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How the CIO can get on message

Microsoft talks of a beautiful experience. Rackspace says it's fanatical about support. Marketing fluff? Or is there a lesson for CIOs?

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said his company is obsessed with the customer. A focus on the customer, it seems, is key to business success.

Speaking at Forrester’s recent CXEurope 2015 forum for customer experience professionals, Forrester senior vice-president Michael Gazala said: “Companies need to transform. There is a shift of power from business to customers.”

For the modern CIO, the customer can be internal (staff), enterprise customers and, ultimately, the consumer. All are human beings, and the latest thinking among marketers is to strive to build an emotional link with the customer.

“Emotion affects customer behaviour, said Forrester analyst Anjali Lai. Excellent customer experience elicits a positive emotional response.”

Creating a positive experience with enterprise IT

According to Forresters Customer Experience Index, people appreciate the personalised recommendations that Amazon’s website offers them. French fashion retailer Sephora is another organisation that rates highly in the index, harnessing customer data to curate an individual experience.

How can this this be applied in the context of enterprise IT? According to Lai, organisations need to prioritise the moments that are inherently most emotional for customers.

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Given the way humans are wired, opinions formed about bad experiences seem to override good ones, and it is often the most recent experiences that the customer is most likely to recall.

According to Forrester, it only takes a 50th of a second for customers to form an opinion on a website. For the CIO hoping to make a positive impression, the goal is to make this fraction of a second count as a positive experience.

So the entire value of the IT department could be held in the balance by a poor experience on the intranet portal for employee self-service or the most recent email outage.

Aligning the IT message

At a recent Gartner Symposium in Barcelona, Gartner fellow Tina Nunno said: “CIOs are constantly firefighting.”

A strategy, whether it is beautiful, fanatical or summed up by some other equally weighty adjective, is only effective if people are willing to act on it.

In Nunno’s experience, while many organisations have strategic plans, most enterprises favour tactical decisions. So the CIO will often be embroiled in day-to-day decision making which could be delegated.

“Many CIOs feel a little lost and are not sure where they need to go, she said. Clients sometimes tell me they don’t have a clear strategy and have no idea what world-class means.”

Often, the CIO will spend too much time micro-managing, she warned. But by enabling the IT organisation to strategically think for itself, Nunno said it is possible to change its culture.

“You can’t shift behaviour unless you ask the right questions of your team and train them to ask these questions on their own. Then you have aligned strategy,” said Nunno.

Sampling the customer experience

The IT industry is not alone in “eating its own dog food”, where employees are encouraged to use the organisation’s products in their personal lives.

At the Forrester CXEurope 2015 conference, Reuben Arnold, senior vice-president for marketing at Virgin Atlantic, discussed how products can be copied, but it is far harder to copy culture.

To cultivate its ethos of making flying with Virgin Atlantic “fun”, the cabin crew staff room has a spa and similar facilities to the airline’s Upper Class lounge, allowing the crew to appreciate the level of customer experience their Upper Class passengers receive.

“Attracting the right team is critical,” said Arnold. You can’t teach people how to deal with customers. We are fastidious about bringing in people who share our experience.”

It is a similar story at sports car maker Porsche, where staff are invited to the customer experience centre at Silverstone to see how the company wants to position itself to its customers and what it means to own a Porsche.

Arguably, it is a tall order to convince people in the business that enterprise IT is more than the workhorse of the organisation.

According to Forrester, it only takes a 50th of a second for customers to form an opinion on a website. For the CIO hoping to make a positive impression, the goal is to make this fraction of a second count as a positive experience

But some products do cross over into people’s personal lives and there are many ways IT can bridge the gap between work and home. For instance, Microsoft Software Assurance can be used to purchase the Microsoft Office suite at considerable discount for staff to use personally. It may even be possible to negotiate preferable rates for hardware from a reseller, giving staff a way to buy discounted tablets, laptops and smartphones that conveniently meet corporate IT specifications.

What is clear from the experts is that anything that resonates with someone at a personal level creates a hidden emotional bond. This is why retailer Waitrose gives free coffee to its loyalty card members. Is there an IT equivalent to free coffee?

Elevator pitch

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, IT is facing challenges on a number of fronts as business departments begin running their own IT functions. But this creates a golden opportunity for the CIO to take a leading role as the overall chief of what could end up as a flotilla of IT departments, each run by a business head with a different agenda.

A clear strategy is needed. But the CIO cannot rely solely on providing governance, a standards framework and best practices to keep enterprise IT heading in the right direction.

Jaws in space” was how director Ridley Scott pitched Alien to movie executives. If the IT department does take such an approach, pitching a strategy that really grabs people’s attention, perhaps the CIO will also need to instil a common goal among his or her peers and their departmental IT functions. 

So there could be a case for CIOs to create a high-concept message that encapsulates their vision for IT. And while it may indeed sound like fluff, a buzzphrase could help to give the CIO’s message the impact to percolate throughout the business. 

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