Why – and how – to do a better job of listening to your end user customers

IT managers haven't always been the best listeners. Here are some strategies to consider, taken from the best and worst customer interaction stories heard at a recent conference.

customer satisfaction Flickr/Roland Tanglao

You wouldn't think that an IT manager can learn many end user best practices from the car industry, but you'd be wrong. Certainly this hasn't been the best of years for carmakers. But attending the latest Teradata Partners annual conference in Nashville earlier this month, there were some interesting lessons worth repeating, some from that beleaguered industry. In many cases, IT managers can learn from these best and worst customer interaction stories.

Consider the plight of the typical automaker. Many of their customers are frustrated with their car experiences, yet this frustration can't be easily tapped due to data firewalls that surround the car buying and ownership process. As an example, your local garage might not know anything about your past service history at the dealership. Or if you have called the manufacturer's call center to report a faulty part, the dealer doesn't know about that call. Customer experiences are not tracked across who owns vs. who drives the particular car, as many of us purchase cars for our spouses or children. These names don't show up on the paperwork at the dealership.

Here are some ways to avoid similar, sub-optimal customer experiences:

Work more closely with the data owners in your business, and look at ways that this data can be shared across the appropriate project groups.
This is one of the prime movers behind the proliferation of data dashboards, as we mentioned in this article about the Texas Rangers baseball team. Dashboards are great for showing trends and keeping everyone updated on sales changes and problems in the supply lines. You are probably swimming in all kinds of data sources, so focus is important. I heard from IT managers at Wells Fargo who have harnessed their data ownership. They use their dashboards to see if there are parallel projects that are happening across the bank that IT can help facilitate; that is an important function.

Understand how your customers make use of your services.
It may seem obvious, but understanding how IT can enable particular lines of business (or disable them, for that matter) is critical. Several of the presenters at the Teradata conference spoke about gaining insights into the customer purchase process using advanced analytics techniques. For example, Bob Baxendale, the director of Automotive Consulting for Teradata, spoke at one session where they were developing a customer sentiment index for one carmaker that would enable the vendor to track such diverse things as relative dealer performance or compare repair best practices. You might not have to go through as much trouble when it comes to identifying your own clients. At the very least, you should monitor what your end users' demands are for your services and follow up with some way to quantify their satisfaction level on a regular basis.

Know who your most dissatisfied customers are.
When I worked in IT, we knew who the troublemakers were because they called us regularly asking for all sorts of favors and special services. But that was because we didn't have many clients back then. Today's world has gotten much more complex. At Baxendale's session, he spoke about tracking customers who called in more than one time about the same problem with their car. “Do you even know how many of these situations exist and if you do, how comfortable are you with trying to resolve their issue once and for all,” he asked. “We wanted to be able to identify those customers that were trending up or down in their satisfaction scores so we could react quickly and understand what triggered their perceptions and offer them incentives,” he said at the conference. IT should take a page from this to be more proactive with its least satisfied clients.

Know who the loyal ambassadors of your IT department are.
Companies are all about preserving and promoting their brands, and you should be promoting your own department's successes. Treat your loyalists to lunch or other perks to show your appreciation.

Locate obvious IT inefficiencies, and correct quickly, if possible.
When Proctor and Gamble started looking at scaling up their CRM systems, they found 800 differently worded consumer opt-in statements scattered around their various online web storefronts. They were also using different key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of their brands, according to Tony Hudnell, an IT director at Proctor and Gamble who presented at the Teradata conference. They are now standardizing on KPIs. These are simple matters to find; correcting them is another story. But doing so can create lots of value.

Predict future demand for your services (or try to).
When bad weather strikes, Lowe's and Home Depot know to stock up on a collection of items that customers will need. Can you make the same statement about demand for your own services?

Measure the right things.
Going back to the car industry, you might have caught the various notices for car recalls over the past year. It seemed that every week brought a new batch of models with mechanical issues, ranging from the mundane to the serious. According to the Detroit Free Press, "Automakers have recalled a record 56 million-plus vehicles so far this year, and a surprising number of them have been for relatively basic technology — ignition switches, alternators, hood latches."

The recalls have been three times the number of new vehicles that were purchased this year. More disturbingly, the last time they were near this level was in 1999. If you look at the numbers, you might conclude that cars are becoming more unreliable. But the reality of the situation is that automakers are trying to be more proactive at identifying these massive recall problems. That is a good lesson for IT managers to also learn, and realize that the numbers aren't everything and don't always tell the full story.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon