Looking at IT Outside In

Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

January 11, 2013

A brand new book by two Forrester analysts makes quite the solid case for the proposition that we are in the Age of the Customer, and that the organizations that thrive will be those that make customer service central to their concrete operations. How does that apply to your IT department?

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I listen to audiobooks downloaded to my iPhone on my way to work. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s harder to quote something you’ve heard than something you can go back and look up, so my discussion here will be a bit imprecise. In general, however, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, the authors of “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business,” provide a huge earful of examples of how improving customer service pays off. They also provide a set of concrete disciplines: strategy, design, measurement, governance and a couple more, which give you really good advice about how to proceed.

The book discusses IT as one of the components of the customer service ecosystem, all of which have to be aimed at improving service. This is certainly true. One of the things I’ve seen is how a shifting idea of the customer on the part of a Foundation’s management can mean new goals for IT. For example, a foundation may have new customers in the policy community, to add to its traditional customers, grantees. Or the customers may be changing, such as when more computer-literate people start moving into the modal age range of donors to community foundations.

But beyond the need to pay attention to external customers is the need to pay attention to the internal ones. The ITIL folks have been making this point for years. They know that IT is a service provider, and that IT has no monopoly. There are always alternatives. But ITIL’s methods are often too intimidating for smaller organizations.

Really emphasizing service to internal customers, along the lines Outside In suggests for external ones, may be a less bureaucratic way to start. One great point is that you can’t equate the customer experience with what they get from the help desk. There is a customer journey for each encounter with IT, which could start with needing a solution, then finding out how it can be satisfied, then implementing it, getting training, using it, and then going to the help desk if something doesn’t work. Each part of that journey affects the customer experience.

There are also tradeoffs between what one part of the ecology, the legal department, for example, might want to do with retained email, and what the best customer experience might dictate. As I listened to how airlines, retailers, telecom companies and charities (among many others) improved (or didn’t improve) their customer service, ideas about how to improve IT just kept popping up. I bet if you read or listened to it, that would happen to you.

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