The Customer Information

By John J. Sviokla, CIO |  Business

Companies that give their customers' information back now -- before the
infomediaries establish critical mass -- will reap many benefits besides happy
customers. Imagine data maintenance done by the customer. Imagine the time and money
saved by not having to sort through legacy databases that contain four names for the
same customer. That work is all done gladly by the customers, if it means they will get
less egregiously ill-suited junk mail and fewer telemarketing calls at dinnertime.

A standardized format for entering information also means customers will be able to
customize their preferences much easier when dealing with different companies.
Standardized data sharing means you can invest in more customization on your Web site
because so many more potential customers will be able to access the features you build
into the site.

What's Yours Is Mine

Some powerful forces are holding back the move to open preference, however. The "if
it ain't broke, don't fix it" argument will be a popular response from most marketing
honchos. Worse, legacy systems that contain the data are often challenging to work
with. And privacy concerns must be dealt with carefully so that customers' behaviors
are not shipped out against their will. Yet it is possible to navigate these murky
waters to create strategic advantage. For example, Citigroup, formerly Traveler's Group
and Citicorp, first gave its customers the ability to download credit card transactions
through Quicken in the early 1990s. The feature proved so popular that most credit card
companies now offer the service through Quicken, whose standard information format has
become a magnet for both banks and their customers. That was just the beginning.

CIOs are the senior executives who best understand the power of open systems. They
know that's why the Internet became popular in the first place. It is vital to let your
colleagues know that allowing customers to own their personal behavior does not mean
losing them to competitors. It will create a new and deeper relationship. Companies
that open up to customers -- and have the effective, efficient business processes to
execute the orders -- will get more of them. The only thing lost will be the illusion
of control.

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