Your customer, your future

Reap the rewards from making customer satisfaction a priority

"Many CIOs are a little cavalier about making raising customer satisfaction an explicit goal," says Harley Manning, vice president and director of Forrester Research's customer experience group. Rather, he says, objectives such as cost avoidance and innovation are far more likely to receive top billing on a CIO's project roster. That's because not only is bolstering customer loyalty a hard sell among corporate bean counters, its (arguably) intangible benefits and its (allegedly) nebulous returns often make it a thankless job. After all, when it comes to customer feedback, CIOs typically hear one of two things: harsh criticism or the sound of one hand clapping."

But despite this history of practical difficulties and emotional disincentives, some of today's top CIOs are making customer satisfaction a priority -- and reaping huge rewards as a result. They're discovering that focusing on the customer can yield substantial benefits, including (but not limited to) saving money, increasing sales and enhancing productivity -- as well as keeping the customer satisfied.

In fact, by tackling customer-centric IT projects, CIOs can reshape their role as key corporate players and position themselves for greater enterprise responsibility by aligning with the major concern of their executive peers and bosses. Business, after all, is all about serving the customer. If you want to be part of the business (and you do, don't you?), you want to be a part of that.

Customer Focus Means Organizational Change

Pat Lawicki lights up when discussing her customer-centric IT initiatives. As CIO of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a Rs 50,000-crore San Francisco-based utility, Lawicki serves 150 lakh customers scattered across two-thirds of California. Among them are Silicon Valley behemoths such as Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Cisco. So when the California energy crisis, the Enron debacle and an executive staff overhaul in 2005 threatened to permanently tarnish PG&E's reputation with its customers, Lawicki began working on a series of customer-focused projects.

The centerpiece of her efforts was PG&E's SmartMeter program which provides customers with an automated gas and electric metering system allowing PG&E to collect data without setting foot on a customer's property. Electric meter data travels along a system of power lines to a PG&E data center for processing while gas meters rely on radio frequency transmitters to deliver data back to the company via a public wireless network. Once a SmartMeter system is up and running, PG&E can collect energy usage information regularly and pinpoint power outages as they occur.

Future plans include allowing customers to access their usage data online, and the information is broken down so they can better manage their energy consumption and expenses. For example, a homeowner may discover that running the dishwasher every day at 4 p.m. is 20 percent more expensive than waiting until midnight. "The SmartMeter project is geared toward letting our customers have more control over their energy consumption while helping them save money in the process," says Lawicki.

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