Customer Centric IT

CCITIn a recent CIO.com feature article, Julia King, took a look at a number of companies and how CIOs are refocusing their staffs on Customer Centric IT.

“Increasingly, a customer-centric approach is a matter of competitive advantage, even business survival. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to Walker Information, a national consulting firm focused on customer intelligence.”

King looked at JetBlue, Chico FAS, Pulte Group, Ashbury Automotive Group, Giant Eagle and AgCo. Following is an abridged version of the article.

JetBlue

At JetBlue, CIO Eash Sundaram’s IT team looked to – and continue to emulate – highly regarded, customer-focused companies like Google, Apple and others outside of the airline industry. JetBlue also partnered with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at the Stanford School of Engineering on multiweek projects to immerse JetBlue leaders, including many from IT, in a customer-focused case study of the airline. The program included classroom training plus field research at San Francisco International Airport to help executives better understand customers’ needs and JetBlue’s practices.

At the company’s headquarters in New York, IT is a stand-alone organization, but IT employees are integrated into various functions, like marketing and operations. Sundaram also leads the company’s multi­million-dollar customer experience innovation program, along with JetBlue’s chief commercial officer and chief customer experience officer.

To gain a deeper understanding of new customers, JetBlue dispatches IT staffers and other employees on trips to expansion markets. In the Dominican Republic, for example, many people pay in cash instead of using credit cards, “so IT is now working on a next-generation kiosk to act like an ATM,” Sundaram notes.

Internally, JetBlue also has made customer satisfaction a key factor in employees’ compensation. One-third of Sundaram’s job performance rating is based on how much customers enjoy traveling with JetBlue, he says.

Chico FAS

Shifting IT’s mindset to look beyond company boundaries and focus on paying customerschanges the equation entirely, according to Eric Singleton, CIO at Chico’s FAS, a $2.6 billion specialty retailer with 1,547 stores. “You think about things differently,” he says. “You ask different questions that you don’t ask if you’re in a basement writing code for internal customers.”

That’s why Singleton and other members of his 250-person IT organization regularly visit the company’s stores–to get up close and conversational with shoppers. Singleton is especially keen to observe how women interact with a 24-in. touchscreen that’s mounted in a cabinet near the back of the store. Known as the “tech table,” the touchscreen lets shoppers browse beyond the 60 percent of inventory displayed in physical stores to view and buy hundreds of additional products online.

He describes the table as “a social watering hole” and “an augmented shopping experience that is fueled by the customers’ social energy around it in the moment.”

Best of all, tech table sales routinely add 15 percent to 20 percent to in-store sales totals every day–a figure that’s higher than anyone at Chico’s anticipated.

Pulte Group

A major break came when PulteGroup decided to relocate its headquarters from Detroit to Atlanta. CIO Joe Drouin says that, after he arrived in 2013, he seized the opportunity to overhaul the IT organization, hire about 35 new people in Atlanta and “bring IT out from behind the curtain to engage on the front lines of the business.”

“We created new roles that would be visible to the rest of the business and engage with our customers and partners,” he says. “We hired a director of customer engagement and a team of people under him. Technology skills were table stakes. We brought people in from a variety of places with the notion that we were looking for people who could sit across the table from a marketing person or homebuilder, or walk into a model home and sit with a sales consultant and have a conversation about what they needed, all in a non-technology-focused way.”

“We viewed every single hire as a critical hire,” he says. “It was so important to make this [customer-centric] shift and this transformation that we couldn’t afford to say ‘This guy is strong technically, but I can’t imagine his ability to really engage.’ So we didn’t make any exceptions to the picture of the person we were trying to hire. It was critical enough to me personally to be in the room and spending time personally because I couldn’t afford to have one person slip by that wouldn’t be there to drive this major shift in the organization.”

“There was this very traditional idea that IT was a service provider and the customer was everyone else inside Pulte,” Drouin says. “Today, we don’t talk about IT and the business. We talk about IT as part of the business–as ingrained and as tightly woven as any other function, and contributing to business strategy. Our customers are [the company’s] end customers.”

Ashbury Automotive Group

More than a few CIOs make the point that precisely defining the word customer is a critical first step toward customer-centric IT. “We make a big point of defining the word customer. A customer is the same in IT as it is for the rest of the business. A customer buys cars, buys services and buys parts,” says Barry Cohen, CIO at Asbury Automotive Group, a $5.9 billion automotive retailer with 82 dealerships. “We don’t even say ‘internal customer.’ In fact, we make a big point of saying IT is part of the business and not like an island off by itself. These are small but important nuances because we’re trying to build a culture where everybody is thinking the same way.”

Asbury’s IT infrastructure is made up mainly of automotive-specific systems and software developed and provided by third parties. The company’s 39-person IT group is focused on managing the service providers and handling field engineering and support at dealerships. For now, IT staffers don’t work directly with people who are shopping for cars but with employees in the dealerships and in other departments who work directly with customers.

The IT team is focused on taking some of the hassle out of the car-buying experience. “If you’ve bought a car, you know that you can spend an entire day in the dealership, so we’re working on customer-facing things like digital signatures and removing some of the paperwork in that process,” Cohen explains.

One of the surprising things Cohen and his team have learned at the dealerships is that, although they do have store hours, they have no set closing time. “I’d always ask what time they go home and they always said ‘When the last customer leaves.’ So, my IT staff is really focused on that now,” he says. “We don’t have hours that we are open or closed. It’s when our customer is there.”

Giant Eagle

For customer-facing technologies, IT has upgraded its quality-assurance and user-interface testing to get insight into what customers want, CIO Anuj Dhanda says. Giant Eagle conducts workshops with customers that IT teams observe. All IT staffers also work in one of the company’s stores to experience firsthand how IT works on the front line for both employees and customers.

AgCo

“The days of [merely] building a product and bringing it to market don’t work anymore. Between social media and the collapse of distribution channels, there’s a very different customer expectation. One of the biggest shifts everyone in IT has to make is getting from an IT focus to a customer focus,” CIO Sheryl Bunton says.

To get there, IT has to prove its status as a valued partner to the business over and over again. “You have to do it enough so that you build trust. It’s becoming very strong at execution that keeps the business engaged and builds that trust,” she says.

Before business partners are willing to bring IT to meet with external customers, they must be confident it will benefit the customer relationship, Bunton says. “If I was making a sales call, I’m only going to expose my customers [to someone] from IT who I can trust and who will add value to the conversation and who will make me look good,” she says. “Otherwise, the risk just isn’t worth it.”

Read the full article here.

2 Comments on “Customer Centric IT

  1. Really nice blog Ben. I liked the part where a CIO says “A customer is the same in IT as it is for the rest of the business. A customer buys cars, buys services and buys parts,”. Wouldn’t our lives be a lot easy if we started following this principle.

    Like

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