Be the Customer

By Gary Hamel  |  Posted 08-01-2001 Print Email

Be the Customer

When the executives finish with this exercise, I then ask them to come back and live through the experience of being customers of their own companies. We did this recently with one of the biggest hospitals in the U.S., and we literally had people walking around in these gowns that flap open in the back. We had them lying half-naked on a gurney out in front of radiology waiting a couple of hours to get an X-ray and so on. And most of the things they recorded were not such good feelings.

Then we asked them to think about what they can learn by analogy from these other industries that would help them transform this customer experience.

One of the most dangerous things any company can do is to rely on sales and marketing to give it insight into the unarticulated needs and frustrations of the customer. That's because the sales and marketing people are prisoners of their own thinking and of their traditional market research methods, and so you cannot rely on them to be the conduit for these kinds of insights. Moreover, since they typically don't understand what is possible with technology, it's difficult for them, even if they see the customer frustration, to think about the solution. And so I think this is a challenge for the CIO. After all, if the CIO is spending 50 percent to 60 percent of a company's capital budget, for heaven's sake, he or she should be responsible for making sure that the expenditure is bringing a value to customers that will thrill them and elevate their customer experience to a completely new level.

It shouldn't be too difficult to get started. Nothing prevents a CIO from putting some of his or her staff out in the field in different settings. Go ahead, block off two or three days, and really get yourself and your people thinking deeply and creatively about how technology could change the customer experience.

Analogies provide powerful examples. I can go to any cash machine in the world and get $250. Nobody asks for my signature or my address, it just gets done. Yet, when I go to a hotel, they want me to sign something, they want my address, they kind of semi-interview me when I get to the desk. I'd rather just come up to the door, swipe my credit card and have them know that way that I have a reservation and I'm in room 327. I can then go to the room, swipe the card again, and the door opens. This is not rocket science. Bankers have already figured this out.

In most companies, though, there is no well-organized effort to produce fundamentally new strategies to allow a company to differentiate itself and create new wealth. Therefore, there is nothing really challenging the IT community to use technology in fundamentally new ways.

If technology has the power to dramatically transform the economics of a business and the customer experience, then it's a question of who should drive the transformation. I think the IT community has to recognize that this isn't going to come from marketing. People in marketing are worried about incremental market share. And we're not going to get it from top management, either—they're worried about making the quarterly numbers. CIOs and IT people are going to have to be the ones who go out and generate this insight.


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