IT Customer Service Vs. IT Customer Focus

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 06-08-2012

I once had the experience of seeing an IT executive argue with his CEO (never a good idea) regarding the level of "customer service" his team was providing. He continually referenced a pie chart showing 99.99% availability of some metric he felt substantiated his case. His CEO's reaction was that he was less interested in what the "metrics" said, and more interested in the perceptions of IT held by his executive team. Those perceptions were less than stellar.

Customer service is important, but only within the context of customer focus. Whenever I present at conferences I ask the audience "is there anyone in attendance who has unlimited budget or human resources?" This usually gets a chuckle from the crowd. However in spite of the fact that we are all working with limited resources, many of us make the mistake of investing these limited dollars and people in areas that don't make a difference for our key stakeholders. This is all about customer focus.

Customer focus is not simply focusing on the customer, but focusing on "what matters" to the customer. My IT team at the United States Tennis Association is constantly working to prioritize our efforts around the issues and projects that truly matter to our customers. This is not an exercise in semantics. Each one of our customers has a handful of needs that mean the difference between success and failure to them. These are the things that they are being held accountable to achieve, are receiving bonuses to accomplish, and at the end of the year will be the difference between whether they are viewed as failures or successes. That being the case, these are the issues we need to invest our time, resources and energy in ensuring they accomplish.

IT Customer Service: Focusing on What Matters

It's all well and good to deliver great technical services (and we should). But if we don't help get a new product to market or help drive down the cost of running a business process, or help drive revenue through enabling access to our consumer base, will good IT service really matter? More and more, our efforts have to benefit not only the internal clients who are corporate colleagues but also the external consumers of our products and services. Accomplishing "five nines" of network availability while failing to enable our organization to bring a new service to market before our competitors do so is akin to lining up deck chairs on the Titanic.

In IT we are often trained to focus on "the trees." As a business executive (the real role of the CIO) we need to focus on the forest. We need to constantly keep the big picture in mind, and have our efforts fully integrated with accomplishing the agendas of our CEOs and Board of Directors.

Providing great customer service is an altruistic objective, and quite frankly table stakes for IT executives. Delivering bottom line results is job number one for successful business executives. CIOs have to determine which is more important, being an effective "cable guy" or being a "rainmaker". Which would you choose?

About the Author

Larry Bonfante is CIO of the United States Tennis Association and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@