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HP Software's community for IT leaders // September 2013
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Getting customer centricity right

Being relevant to the business means being relevant to the customer. These five considerations help get you there.
 
We all know that no matter how brilliant the technology, it all comes down to what customers want and need. Management icon Peter Drucker said it simply and well: “The purpose of any business is to create and keep a customer.”
 
But as a CIO, is it really your primary responsibility to build an organization that champions the customer? Absolutely. More than ever, your IT team is the hub of what every enterprise designs and delivers for its customers—both internal and external. For IT organizations today, the arrow is rapidly moving from “implementer” to “initiator of change.”
 
So how do you build the right focus and internal capabilities that can consistently deliver what customers are seeking? Here are five guidelines to consider.

1. Understand where you are—and where your deficits may be.

Reorient your focus toward the external customer—taking a hard look at the quality of your outbound innovation. We have countless examples of Fortune 500 companies that have literally had to reinvent themselves to win back customers. Take General Motors, which rebounded from bankruptcy by listening to customers, radically changing the way it designed cars, revamping internal processes, and moving from eight brands to just two. The point is to always know where you stand with the customer, and react quickly and decisively.

2. Set customer-centric goals, but approach them incrementally.

Define clear and ambitious goals, but realize that it’s often best to go after them in incremental steps, testing customer reaction as you go. As Paul Muller, HP Software’s VP of strategic marketing, puts it: “You may have the big, audacious goal of delivering the world’s most innovative music service—but internally your capability for contract negotiations turns out to be terrible. After you get through that, you find you can’t deal with scaling a huge volume of content, and you handle that. Next you decide to deliver movies. At each stage, you’ve got to balance customer needs with your internal limitations.”

3. Experiment, test against the market, and create a feedback loop.

Establish an iterative process of experimenting, testing, gathering feedback, and creating improvement. Customers are unbelievably fickle and ever changing. The last thing you want to do is invest heavily in an idea, then find that it may not be what customers want. By building a step-by-step process that continually responds to customer preferences, you’ll encounter fewer surprises after a product release. And advanced metrics, analytics, social media, and other tools make this easier than ever before.

4. Tackle change management.

Volumes have been written about change management, and with good reason. If employees don’t understand why a change is made, their productivity and job satisfaction drops—often radically. And the impact on the bottom line can be substantial. Just multiply a few hours of lost time per employee by several months, and you’ll quickly see the picture. In the midst of a major change, your role as CIO is to:

  • Paint the vision: Get people to understand and embrace the reason for change.
  • Communicate the importance: Stress the benefits that change will bring.
  • Walk the walk: Be an active, involved participant.
  • Deal with psychological change: Don’t ignore the naysayers; convert them.

5. Think like a startup.

Most of what we’re saying here adds up to the need to think more like a startup—leaner, faster, and more agile. Focus on building an internal operating model for IT that fosters rapid innovation. Create small teams and give them the focused time and autonomy to innovate with confidence.
 
Consider that most of today’s large enterprises are facing stiff competition from smaller, more nimble startups that succeed simply because they can meet customer needs faster than any big company. Take Facebook’s surprise when they realized that Instagram’s 14 employees had managed to win millions of loyal users with a very simple, free photo app. In a quick defensive move, Facebook coughed up a whopping $1 billion to acquire Instagram and stay competitive.

Relevant to the customer, relevant to the business

CIOs who can master customer-centricity will—at a minimum—redefine the importance of their IT organizations, achieving a much more strategic role in the enterprise. And, while doing so, they will ultimately create a new level of success for the business.
 
For more on how IT can empower the business in the user-centric era, sign up for HP’s free virtual conference, Power to Change, and hear from leaders at T-Mobile, United Airlines, and more.


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