>Customer Service Will Always Be Goal #1

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Too many organizations espouse good service, but very few actually excel and deliver on the promise.

However, one company is so good at it that it serves as the role model for just about all others–that company is The Four Seasons.

The Wall Street Journal, 29 April 2009 reviewed the book “Four Seasons” by Isadore Sharp, the luxury hotel’s founder.

Here are some things that I learned about customer service from this:

Customer Service means reliability—“a policy of consistently high standards.” At Four Seasons, anyone who has visited the chain around the world [83 hotels in 35 countries]…can attest to its reliability. To be reliable, customer service is not just raising and holding the bar high– having high standards for quality service–but this must be institutionalized through policy and delivered consistently—over and over again. You can’t have a bad day when executing on customer service. Fantastic customer service has to always be there, period!

For The Total CIO, this type of reliability means that we don’t focus on technology per se, but rather on the customer’s mission requirements and how we can consistently deliver on those in a sound, secure, and cost-effective manner. CIO leaders establish high standards for customer service through regular performance plans, measures and service level agreements. Reliable customer service is more than a concept; it’s a way of relating to the customer in every interaction to consistently exceed expectations.

Customer Service means innovation—“The things we take for granted now during our hotel stays-comfortable beds, fluffy towels, lighted make-up mirrors, fancy toiletries, and hair dryers-made their first appearances at the Four Seasons…likewise for European-style concierge and Japanese-style breakfast menus, in-hotel spas, and the possibility of residence and time-share units.”

For The Total CIO, technology changes so fast, that innovation is basically our middle name. We never rest on our laurels. We are always on the lookout for the next great thing to deliver on the mission, to achieve strategic competitive, to perform more cost effectively and efficiently.  Advantage. Moreover, we reward and recognize customer service excellence and innovation.

Customer Service means valuing people—“Follow the golden rule. Workers are vital assets who should be treated accordingly…at the Four Seasons, those who might otherwise be considered the most expendable ‘had to come first,’ because they were the ones who could make or break a five-star service reputation.”

For The Total CIO, people are at the center of technology delivery. We plan, design, develop, and deploy technologies with people always in mind—front and center. If a technology is not “user-centric”, we can’t employ it and don’t want it—it’s a waste of time and money and generally speaking a bad IT investment. Moreover, we deliver technology through a highly trained, motivated, empowered and accountable workforce. We establish a culture of customer service and we reward and recognize people for excellence.

Customer Service means solving problems—“Turning the top-down management philosophy on its head, Mr. Sharp authorized every Four Seasons employee to solve service problems as they arose to remedy failures on the spot.”

For The Total CIO, leadership is fundamental, management is important, and staff execution is vital. It is the frontline staff that knows the customer pain points and can often come up with the best suggestions to solve them. Even more importantly, the IT customer service representatives (help desk, desktop support, application developers, project managers, and so on) need to “own the customer” and see every customer problem through to resolution. Yes, it’s nice to empathize with the customer, but the customers need to have their problems fixed, their issues resolved and their requirements met.

The Total CIO will make these customer service definitions his and his organization’s modus operandi.

>Balancing Strategy and Operations and The Total CIO

>How should a CIO allocate their time between strategy and operations?

Some CIOs are all operations; they are concerned solely with the utility computing aspects of IT like keeping the desktops humming and the phones ringing. Availability and reliability are two of their key performance measurement areas. These CIOs are focused on managing the day-to-day IT operations, and given some extra budget dollars, will sooner spend them on new operational capabilities to deploy in the field today.

Other CIOs are all strategy; they are focused on setting the vision for the organization, aligned closely to the business, and communicating the way ahead. Efficiency and effectiveness are two of their key performance measurement areas. These CIOs are often set apart from the rest of the IT division (i.e. the Office of the CIO focuses on the Strategy and the IT division does the ops) and given some extra budget dollars, will likely spend them on modernization and transformation, providing capabilities for the end-user of tomorrow.

Finally, the third category of CIOs, balances both strategy and operations. They view the operations as the fundamentals that need to be provided for the business here and now. But at the same time, they recognize that the IT must evolve over time and enable future capabilities for the end-user. These CIOs, given some extra budget dollars, have to have a split personality and allocate funding between the needs of today and tomorrow.

Government Technology, Public CIO Magazine has an article by Liza Lowery Massey on “Balancing Strategy with Tactics Isn’t Easy for CIOs.”

Ms. Massey advocates for the third category, where the CIO balances strategy and operations. She compares it to “have one foot in today and one in tomorrow…making today’s decisions while considering tomorrow’s impacts.”

How much time a CIO spends on strategy versus operations, Ms. Massey says is based on the maturity of the IT operations. If ops are unreliable or not available, then the CIO goes into survival mode—focused on getting these up and running and stable. However, when IT operations are more mature and stable, then the CIO has more ability to focus on the to-be architecture of the organization.

For the Total CIO, it is indeed a delicate balance between strategy and operations. Focus on strategy to the detriment of IT operations, to the extent that mission is jeopardized, and you are toast. Spend too much time, energy, and resources on IT operations, to the extent that you jeopardize the strategy and solutions needed to address emerging business and end-user requirements, and you will lose credibility and quickly be divorced by the business.

The answer is the Total CIO must walk a fine line. Mission cannot fail today, but survivability and success of the enterprise cannot be jeopardized either. The Total CIO must walk and chew gum at the same time!

Additionally, while this concept is not completely unique to CIOs, and can be applied to all CXOs, CIOs have an added pressure on the strategy side due to the rapid pace of emerging technology and its effects on everything business.