The meetings a CIO can't skip: Listening to customers

You won't hear customer pain points if you don't get out there
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When was the last time you embedded yourself with your customers? If you took a moment to find your answer, it’s probably been too long.

Given how quickly technology changes, checking in with customers sooner rather than later is important. I’ve spent some time in the field over the past six months and was instantly reminded how inspiring, invigorating, and necessary it is to connect with the people you serve. It’s easy to lose sight of why you do what you do when you’re confined to the same four walls of your office.

I attended regional meetings and met with branch managers to discuss the challenges they’re facing and how the mortgage marketplace is changing. Because they’re the ones fighting every day to bring revenue into the company, their focus and priorities should be our focus and priorities, too.

[ Successful businesses today are changing what it means to be customer-driven. Read how: The New Rules of CIO Leadership. ]

Identifying disconnects

These meetings highlighted a crossroads that PrimeLending is at. The average age of our loan officers is 54. They’ve been in the business for a long time and are used to working a certain way – meeting face-to-face with customers and taking loan applications by hand, for example. They’re not always open to embracing new processes and procedures. 

PrimeLending’s customers, on the other hand, want to fill out applications online and receive status updates via text message. It was clear that there was a disconnect between the traits of the modern borrower and the skills the modern loan officer. Our job in IT is to make sure we’re supporting and serving both. 

All these conversations were purposeful; they didn’t happen on the way to the break room or on a whim in the middle of the workday.

Having these in-person conversations also opened our eyes to the depth of the challenges our loan officers are facing. In the technology world, for example, we tend to think only about the technology piece of the puzzle. When you’re in the field, you start to realize that it’s much more complicated than that.

Many of the loan officers were fearful of technology not because they were uncomfortable learning it, but because they feared it would render them obsolete.

Building trust

Because I had the opportunity to have these open conversations with them about their future, I was able to share our vision and hope that they view technology as a tool in their toolbox rather than a threat to their livelihood. The role of technology is to help them be better at their jobs, not replace them. Building that trust for the future for when we roll out new systems or tools – is important, too.

All these conversations were purposeful; they didn’t happen on the way to the break room or on a whim in the middle of the workday. It’s that time spent during offsite meetings where you glean the most valuable insights – it’s when people open up the most. 

Having a true understanding of your customer’s pain points, challenges and desires is key for every IT organization, and it’s important to regularly find time to embed yourself with them. It helps you focus on the problems that matter, develop solutions, improve efficiency, and drive value. 

[ Want to learn about leading more collaborative teams? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst. ]

Tim Elkins joined PrimeLending in November 2008 as Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer. In October 2012, Tim was promoted to executive vice president, chief information officer, and he is responsible for information security, IT operations, and technology initiatives.