Calling IT bosses: CRM begins at home

Most corporate IT departments have at least one major customer relationship management scheme on their books. How are they...

Most corporate IT departments have at least one major customer relationship management scheme on their books. How are they faring, asks Julia Vowler.

Now is a good time to hold up a mirror to customer relationship management (CRM) and see what it reflects about IT departments. How good is corporate IT at doing CRM with its own company?

"The IT director is both a customer and a supplier," says Robin Laidlaw, former IT director of British Gas and now a consultant.

When it comes to the company, the supplier role is paramount, so an IT director needs to see himself as a supplier of IT to his own users - company colleagues.

"First of all, you need to consider the perception of IT within your organisation," says Laidlaw.

To be a purveyor of fine IT to the discerning business customer by appointment of CMG (Call Me God), the chief executive, the IT department should, urges Laidlaw, adopt a CRM philosophy.

Just as your company will be using CRM to get a better handle on its customers, understand their needs more clearly, and then cater for their needs more profitably and satisfactorily, so should the IT department towards its valued customers.

"The really desirable IT director is one who is constantly finding out the thinking of his customers and using this to formulate his relationships with his suppliers. This leads him to take back to his customers new opportunities, new initiatives and technology innovations being offered by his suppliers," says Laidlaw.

"IT directors need to practice CRM internally, but not many of them are good at sales and marketing because they are used to captive users and cost-charging financing."

"You have to know what you and your customers want," says Laidlaw.

And if what they want, for example, is outsourcing, you'd better know exactly why that's on the table, and what the advantages would be as well as the cons, so that you can argue your corner cogently and persuasively.

Sometimes, though, it isn't a matter of hard logic and ineluctable persuasion, it's a matter of reading body language. When Laidlaw sees his customers nodding relaxedly round the table, he knows he is getting through.

Laidlaw concludes: "The IT director as the human part of this combined internal/external CRM cycle will need significant communication skills so that he is seen as the person who presents opportunities to the firm.

"He should not be seen to seek change for change's sake or worst - avoiding any change whatsoever."

Robin Laidlaw was speaking at the latest Computer Weekly 500 Club CRM seminar

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