Who Is Being Served? January 23, 2008Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: Customer Service
A recent issue of CIO magazine included a piece by Kumud Kalia that encourages CIOs to redefine the meaning of “customer” to be their company’s actual external customers. I couldn’t disagree more.
Your customer is the individual or entity to whom you are providing service. Nothing more, nothing less. For years, we’ve been working hard to get (traditionally insular) IT organizations to recognize their customers, build those relationships, and provide good service. In this model, the customers are those employees that use IT services to design things, build things, sell things, and service things, meeting the needs of external customers.
Kalia contends that this is wrong, and that IT should instead focus directly on those external customers. By skipping past all those other employees that really do focus on the external customers, IT is somehow supposed to be a direct contributor the the company’s success. I’d argue that if you could really succeed with this model, you don’t need all those other people in the middle, and that IT should run the whole show.
(I notice that Kalia wears two hats: he is both CIO and EVP of Operations for Direct Energy. With all due respect, I believe he may be blurring the line between two very different jobs.)
In reality, “those other people in the middle” bring huge value to the company. They spend their time really focusing on and understanding the external customer needs. The figure out what the external customer wants, and they translate that into internal business requirements to meet those needs. IT, in turn, provides tools, processes, and systems that meet those internal business requirements as cheaply and effectively as possible.
I’m not saying that IT should never interact with real external customers. In some cases, that can be truly enlightening in our quest to provide the very best tools and systems to our real internal customers. But I would never have IT participate in an external customer relationship without appropriate oversight from the real owner of the relationship, such as sales, marketing, or support.
In short, IT builds tools. Other use those tools to get their jobs done. The better we build and support our tools, the better those other people perform. We make the hammers; others drive the nails. Together we make houses.