Managing relationship managers

Are engineers really 'not good' with dealing with customers?

Strategic focus

When John Shea became CIO at Eaton Vance Management in Boston a year ago, he inherited an IT organization that included six internal customer relationship managers. The positions had been created to deal with service problems. "We had a bad reputation as an IT group," recalls Frank Wertz, director of IT client management. "The CRMs were added in 1999 because we wanted to calm the noise down."

At first, the CRMs responded to tactical needs, says Wertz, who worked as one before being chosen to lead the group. He recalls helping executives from a newly acquired line of business navigate the initial shock of integrating their systems. "If they had tried to solve that by working with project managers and application developers on their own," he says, "the communications would have broken down fast."

Today, each of the CRMs covers five or six related business units at the investment management firm so they can develop expertise in areas such as finance, investment and equity, Shea says. The CRMs meet with business leaders to discuss their strategic project needs, and then IT's project management office prioritizes those requests.

Some of the CRMs were recruited from within Eaton Vance's IT department; others were originally consultants hired to assist on IT projects. Shea says that finding people with the right mix of skills has been difficult.

"They have to be client advocates, and that is a different skill set than most IT people have," he notes. "They have to know the business and be able to prioritize that unit's IT needs."

Shea sees the customer relationship manager role as part of a larger effort to break down barriers between business and IT, but he acknowledges that there are still challenges to work through. For example, some business line executives consider the customer relationship manager an extra layer of bureaucracy, and some CRMs have effective relationships with a few of their executive partners and not with others, he says.

One exasperating problem is that because of the CRMs' tactical origins, business groups still sometimes treat them as a help desk. "We're struggling to maintain the strategic level rather than the tactical level," Shea says.

He is quick to admit that the customer relationship manager role is a work in progress. "We've created this structure, and it's not perfect right now," he says, "but we are working on making it better."

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