the time it was released. Because of these legacy delivery approaches, many business users still feel that IT can’t keep pace with business demands.

At many companies, business and IT teams are stuck in a vicious cycle. Even when IT wants to be responsive and nimble, business units don’t believe they’ll get anything past the first release and so they ask for everything up front. Getting to a minimal viable experience or product in order to set up an iterative release cycle is nearly impossible. It also means you are likely in a 9- to 12-month development cycle to get all functionality developed for release one… further perpetuating the belief that IT is slow and can’t keep pace. You see where this is going: no one can move quickly, everyone remains frustrated, and the cycle continues.

Helping the Business and IT Work Together

There are two key approaches to inspiring new collaboration between business and IT teams: Clean Slate and Firewall. Here’s how they work:

       Clean Slate

Look for leaders who have illustrated exceptional communication and partnering behaviors in the past and are interested and passionate about the customer.

Find a leader from one of your business teams with deep customer engagement and field experience, a passion for digital experiences, and a desire to learn, but no previous experience working with IT. Then, pair them with an IT leader who has experience empowering teams. Give the leaders a clear and concise business goal and provide them with a skilled and enthusiastic team (business and technology domain expertise, coupled with agile delivery approach). These two leaders can work together from a clean slate with no prior assumptions or behavior patterns. Their actions and ways of working will spread to their team and serve as an example to all teams of how to work in the digital era of the Customer. 


Create a small cross-functional team and firewall them from the normal approach to delivering technology enabled capabilities. Give them one new business capability or experience to focus on (make sure it’s important, but not mission-critical), and then remove all other tasks and responsibilities. Coupled with strong and enabled leaders from business and technology, see how fast they can run with this single capability for a timeboxed period of time. Be lean on governance by creating a new set of agreements on how the team will be governed and managed (in other words, take them out of your existing IT governance process). Whatever the outcome, you will learn what agile practices work in your organization and you’ll begin to show that IT can move at the pace of the customer and business demand. Don’t stop! Firewall more teams, and over time your whole IT organization will evolve to embrace new ways of working while illustrating a new level of partnership with your business partners.

Inspiring Genuine Business-IT Collaboration

With this new way of working and collaborating, you can’t rely on metrics like time, budget, or scope to inform whether or not you are successful. Those are project metrics, and frankly, teams don't actually need to collaborate in order to meet them.

Instead, your teams need to be accountable for business outcomes achieved with transparency and trust. How are they building trust with their stakeholders, and showing transparency with the executive team? Are they being clear about the potential impact of their work? How are you creating a culture of innovation where employees at all levels feel empowered to speak up and collaborate?

Keep in mind that only 51% of customers say companies understand their needs and expectations. That’s why you should hold your teams accountable to some measure of user adoption. Who is the user community and what are they saying? Were they engaged during the building process? What kind of support did they get after go-live? Make sure that your business and IT teams are always working in service of an end-user community of customers.

Ultimately, this is all about customer-centricity. Business and IT need to collaborate to create great customer experiences, and they need to understand that they win together or lose together. It’s not a competition: the business can’t win if IT loses, and IT can’t win if the business loses. Everyone needs to work together because everyone is in the business of making sure customers win.

Learn more about building a customer-centric organization.


Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.