So you want to be a CIO? Stop trying to be a chess master and start enabling other people to grow, says John Marcante.
The internal benefits of a customer experience program
At NetApp IT, we are pretty proud of our customer experience programs, among them Customer-1 and NetApp-on-NetApp. As we mature them, they’ve had an impact on a number of fronts. One area that is not often talked about is the internal effect. The fact that we can have in-depth discussions with customers has brought IT closer together with NetApp’s business, especially with our engineering organization. Clearly there is value outside the company to these programs, but also value inside.
I think it’s important to point out that you don’t have to be in a technology company to successfully run a customer experience program. In reality, you can get close to the customer with any business model and understand what their needs are. Again, the substantial benefit internally is that we have found that this type of program naturally brings IT and the core business together. How does this happen? Here are a few examples from within our company:
IT can become part of the product design cycle. We not only get to install and run our products as part of NetApp IT but through our customer programs, we also get to see these products before they are complete and can offer feedback to the engineering group. In fact, I bumped into one of our product leaders at our briefing center recently, and he said, “Don’t forget that you’re part of the design cycle, we solicit input from you and your team.”
IT can serve as an excellent internal proxy for the customer. In IT’s case, with our company’s products, we actually can act as a customer might and ask important questions of product prototypes, such as:
- Would this work, or would this not work?
- What would the reaction be to this?
- How can we work together to make that customer experience a lot better?
IT can help break down internal communication barriers. If all internal groups are centered on bettering the customer experience, it’s funny how that focal point makes communications across teams so much easier and more productive. For example, our marketing team now talks to IT about customer benefits and messaging. We’re an internal focus group for them because we know, as customers, how technology works in a real environment.
IT and the businesses can prioritize better. In our case, both customer experience programs have helped us to align better with business priorities. Within both programs, we have people who do presentations to customers. But we also challenged IT staff by saying, “Adopt a NetApp product, so you become the expert in it. So you understand what our business is doing.” And that opens up IT’s eyes to the fact that this is our product portfolio, this is how it works, this is how it concerns the customer. Now when we look at business priorities, people have the right perspective on why those priorities are needed, and why they are priorities from our product perspective. IT has a better understanding of how the business works, and then we can make better technology recommendations to improve the business.
Helping the customer make the business case
IT can play a major customer role externally, too, of course. One of the most valuable ways to do that is by showing customers how we make our business case at NetApp to bring in new technology. We are very open and transparent about it, in part because so many IT organizations are challenged by demonstrating business value to their colleagues and management. We share our business cases either on how we use our products or other business cases on the value of data center automation, orchestration, and other areas.
When you put it all together, a customer program can be a major win-win. Within IT, we get deeper knowledge on what the product is, what the customer reaction is, and how we service and support those customers. As a result, we’re much more proactive with business needs. And we can be more proactive in our data center because we’re on top of really what’s important and what those business priorities are.