I had a conversation on Twitter recently regarding IT professionals spending time in other business units to spark innovation and the resolution of business challenges.
A SaaStr article that said everybody in a SaaS company had to do 2+ hours in customer support once a quarter sparked the conversation. The tweets included suggestions that the CIO and IT managers should spend time on the Service Desk; everyone in Service Management should spend time on the Service Desk; and Service Desk staff should spend 2 hours per qu+arter shadowing someone in a business unit.
I don’t disagree with any of those suggestions.
I wrote a blog entitled ‘Walk A Mile In Their Shoes’ last year, which described some customer experience programmes for IT employees.
I don’t intend to repeat that content here, but rather augment it on the back of this recent conversation.
I think that a customer experience programme has two perspectives – that of the external customer experience and that of the internal customer experience.
When was the last time you went on to your company website to see how easy it was to undertake a transaction whether that be to make a purchase or find the right person to contact to ask for further information?
As per the article that triggered the Twitter conversation, when was the last time you used your company’s app to see how easy it was to use?
These interactions (or observations) of the external customer are often called ‘customer immersion’ programmes and undertaken by the executives of the organization whereby they experience their business from a customer point of view.
However there is no reason why IT staff cannot partake in a similar experience particularly where the external customer is utilizing a product or service that can be directly impacted by IT. For example, IT may not directly impact the customer experience when they purchase a tin of beans in a retail outlet, but they can directly impact the customer when they are using a website or app that has been designed by IT and is managed and maintained by IT.
Of course, IT can ‘indirectly’ impact the customer experience when buying a tin of beans if the EPTPOS is not available or back office systems fail due to IT error. However, for the purposes of this blog, I have included that as an internal customer experience where IT is directly impacting the ability of the retail line-of-business (internal) from delivering to the external customer.
IT should establish formal programmes for IT staff to observe and undertake the external customer experience, which could include time spent on the customer service desk or in the call center to understand the issues that customers are having.
There need to be formal channels to enable feedback from employees that will get responded to and action taken as appropriate.
It is in this way that IT staff begin to understand the impact that IT can have (positively and negatively) on the external customer experience.
The same formal approach ought to be taken for internal business units. IT staff should regularly spend time in other business units to understand the business being conducted and see how easy or hard it is for internal customers to undertake their work and how IT is hindering or assisting them in meeting their business outcomes.
If the organization has a physical presence as well as an online presence e.g. retail outlets, distribution centers, warehouses etc. there should be a programme whereby the IT employee spends time in these locations to understand how the various lines of business operate and the frustrations they may incur with their use of IT.
Again, there needs to be formal channels for feedback and suggestions with appropriate responses.
Organizations often engage external service providers to undertake research on employee satisfaction or even satisfaction with IT. The results of the research get presented but there is rarely a blinding flash of light during a PowerPoint presentation. However, 30 minutes spent sitting alongside a business person using the CRM system can crystallize issues very quickly.
IT staff should also rotate around IT itself. The CIO should spend time on the Service Desk, the Service Desk should spend time in Operations, Service Management staff should spend time in Development and so on. This again goes towards breaking down the silos and furnishing each area with a better understanding of the challenges and frustrations other areas experience. It should foster more collaboration and co-working to help each area help the other to remove some of the inhibitors to effective working.
This sort of activity is key in breaking down silos and truly enabling IT staff to understand the business they are supporting and how the failure of IT to deliver what the business needs impacts the business units ability to conduct their work effectively and efficiently.
It also helps to foster a culture of collaboration and cross-silo working within IT itself.
It can also help in building or re-establishing a trust between IT and the other business units but only if the feedback from the business units and the IT employees are acted upon and change and improvement is delivered. It can also help remove the stigma that IT are out of touch with the business.
The larger the organization becomes the less customer facing many parts of the business, including IT, become as they get further and further removed from the customer experience. A well-crafted customer experience programme can create customer-focused thinking within IT from top to bottom.
I just mentioned ‘well-crafted’ and this is an important point. The programme needs to be carefully designed and managed. The last thing a business unit needs is to be bombarded with IT people asking them ‘what do you think of IT?’
The participants in the programme need to be equipped with the knowledge to get the most out of the experience. They should know what they are looking for, the sort of questions to be asked, and what is expected of them as an outcome.
Co-ordination and scheduling of the programme will also be critical to its success. This might be an area in which you do want to get external expertise to assist – at least in the initial design stages.
Everyone and Forever
As the Twitter chat implied, this programme applies to everyone in IT. It applies to the CIO, project management teams, service management teams, operational teams etc. without exception.
The frequency and degree of participation in the programme may apply differently to different roles within the company but nobody should be exempt from understanding the customer / business experience.
The programme should also be constant. It is not a one-off experience. It should run forever. It needs to become embedded into the company’s systems and processes and not just an add-on to them.
Truly understanding the customer experience is not about ‘walking a mile in their shoes’. It is about ‘walking their walk’ continually.
Although I have written this blog from an IT perspective, this sort of programme should ideally be an organizational wide one and not confined to IT.
However, if one doesn’t currently exist, IT can lead the way in establishing one, demonstrating the benefits and encourage uptake by the wider organization.