When Customer Service Needs Fixing, Bring in the CIO

When Humana CIO Bruce Goodman added chief service officer to his title in 2002, there were few archetypes for combining executive-level roles in IT and customer service. But that's beginning to change. Today, he has plenty of company: Filippo Passerini of Procter & Gamble, Michael Wilson of the American Heart Association, and Karen Klein at Transamerica, to name a few.

As the customer takes center stage at many companies, CIOs are taking over marketing, customer support, and other areas that may have seemed a poor complement for IT in the past, but that now benefit from an IT leader's unique perspective. Running a customer-facing function can make a lot of sense for CIOs, says Goodman, because they "have an awareness of the challenges, knowledge of the [technology] solutions, and can put them together to create a much better customer experience."

Brandywine Realty Trust CIO Robert Juliano volunteered to take over marketing after a corporate reorganization left the CMO position empty. He asked to be given six months to turn the struggling group around. Three years later, he's still on the job. "My primary objective was to help the team better leverage resources, influence internal customers, develop a clear focus, and improve project planning and delivery," explains Juliano. He set himself up for success as marketing chief by using the budgeting, planning and project-management disciplines of IT, an understanding of social media platforms, and his seat at the senior management table.

Better Business Processes

Shipping line APL India had a solid customer-service function when then-Director of IT and Customer Service Chandra Shekhar Jajware took over that department in 2007. But it had to be improved so the company could charge customers a higher premium. Jajware was best positioned to lead the effort, which required APL India to collect and distribute real-time customer-service data throughout the company.

It was hard to change deep-rooted processes at the 160-year-old company. APL India's external clients were more diverse and demanding than its internal users. Jajware picked the brains of customer-support veterans and met with customers every week. "Luckily we did not have that much change going on in IT," he says. "But we slowed down on a couple of projects," frustrating some business users. The work was worth it-customer satisfaction and margins rose. And Jajware applied the experience to his current role, heading IT and leading a huge SAP implementation at Khimji Ramdas, a conglomerate of 46 varied companies.

For Juliano, marketing was a challenging, but welcome, change of pace. "CIOs too often live in a world of binary answers," he says. "Marketing represented greater use of the other side of my brain. The creative aspects, the personalities, the motivations are very different from IT."

The dual role doesn't work everywhere. "Industries with traditionally strong marketing groups are less likely to see CIOs with shared responsibility for customer-facing functions," says Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research. And CIOs without business experience are more likely to struggle with the urgency of customer interactions. But the most important job requirement may be enthusiasm. "It is a challenge," says Goodman. "CIOs have to ask themselves if they really have the passion for it."

Read more about data management in CIO's Data Management Drilldown.

This story, "When Customer Service Needs Fixing, Bring in the CIO" was originally published by CIO.

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