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Net promoter score a useful IT tool for honing customer-centric design

If customer service is a competitive differentiator, too much standardization can hurt IT departments and companies alike.

As business and IT organizations shift from a product-oriented model to a products and services model, standardization...

is a key element of ensuring top-notch customer service. Standardizing processes can save on costs while beefing up consistency and making processes more efficient. But beware: Highly standardized processes for serving customers -- internal or external -- can also paint companies into a corner by turning workers into robots rather than problem solvers.

CIOs committed to delivering great customer experience need to strike the right balance between standardization and personalized service, according to Bruce Robertson, a Gartner analyst. And that means unshackling employees from processes that are so rigid, they treat every customer the same.

"We need people in our processes to stop being treated only as efficiency drivers and to actually allow them to drive us to exceptional results, to drive us to growth," he said at the recent Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis.

Robertson contended CIOs need to do a better job of connecting process and people. Using techniques such as customer "journey mapping" -- an illustration of how and when a customer interacts with various company touch points -- and design thinking, an iterative, customer-centric approach to building products, systems and processes, ensures the customer is at the center of IT decisions.

IT net promoter score

Robertson said that with customer-centric design thinking, IT organizations must strive to "not just show the phases of the journey, but understand the emotional experience during this process that we force our customers through."

For internal operations, surveys that measure a customer's level of satisfaction aren't enough, Robertson said. He suggested CIOs use a net promoter score (NPS), a metric that gauges customer experience and brand loyalty, to measure how well their IT departments are meeting the needs of the business.

Bruce Robertson, analyst at GartnerBruce Robertson

NPS often includes customer referrals, which could be applied to IT departments. For example, does the business "think so much of you that they'd have people come work with your organization?" Robertson asked. "Are they turning around and talking to someone else in the business and saying, 'Hey, I just did this work with these guys from IT, and I had no idea they could do this.'" 

NPS can also help CIOs continually rate and iterate on how they're serving the customer, which could be especially useful when introducing change to the organization. The IT department at Northwestern Mutual, a life insurance and financial planning company in Milwaukee, implemented an NPS when it transitioned from Waterfall to Agile four years ago.

"We started to introduce a net promoter score internally and with our customers so that we could measure and keep track of how we were doing with our people during our transformation," Blaise Beaulier, vice president of enterprise projects and support, said at Fusion. Scores were generated by asking a few questions: Do you have the tools you need? Are you being heard? Would your recommend this company or this department to a friend or peer?

"It gave us a lot of insights as to how we were doing on this journey," Beaulier said. "And it gave us tremendous direction on where we needed to go next."

From process to personalization

Embracing customer-centric design principles doesn't mean CIOs should do away with traditional business process management altogether, Robertson said. Instead, CIOs should be more thoughtful about where standardization and where customer-centric design principles work best.

Building a mobile application that puts information at an employees' fingertips when they're out in the field or introducing text-to-speech applications that remove the head-down process of typing information into a template are standard  processes that can "change the way an employee looks at his work" and free up employees to spend more time with their customers, Robertson said.

But in other areas, such as enabling employees to make an exception to a rule in order to serve the customer rather than feel as though their hands were tied to a rigid process, CIOs can help create the kind of personalized service -- internally or externally -- for which customers are clamoring.

Doing so not only gives employees a sense of autonomy, it leverages one of the company's best assets -- the minds of their employees. "And then you start to harvest those exceptions to find out if those are some new ways other employees should act," Robertson said.

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