My sister-in-law, who recently graduated from university, is trying to get her career off the ground. As we all know, though, getting that first real job is hard when your experience is limited to stints in the service industry. That's when my wife stepped in. She came up with a way to describe working at the snack bar of a local Cineplex Odeon as something far more important. All it took was a title: "ambassador of first impressions."
Sure, you risk sounding cheesy when you put something like that on your resume, but when you're entering the business world you can do worse than try to creatively articulate a focus on customers. This is not something IT professionals are known for doing particularly well. They list their certifications and the programming languages in which they are fluent (often because the classified ad requires them to, by the way), but they leave out the part about how their efforts made a Web site experience dynamic and engaging, rather than a frustrating mess users had to navigate through. E-commerce is just one example, but it's a potent reminder of how much first impressions count when you're trying to move customers to an entirely new channel.
IT staff may not think of themselves as ambassadors of first impressions because they rarely take the spotlight, except maybe at vendor conferences. For the most part, companies worry about giving them facetime with actual clients, even when talking to the media. Instead, we find ourselves dealing more and more with line of business professionals who become the public face of what IT does. Sales, marketing and other executives often rely on in-person encounters to achieve their objectives, but IT is supposed to stay in the background. It's their work -- the systems they create and manage -- that makes the impression.
When a sales rep tries to show a PowerPoint presentation to his client and the laptop dies, for example, that creates the kind of impression you don't want. When a special micro site offering a contest is hacked and personal information is lost, that definitely makes an impression. On a more grand level, employees throughout the enterprise rely on getting the right information at the right time to do their jobs successfully. When that doesn't happen, customers don't blame the IT department, but it's the infrastructure in place to handle that information that allows companies to look like they know what they're doing.
Perhaps if they saw themselves in the role of ambassador of first impressions IT managers would approach their jobs differently. We've learned by now that it is far more difficult to gain a new customer than keep an old one. If companies are going after new ones at all, they will probably be using technology to do it.
Of course, IT departments could also be the ambassador for better business processes, for data quality, or improved privacy and top-notch security. They could be the ones who stand up for a more holistic approach to strategy based on well-managed information. Customer first impressions is not the only avenue open to them in their careers. It's just one of the best places to start.