Why customer centricity is an approach, not a dogma

“Customer first” is a much debated philosophy in ITSM. Studies and reports frequently place customer-centricity high on the priority list of CIOs and CTOs. But sceptical commentators argue that IT may be falling victim to its own faddish obsession: we are not the same as some of the most high-profile service innovators such as those in the consumer marketplace, and we have different drivers and limitations.

Some attempts to deliver customer-centricity in ITSM may indeed be truly faddish: driven by fashion or the notion that something is a cool idea, without really delivering a better business result.

However, I’d argue that such actions are no more customer centric than ignoring the customer’s wishes altogether: if service is delivered on the basis of improperly considered ideas, it isn’t destined to be successful, unless we get lucky.

Customer centricity is not just about doing whatever the customer asks. It’s about marshalling the available support resources to deliver service in the most effective manner for the customer. Most importantly, it’s about methodically identifying what that “most effective manner” actually is. The IT industry hasn’t always been very good at that bit.

As an example: One of the most significant areas of debate, conflict and sheer revolution has been the “Bring Your Own Device” phenomenon. Much has been written on the subject, but occasionally a statistic appears which really illustrates the need for a more customer centric approach to corporate IT.

Last year, an APAC-focused survey by VMWare, “A New Way of Life”, contained one such gem. The gem was not the survey’s finding that 83% of employees are bringing their own devices to work. This number is not unusual; many similar surveys have produced similar figures. It was a subsequent result which stood out: 41% of of these positive respondents cited “contactability by customers” as a primary driver for their use of non-corporate items.

Let that sink in for a moment: Fully one-third of the overall respondents in this survey stated that they needed to augment the technology their employer is providing them, just to give customers adequate means to contact them (and that is before we even start to ask how many of that group are actually customer facing: the percentage might actually be much higher for the most relevant groups of users).

Surely, then, IT departments need to ask themselves why this is happening?

But this is the problem: We already did that. The IT organization already sat down and thought up the best policies it could: usually making considered judgements built on knowledge and experience, trying to find the best balance between security and customer requirements. But if more than a third of users still need to bring in their own technology to deal with customers, then something went wrong.

Maybe IT really didn’t learn enough because it didn’t get far enough away from its own desk. IT should be asking their customers why this is happening.

Even then, though, simply asking a question may not give us what we need to provide the best solutions. Customers, asked directly, may tell you what they think they need, based on their own frame of reference. Henry Ford, sadly, probably never uttered the quote widely attributed to him about giving customers “faster horses” if he’d simply followed their stated wishes, but it’s still an important point.

Instead, the best way for IT to be customer centric is to leave our desks. We need to stand with our users as they go about their job. We should shadow field support people, sit in customer service call centres, spend a day with a sales rep, observe the warehouse for a while. As technology experts, we know more about the challenges of managing evolving technology in an increasingly complex corporate environment, but we don’t know our customers’ jobs like they do.

IT deeply knows technology, but the customer knows their job most deeply. The foundation for customer-centric support is simply the combination of those two pieces of knowledge.

(Image credit: doctorow on Flickr)

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2 thoughts on “Why customer centricity is an approach, not a dogma

  1. I don’t think you have addressed the issue of why we in IT exist. We exist to serve our employer not our customer. Our purpose is not to deliver a service that is most effective for the customer. It is to deliver a service which is most effective to our employer, which is usually but not necessarily the same thing.

    In the case of BYOD it may well be different, if issues of security outweigh the desire of the users (who aren’t the customers, just to further dissociate us: the customer may have different desire to the users).

    Even given all that, I dont see how the stats are useful information to justify BYOD:

    First, the need to be contactable is a self-reported reason: well they would say that as a justification for a device wouldnt they.

    Second, being contactable is about a mobile phone not an iT device. Any old phone would do. What has that to do with IT failing to deliver BYOD? Give them all a Nokia 6410.

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  2. The point is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Will any old phone really do, or is there a fundamental issue with that, that impacts our field sales teams (for example) every single day? The stats alone don’t justify BYOD, but they do highlight a perception challenge that ought to be investigated. The result of that investigation might well be a push back, but it could equally be “holy crap, we’re wasting an hour a day of these people’s time on something we didn’t spot before, and that’s costing us a lot of money”.

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