More and more, CIOs are stepping out of the world of information technology and enterprise computing and right into the customer’s office.
This seems natural for companies like IBM where your customers also happen to be peers, but for the CIO of a retail brand, a pharma company or a bank, it was not the norm to spend much if any time with the customer. But this trend is on the rise. CIO Magazine recently interviewed several CIOs who are moving to customer facing roles and there is a strong argument in favor of this.
Today, customer experience and gaining deeper customer engagement wins the day for most businesses and as a result, CIOs who wish to retain their status at the boardroom table recognize the need to more deeply understand their customers in order to deliver technology solutions that will support and engender high value engagement. But this does bring with it a tension in the role. Is it really reasonable to expect that the individual who has to ensure that all systems are up and running, secure and fault tolerant can also engage in a dialog with the customer? How is it possible for one person to have this broad a purview?
These are questions that some CIOs who are not yet embracing this role are asking, but most are welcoming the step forward into understanding the external customer as well as they understand the internal customer. To do so effectively, many are partnering with the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), the head of sales and in some cases the CCO (Chief Customer Officer). “We are trying to get in front of the customer needs rather than reacting to the marketers and sales teams,” explained one CPG CIO. “The reality is that in some cases even the customer isn’t sure where to go next, but by being in the market and having these discussions directly, I can better affect the change that my CMO and CCO peers need.”
The strategic partnership with CCO, CMO and sales isn’t a new topic of discussion, but now more than ever these partnerships are actually happening. As a CMO from a retailer stated, “We’ve been talking about the partnership for a while, but it is now critical. We need to have the CIO in the room with us so we can really integrate the new and old systems to bring a better customer experience.”
In the course of our work at Farland Group, I get the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with hundreds of Global 500 CIOs each year. They don’t argue the need to spend more time with the customer, but they do often ask how others are achieving this goal. Here are three ways that CIOs are developing a deeper connection with their customers:
1. Strategic Account Visits: Many CIOs in B2B businesses are building strategies that give them access to strategic customer accounts. This ranges from partnering with the account team to a more deliberate, repeatable strategy of engagement like a customer advisory board.
2. Technology-led Co-Creation: The nature of the CIO role puts CIOs squarely in the driver’s seat of leading new engagement models with customers that are enabled by technology. One CIO that we work with partners with the CIOs of their most valued customers to co-create new engagement models and applications.
3. CIO on Loan: Finally, we’ve heard from CIOs who loan out their expertise to clients where they believe that they can partner to create a deeper relationship. For those larger companies that have small and mid-size clients, this can serve as a very valuable asset for select clients and it puts the CIO in a very strong relationship position with customers.
These and other approaches are putting the CIO in more of a leadership role with customers and positioning them as a valued contributor to the overall goal of developing stronger customer relationships for the business.