The Gist

  • Driving business transformation and CX. Building intimacy and alignment with customers is crucial for CIOs to drive business transformation and customer experience, which can lead to a proverbial seat at the table.
  • A broad view. CIOs need to understand the context of how business strategies support corporate strategy and build personal and business relevance in the digital era by gathering a wide perspective.
  • Once upon a time. Storytelling is a foundational skill for CIOs as it enables them to engage and create a point of empathy, which becomes the foundation for intimacy and alignment.

I have been talking to CIOs for a long time about the importance of business intimacy and alignment. Today, the discussion is about a lot more than measuring internal stakeholder satisfaction. In fact, it starts with how IT teams are helping their firm’s businesses build more intimacy and alignment with customers. Business intimacy and alignment today are about business transformation and customer experience. For this reason, it is how CIO’s get a proverbial seat at the table. Put simply, smart CIOs drive the alignment needed to help their CMOs and businesses win.

CIOs Building Intimacy and Alignment With Customers

A great place for CIOs to start is by looking at the common pain points customers have with the company or its systems. And while IT has always played a significant role in implementing CRM systems, implementation skills are no longer enough.

Today, CMOs should be looking for IT to provide perspective on using big data, analytics and AI to enable and create omnichannel engagement. For this reason, Mevotech CIO, Martin Davis claims CIOs should lead on “identifying ways to provide insights and improve or simplify customer interactions.” This starts, says University of California, Santa Barbara, CIO Joe Sabado, by “providing relevant, insightful and actionable data.”

Doing this is critical to fixing customer engagement. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that FIRST CIO, Deb Gildersleeve says that “IT can offer to participate in discussions with customers. It helps IT better support the business if they understand that customer point of view.” With this understanding, Wake County CIO Jonathan Feldman says that “IT can help business partners build better, more intimate and more aligned customer experience. This is accomplished by:

  • Creating credibility and trust.
  • Providing operational excellence with foundational systems.
  • Listening to and understanding business partners.
  • Solving business partners real problems.

Only when you have achieved brilliant basics will good customer service scores, reduced application and data sprawl, and secured and reliable infrastructure will relationships transform. With this accomplished then IT can do the fun stuff with custom development, data fabric and analytics. And when these are done in partnership with the business, the organization can truly delight customers.”

Related Article: The Transformative Power of CIOs

Building Game Plan With Customer Listening

Without question, it is important that CIOs who are driving the delivery of transformation have internal alignment with other business stakeholders. Doing this well starts by asking better questions and understanding the context of how business strategies support corporate strategy. CIOs need to understand the fundamentals — position, brand, message and market.

For Feldman, however, “IT won’t woo internal partners until IT admits what’s being done wrong by IT. The only way to do this is to know that it is okay to ask. Is IT doing a regularly scheduled customer service survey? If not, IT won’t know about what’s annoying people. And without this, they won’t be able solve the problems that are surely there.”

According to Davis, CIOs should start “by listening to the internal customers and delivering what they need more efficiently.” Listening clearly requires the CIO and their leadership teams to be where they can hear about what's working and what's not. For this reason, Gildersleeve recommends, “Join organizational team meetings to learn priorities and blockers for different parts of the organization. Share upcoming plans, solicit feedback, and then adjust accordingly.”

Related Article: What Does It Mean to Be a Digitally Savvy CIO?

Better Understanding the Potential for Business Transformation

What actions should CIOs take? How should they create personal and business relevance in the digital era. Clearly, CIOs should gather as wide a perspective as possible through industry, customers and technology vendor partners. For Davis, he says, “an old saying springs to mind about being the business. It’s not just a case of talking, it’s a case of deep business understanding and acumen.” Sabado adds, “know the business by building relationships, bring external knowledge from industries/other organizations. Be curious, grow continually.” This is important because as Rita McGrath says, "The ice melts slowly at the edges."

Learning Opportunities

Feldman stresses that “business transformation won’t happen until IT stops trying to control every aspect of technology. Instead of trying to have every technology employee report to IT, CIOs should build a federated model. This means taking advantage of departmental IT employees, who may have business acumen that central IT lacks. In this approach, you can have the states doing things on their own, but everyone needs to be following federal law, so to speak.” For this reason, Gildersleeve argues for “a business partner model where CIOs have someone in IT who is familiar with both the technology and the business area who becomes an extension of the business team.”

The Fundamental Underpinnings of Employee Experience and Customer Experience

Great CX and EX do not just happen. They come from building intimacy and alignment. Davis says, “This is the fundamental underpinnings or guiding principles that underpin everything else.” Gildersleeve agrees and says, “Flipping this around, you must have alignment to build a great employee experience. You, also, must have that intimacy and alignment to get access to the customers and to create a great CX.”

Brown University CIO Sharon Pitt, adds that it is “critical to build empathy, demonstrating value, differentiating from competitors, establishing trust and building loyalty. Your workforce is the first set of ambassadors IT can help create for a brand. Aside from better productivity and efficiency the employee experience can prove IT's value to the organization through its culture.”

Storytelling: A Foundation for Intimacy and Alignment

Is storytelling a foundational skill for CIOs? It is clearly critical to establishing human connections. Davis suggests, “Storytelling is the foundation of good change management, and change management is fundamentally a key part of modern IT. The ability to sell an idea or a concept and have everyone understand the why, the how and the end goals are critical.”

Without question, storytelling provides the potential to engage and create a point of empathy which then becomes the foundation for intimacy and alignment. The goal is gaining heart share. Storytelling also enables IT to control the narrative.” Gildersleeve agrees and says that “storytelling generally helps provide better understanding. Understanding is a great foundation for improved business intimacy and alignment.”

Parting Words on CIOs, Intimacy and Alignment

Clearly, CIOs have an important role that matters to business leaders, especially CMOs. Their skill at building intimacy and alignment matters to their organization’s corporate future. It can determine the success of marketing goals around CX and even EX.

So, I will leave you with a question: Have you interviewed CIO candidates and when was the last time that you took them to lunch? If you want to lead on CX, I would make that appointment today.

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