Great Customer Experience Starts on the Inside
As products and services become increasing commoditized and difficult to differentiate, delivering a great customer experience becomes more crucial in winning business. Companies like Apple and Nordstrom are known for their focus on the customer experience. But businesses of all types are beginning to recognize the importance of that experience and striving to emulate the leaders in their own ways.
They must. As highlighted in a recent CIO magazine article by Julia King, “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.”
Building a customer-focused organization, or customer-focused IT group specifically, is challenging, as the IT leaders in the CIO article acknowledge. Where does one start? It’s like the old joke:
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice.
For IT organizations, developing an external-customer focus starts with focusing on internal customers. Anuj Dhanda, CIO and head of digital commerce at supermarket chain Giant Eagle, is quoted by King saying “IT teams are facing new pressures in how they serve both internal and external customers… Progressive companies don’t make a huge distinction between internal and external customers.”
Here are five ways IT groups can improve internal customer service, and develop practices that can be carried over to external customer-facing systems and projects.
Redesign processes from the customer perspective.
Jake Sorofman, writing on the Gartner blog, advises customer experience leaders to “acknowledge and address customer experience issues with customers, but also shine light on your own operations, identifying the patterns and the root causes to drive continuous improvement… The best customer experience leaders follow the principles of design thinking, which starts with customer goals and puts aside tired assumptions, dogma and constraints that get in the way.”
Think about each process from the customer or business user perspective: what input does that person expect to need to provide, and what outcome does he or she anticipate? Then design the simplest possible internal workflow (minimizing the steps, tasks, approvals, etc.) required in order to create that result for the customer.
Don’t ask unnecessary questions.
King details how JetBlue Airways is doing away with customer check-ins. “At the airport, we don’t ask the questions of ‘What’s your name? Where are you going?” We have already mapped all the touch points and eliminated those that add no value to the customer.”
This should be even easier when dealing with internal customers. Once an employee is logged in and verified, all known information (name, location, phone number, email address, etc.) should be used to prepopulate form fields as needed, and only questions relevant to the request or issue at hand (e.g. “color” may matter for an iPhone, but not for a stapler) should be displayed.
Lawyers may be taught to never ask a question they don’t know the answer to, but when designing customer-facing forms, IT professionals need to do the opposite: ask only the questions to which you don’t already know the answers.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
As noted above, processes should be designed from the customer standpoint. The customer or employee cares about the front-end user experience and the final result—that individual doesn’t need to know and would generally prefer not to have to be concerned with what happens in between.
In Sorofman’s words, “average organizations expose the complex nuances of their operations—better ones go to great lengths to hide the internal madness of how things get done.”
A core principle of the enterprise request management (ERM) approach to employee provisioning is that back-end fulfillment processes are optimized and automated precisely so that employees don’t need to manually manage all the steps in obtaining the goods and services needed to do their jobs.
Silos are for farmers.
Well, not only for farmers exactly—but the boundaries between functional groups shouldn’t present an obstacle to great customer service.
As Sorofman writes:
“Large companies are organized around functional and business unit silos, which exist for good reason: to enable the separation of concerns necessary to operate an organization at scale. But these boundaries can also bleed through, leaving an unpleasant imprint on the customer experience. The best customer experience leaders design experiences horizontally—end to end, from the perspective of the customers’ needs and goals. They then integrate the vertically-oriented operational silos behind the scenes.”
One common internal example of this is new employee onboarding. Bringing together everything needed for an employee to be productive from the first day on the job requires the coordinated efforts of human resources (payroll and benefits accounts set up), facilities (space and office furnishings for the employee, building access badge), IT (email account, phone, and required systems access) and sometimes other groups.
The ERM approach is ideal for this: information gathered during the onboarding request determines what type of workspace and equipment is needed, what type and level of systems access is required, and other specifics. Back-end processes are mapped to coordinate processes that can happen in parallel with those that are sequential (e.g. certain approvals may be required before system access is granted; space must be allocated before furniture can be delivered).
The hiring manager only needs to know the information required to submit the front-end request—not all of the details of setup and provisioning.
King writes about the experience of PulteGroup, a construction firm that recruited new IT staff with “people skills” as a key requirement:
“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.”
The same skills help IT staff engage with internal business users as well. But even more powerful is giving those business users secure, IT-approved tools to automate their own business processes.
Graphical workflow-mapping tools enable business process owners to design, test, optimize, and deploy their own task flows, with only minimal IT assistance. This is frequently how business users from HR, facilities, finance, and other non-IT groups add their group’s service offerings to an ERM portal.
Many of the elements of great customer service–designing processes from the customer perspective, hiding complexity, engaging to determine needs and wants–apply equally well to internal or external customer-facing systems.
But for organizations striving to build customer-focused IT groups and optimize the user experience, the best approach may be inside out.