Raising the Bar
Anuj Dhanda, CIO and head of digital commerce at Giant Eagle, a $9.3 billion supermarket chain with 418 stores, keeps close tabs on brands like Apple and Google. Both of those companies, he says, have played a huge role in setting the bar on what customers expect.
Dhanda says IT teams are facing new pressures in how they serve both internal and external customers. "We have to treat all of our customers differently because they're customers of other companies that have set the bar very differently," he says. Progressive companies, he adds, "don't make a huge distinction between internal and external customers."
For example, Dhanda says that, at many companies, an employee may need to touch 10 different systems to do a job. So Giant Eagle is using workflow technology to create a better internal user experience that rivals an external customer's experience.
For customer-facing technologies, IT has upgraded its quality-assurance and user-interface testing to get insight into what customers want, Dhanda says. Giant Eagle conducts workshops with customers that IT teams observe. All IT staffers also work in one of the company's stores to experience firsthand how IT works on the front line for both employees and customers.
At Agco, a $9.7 billion maker of global agricultural equipment, CIO Sheryl Bunton is just setting out on the road to customer-centric IT. "Every company has to take that journey, and every company has to stop at all the waypoints," she says. "We have a toe in the water."
"The days of [merely] building a product and bringing it to market don't work anymore. Between social media and the collapse of distribution channels, there's a very different customer expectation. One of the biggest shifts everyone in IT has to make is getting from an IT focus to a customer focus," Bunton says.
Much of the shift has to do with dropping the traditional IT command-and-control attitude and adopting the role of influencer. "The perspective that was here was very much of an old-school technologist," she says. "IT would tell the business what they needed instead of listening to business people and coming back with strategies and recommendations. What I've told people is we have to remember we're a tractor company with an IT function. We're not an IT company that makes tractors."
To get there, IT has to prove its status as a valued partner to the business over and over again. "You have to do it enough so that you build trust. It's becoming very strong at execution that keeps the business engaged and builds that trust," she says.
Before business partners are willing to bring IT to meet with external customers, they must be confident it will benefit the customer relationship, Bunton says. "If I was making a sales call, I'm only going to expose my customers [to someone] from IT who I can trust and who will add value to the conversation and who will make me look good," she says. "Otherwise, the risk just isn't worth it."
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