I’m not going in depth on the preface, the gist of which is that smart customers – and the digital innovation that enables them – are not only here to stay, they’ve changed the very fabric of the traditional company/customer relationship.
Most executives recognize this, even as they struggle for the right strategies to enable relevant differentiation in a highly competitive marketplace. In today’s market, customers control how and with whom they do business to a greater extent than ever.
The thing is, almost every company of scale has a potential secret weapon – one that can drive massive business value. But even though this group touches nearly every aspect of an organization, very few companies recognize or are able to leverage it.
The Secret Weapon is (or Should Be) IT
The theme of digital innovation is often at the center of our work as customer experience strategists and designers. So we spend lots of time inside organizations learning more about the ways these companies manage information, technology, data, services and more. And one of the places we always look to is IT.
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The historical challenge for leveraging IT to drive innovation is that, in general, IT as a group has a hard time translating business strategy into IT goals. We’ve worked closely with CIO’s and IT leadership on these efforts, and find that there’s IT executive-level frustration at the difficulty they have fulfilling the potential of IT as a strategic leader and business partner.
This frustration exists on the business side as well; a recent CIO Executive Board survey found that less than 23% of IT’s business partners rate IT’s strategy and planning as being effective. Some of this has to do with culture, as well as the historical role of IT. Regardless of the underlying issues, it’s past time to drive IT change.
Breaking Down Organizational Silos: Enabling IT as a Strategy-Driven Service
Inside companies of all sizes, the issue of “silos” – where walls have been erected between groups, divisions and departments – are both a common pain point and a significant cause of unmet customer expectations.
The thing is, our customers expect the experience to be seamless across channels; in banking, for example, starting a loan app online, being able to call a customer service rep and complete it, and walk into a branch to sign the papers. When data, relationships and customer information don’t flow freely from one part of the business to another, customers suffer. And so do you.
In the world of smart, digitally enabled customers, digital touchpoints – through which data and information can flow countless different ways – are expanding exponentially inside virtually every company. As touchpoints get even smarter, IT is going to increasingly be at the center of the business.
The traditional IT view of “success” is driven by three major components: schedule, scope and budget. By the very nature of this perspective, the goal is to finish projects, and do so on-time, on-budget and within scope. What isn’t part of this traditional view is the degree to which IT’s efforts deliver against the business needs and outcomes required by the business. As a result, forward-looking companies need to shift their view of what defines IT “success”, and executive leadership needs to enable and support a service-driven IT group that can effectively link IT to business strategy. The result is delivering desired business outcomes as the primary measure of IT success.
One approach to address this issue is a shift to an IT as a service model (ITaaS), which effectively pushes IT to run like a business on its own, “competing” against other options for business and continually justifying their existence. And while I recognize that this is a great way to get more value out of IT – any time you align employee reward structures with desired business outcomes, things get a lot crisper – this doesn’t obviously leverage the insights that IT is in a unique position to capitalize on.
How to Get There: IT Needs to Look at The Business From The Outside-In
As we discussed above, internal “silos” negatively impact customer experience, reduce operational efficiency, and hurt your ability to compete. Silos usually occur along fairly predictable fault lines (such as your systems, processes, data) and can be seen in sharp relief by looking at the world of IT through a new lens. The lens of the outside-in customer journey.
Through this lens, IT can begin to find ways to address the often intractable issue of silos. For example, it’s easier to see where issues occur, identifying the places that systems align with specific customer journey stages, and find out exactly where customer pain points can be addressed by improving the underlying systems and data.
Think about the all-too-typical call center pain point, where customers are required to enter or communicate their information (name, social, account number, address or some combination thereof) multiple times. By looking at this touchpoint through the customers’ eyes, the pain is obvious. By looking at through the view of data and business processes, the cause of that pain – and where it can be fixed – is just as obvious.
Given the fact that IT – more than any other group, even in the most siloed organizations – cuts across all these silos, they’re well situated to identify, then knock down, walls between groups like customer service, marketing and sales.
So. If you’re trying to improve customer experience, recognize that IT is at the center. And do whatever you can to get IT to look at their world through the eyes of your customer.
This blog originally ran on CMO.com, where Michael Hinshaw writes the weekly “Get Customer-Centric” blog.