The CIO’s Role In Driving Customer Profitability




When asked by the Conference Board in 2011 to rank the challenges that keep them up at night, U.S.-based CEOs put business growth in the number one position. Growing the business means growing the customer base by delivering a superior customer experience—and that demands leadership for the elimination of customer data silos and delivering complete, reliable customer data to the business.

The CIO is in a unique strategic position to help out—and emerge as (an unexpected) customer champion. Cases of CIOs taking on the role of customer champion, in my opinion, are not prevalent enough and represent a missed opportunity to advance the organization’s quest for customer profits. Companies need to focus on such immediately actionable key metrics as understanding the value of gained and lost customers, quantities of referrals, and the movement of customers from one level of profitability to another. I call these the “Guerrilla Metrics” because they power the customer onto the corporate agenda—and will help the CEO determine the value of the corporation based on its ability to manage customers as assets. This requires enabling the integration of customer data and driving that as a priority.

Extending the role beyond the metrics for managing customers as assets, CIOs need to take a stronger hand in insisting that corporate plans begin from prioritized actions to improve customer experiences, with resources lining up to enable their successful implementation. In too many organizations, sales, marketing, operations, and service all run separately from one another and have their own perspectives, processes, metrics, and requirements. Eventually, divisional problems show up at the feet of some poor fellow in the IT department.

And because each problem is presented in a vacuum, the solution that’s applied is often cordoned off from the rest of the requirements, IT resources, and data management imperatives critical to running a business. Traditionally, attempts to manage these disparate requests are dealt with on a quarterly basis. Resource allocations are placed in a queue that may be monitored by committee oversight. But too often, there’s little thought given to how these separate efforts will affect the customer experience.

My strong belief is that whoever leads the customer effort should do so in partnership with the CIO.

Sadly, CIOs continue to be brought in too late in the game. Perhaps CIOs need to make the first move to ensure involvement in the customer mission. Rather than waiting for an invitation, seek out the customer leader and suggest a meeting of the minds on priorities and objectives. The strongest partnerships I’ve experienced were when there was a genuine desire to build this collaborative partnership. If you’re a CIO, making this move yourself is the key. Don’t wait for your CEO to band you together with other stakeholders.

The CIO is in a unique position to draw connections between the relationships and outcomes his or her company wants to have with customers and how projects line up to achieve strategic objectives. To take a leadership role here, CIOs need to be active in determining how to manage customer service issues holistically across the organization amid the mass of data that currently exists. This should be one of the key job descriptions of the CIO. To advance this role as customer champion, CIOs should partner with the company’s customer service leadership to review priorities.

For example, at Mazda, in the infancy of CRM during the early 1990s, as senior manager, customer satisfaction and retention, I forged a strong partnership with the CIO and the IT department. Together, we managed to merge 25 separate databases, each built separately across the operation (warranty, service, parts, marketing, etc.) into the first relational database in less than nine months. We did this sitting side by side, sloshing through the data, determining what was needed from each database, what common attributes were required from each to connect and align the business requirements, and what IT actions would pull the triggers to deliver the desired outcomes for customers.

As we got deeper and deeper into the work, the CIO and IT organization grew amazingly enthusiastic, offering ideas that often beat mine in creativity and potency. These IT team members became truly inspired custodians of the customer relationship.

Learn more about how to improve customer experience by listening to my webcast on this topic, Online Guide: 5 Questions Companies Must Tackle to Attract & Retain Customers.


About the Author

Jeanne Bliss is the founder of CustomerBLISS, a consulting and coaching company helping corporations connect their efforts to yield improved customer growth. She is a worldwide speaker on the subject. Jeanne spent 25 years at Lands’ End, Microsoft, Allstate, Coldwell Banker, and Mazda corporations as the leader for driving customer focus and customer growth. Her best-selling books are Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, and I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions for Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad. Go to www.customerbliss.com to get a reality check audit on your customer commitment and your ability to make customers an asset of your business.


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