When I think about customer-centricity — and I don’t care whether we’re talking about external customers or internal clients at this point — I think about what it takes to be a successful business.
You invest in product development, in service definition, in marketing, in supporting technologies and processes. You go to market with them. If you get it right, you are rewarded with people exchanging dollars for your offering.
Do it right, get more, and get them back again and again. An Apple Store versus a Dell Indian Call Centre, to quote Chris Lau’s contribution earlier this week.
But the IT organization in an enterprise isn’t a business in this sense.
It can’t raise investors, hold funds for future use, allocate them freely to initiatives to see whether they guessed right about the market.
IT is a department, and plays by internal rules. It has a budget, oversight, a backlog of demand (whether any of it makes sense or not), priorities established outside IT to deal with …
That means over-promising (by implication, even if you’re careful about what you say and do) and under-delivering (if not by your own efforts, then when the next “10% across the board” or “change of direction: this is on hold” comes down on you) are real risks.
IT isn’t a business free to risk and either be rewarded or die trying.
It’s an indigestible fact of life (when you’re in another group), as essential and as easily turned into a reason to hate as is finance, HR, legal. Somehow, the common service functions of an enterprise are supposed to able to do things instantly, cost nothing, know everything yet keep their mouths shut (because we, this particular business department, is in charge!), anticipate needs, never make a mistake, save us money, require nothing of us. (At least, that’s a pretty common modus operandi.)
There are customer-centric practices that are worth adopting: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, as they say. They’ve been discussed over the past few days by the many contributors to this topic.
Without governance sorted out across the enterprise, none of those elements of the typical modus operandi are likely to change. It’s only at that level that the underlying issues of responsibilities on both sides of the equation can be sorted out, and where lower level people suddenly find the executive for their area doesn’t support “blame the IT guy” and “expect the impossible” as unwritten policies any longer.
Then, too, not every IT organization should be overly customer-centric. Engineering cultures, highly outsourced environments (where a residual “Office of the CIO” tries to hold the pieces together), ones where the mandate is “squeeze cost out of this, then squeeze again and again” are three of a number of environments where those expectations work against the expectations a proactive customer-centric push would set up.
The bottom line? Do what you can and succeed, but watch the boundaries … and remember that to be truly customer-centric you’ve got to do the top-down, bottom-up and middle-out pieces all in tandem.
You’ll know you’ve done well when that business modus operandi changes.