Customer centric….what’s the customer got to do with IT?

Published on Friday 14 November 2014 by in Blog with 1 comment

When I started in IT more than 30 years ago I was told that we ‘technoids’ had to be more ‘Customer  focused’. Data processing suddenly became ‘IT’ and we in ‘IT’ were to become more aligned with the business needs. We weren’t allowed to reboot the computer without first informing the business ‘Users’ of IT. ‘Who were these ‘Users’’!?  and what had THEY to do with IT? Who did they think they were to tell US what to do!!….I genuinely thought we should outsource these Users so that we could get on with the job of IT without all these annoying interruptions.

Here we are 30 years later and still a top issue for IT organizations is to become more ‘Customer focused’, and business & IT alignment is still a top concern.


This is still a high scoring card in our ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) workshops world-wide

(Fortunately for the customers I am no longer the owner of the system administrator password and the cause of many of their outages and nightmares… less IT problem for the business to worry about).

Transformation would be easy if we could take the people out of the equation!…

Many IT organizations are now in a state of transformation. I do not need to name the reasons  they are documented in numerous blogs and articles on IT and ITSM….If you are in IT and you DON’T know what these reasons are maybe you should be looking for a new job.

Part of this transformation process…..for me the LARGEST part….is the People part!
IT’s all about transforming the Attitude, Behavior, Culture within IT; about developing the right talent; the right people capabilities; the right mind-set. People are still the largest cause of downtime according to various articles. As a result of this we see that many of these transformation initiatives talk about ‘Culture’ change; creating a new set of IT Values, a new ‘DNA’ for IT; more ‘Professional’ IT; more ‘Responsonsibility’ and ‘Ownership’, improved ‘Collaboration and Team-working’. Very often these new values are communicated in memos, plans, powerpoints, posters and are given ‘lip’service.  More often than not they are not translated into behavior – consistent, sustainable desired behavior.







The most common new value we now see (based upon more than 20 recent customer cases) is ‘Customer focused’, ‘Customer centric’, ‘Customer and Service oriented’, ‘Driven by the Customer experience’, ‘Customer satisfaction’. Which is a good thing!  In a recent article on ‘The IT talent problem’ 70% of executives said that if they had a magic wand they ‘would use their magic wand to do only one thing: give business skills to their technologists. Their people, they worry, are so narrowly focused on the technology …. They do not understand the business context of their technology work, nor can they have a meaningful discussion with the leaders of the business areas their technology supports.…..’

An Information week article reviewing the latest Society of Information mangement(SIM) survey results revealed ’‘Alignment– for the umpteenth straight year – the No. 1 priority for their enterprises as a whole’.   InformationWeek argued ‘that a better CIO goal is IT-customer alignment, as it’s more focused on an end goal — business value and customer satisfaction’. In a recent Enterprise CIO forum articleWhat 5 words describe the ideal IT culture’ one of the words was ‘aligned’.

Usually when I ask a senior IT manager, a team leader or an IT employee ‘What does customer focused behavior look like’? I get blank stares. Either that or people have a good idea but this has not been embedded in the organization (translated into the 5 P’s –  see below).  They often point to the posters on the wall stating the new corporate values ‘Customer Centric’ (As above, carefully hidden behind pot plants and decorations).

So how can we get IT people to understand what ‘Customer focused’ behavior is? And how can we embed it in the organization?

Simply telling people isn’t enough. People need to see, feel and experience what it means.  A business simulation game can be used to help teams explore what ‘Customer focused’ behavior actually is? In a simulation game we involve people from each of the teams and departments representing the complete end-to-end delivery chain, including managers. At the start of the simulation game (e.g Apollo 13) I ask “I am the Customer today. Which concrete, visible behavior will I see today that demonstrates ‘customer focus’?”

Here is an example of what one team came up with:

  • We (ALL) understand customer needs.
  • We communicate status and progress to the customer.
  • We stick to our agreements, if we cannot meet our agreements we will notify and suggest alternatives.
  • We confront each other on our agreements.
  • We tell the truth, even if it is not what the customer wants to hear.
  • We are pro-active towards the business.
  • We enter a dialogue with the business to ensure we understand each other.

This was hung up on the wall and we played the simulation game. During the game we create situations to test this. As a customer I confront people on their behavior and on the negative impact when people do NOT behave this way.  Needless to say after the first round as Customer I am usually not happy.  None of the above had been realized and my KPI’s were not being met.

I was particularly impressed with their initial list item ‘we tell the truth, even if it is not what the customer wants to hear’, however during the game when the proverbial brown stuff had hit the air moving apparatus and I asked ‘How is it going? Should I worry about anything?’, the Flight Director answered ‘No…No…everything is pretty much going OK’.

‘Is the CREW still alive?…does anybody know?’

This was the question at the end of the first game round. So much for being Customer focused.

How come?

The team had not taken ownership for this list. Neither the manager nor the team had used the list as a common, shared reference, nobody had used it to confront people on behavior. The list was not translated into the 5 P’s (People – roles, responsibilities and authority, understanding, ownership and commitment), Process (e.g which process will capture and make available the information to communicate to the customers? The status and progress? Who will escalate?), Product (e.g which data needs to be captured?,  what was the agreement? Does the product enable escalation? tracking status?), Partner (did we ensure the partner processes and agreements were aligned?) and Performance (Were we able to measure and demonstrate achievement of agreements? Did we actually agree the KPI’s which would underpin the customer needs)?

the desired behavior was NOT translated into their ITSM people, processes, product or partner capabilities

At the end of the simulation the team was successful, I as a customer was happy and my KPI’s had been achieved. The team then captured individual, team and process improvements they needed to take away and apply if they were to really become Customer focused.

The simulation had helped:

  • Create awareness for what desirable behavior (Customer focused) looked like and which undesirable behavior they recognized and wanted to remove.
  • Create understanding of how to translate behavior into the ITSM improvement plan (5 P’s)
  • Capture concrete improvement actions to take away (Input into CSI)
  • Create a commitment to own actions and responsibilities
  • Create a management team understanding of how to ensure the behavior was recognized, measured, managed and could be embedded in the organization (through the ITSM improvement program).
  • Create an understanding of ‘engaging’ with the customer to understand needs and create a real dialogue.

This word tag shows the most common words taken from the captured learning points and improvement actions at the end of 20 simulation sessions aimed at creating ‘customer focused’ behavior.










  • All need to understand the value & agreements with the business
  • End-to-end collaboration between teams in the delivery chain
  • Take ownership and responsibility for the agreements made
  • Confront each other on agreements made
  • Timely escalation and notification if an agreement cannot be met
  • Relevant and timely communication to customers and users
  • Engage and involve customers in improvement process

The cartoon shows that a lot of effort is required to keep the momentum going. It is an uphill struggle to transform an IT centric culture into a customer centric culture. One of the most critical success factors is ‘collaboration’ between teams that make up the end-to-end delivery chain.

The organization then agreed to translate this behavior into the 4 P’s through a CSI approach.  They realized that so far their ITIL implementation had simply been a theoretical exercise to ‘implement ITIL” and not to ensure that the processes delivered customer value.

People: This would be embedded in team meeting and in personal development plans and manager/employee meetings. Meetings would be held with customer units to gain a better understanding of their needs and the business value and impact of the systems and services provided.
All employees would go into the business for 1 day to gain a better understanding.

Process and Product: Process mechanisms and reporting would ensure agreements were known and understood and escalation and notification mechanisms configured to ensure timely escalation. The process improvements would be designed by end-to-end teams.

Performance: They would ensure that the top 5 customer dissatisfiers would be improved and measured and that the KEDB would ensure a higher first time fix’.















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