How to Become a Customer-Centric CIO

By interacting directly with customers, CIOs can gain a greater appreciation for how they use your company's products or services, how your company supports their business goals, and how easy it is or isn’t to do business with your company. Read more from Workday's CIO Diana McKenzie.

Here at Workday, we work as a team—at all levels of the organization—to best serve our customers. To truly understand how to be an awesome partner to our customers, I find it important and energizing to meet with both current and potential customers as much as I can. Let’s explore what this means in practice, and the value of being a (more) customer-centric CIO.

Experience Matters

By interacting directly with customers, you will gain a greater appreciation for how they use your products and/or services, how your company supports their business goals, and how easy it is or isn’t to do business with your company.

On that last point, it’s important to understand what kind of experiences you’re creating. This goes beyond your products and services and encompasses all the ways your company’s technological infrastructure impacts customers. For example, how does your customer relationship management (CRM) platform—how it’s configured, how it’s used—influence the customer experience? And how effectively does your CRM ecosystem help marketing, sales, services, and support better connect across their respective disciplines so that they’re engaging with customers in a way that meets them where they are?

See the video Diana recorded at the 2018 CIO Summit, “Why CIOs Need To Be More Customer Facing.”

One of our biggest priorities is creating positive experiences for Workday customers that are far different from what’s typical in the enterprise technology industry.

Setting Strategy

Today, you can’t separate the tools you use to drive business strategy—which centers around serving, retaining, and gaining customers—from your overall “digital strategy,” which is shorthand for technology solutions that serve customers and support internal processes. The two must increasingly go hand-in-hand, as each is a means to creating a more competitive company.

Focus on the impact each improvement will have on the customer. That makes it clear that everyone across the workforce is running in the same direction.

For example, there might be 100 things a team wants IT to change or upgrade with a certain tool. But it’s IT’s job to help their teammates understand what investments will have the greatest benefit to the team and to the company.

So, when having those conversations about the 100 improvements a team wants to make to that tool, focus on the ultimate impact of each one of those improvements will have on the customer. That makes it clear that everyone across the workforce is running in the same direction—we all want the company to succeed—and this only happens if customers get the best experience possible.

How to Get In Front of Customers

CIOs who work in the technology or services industry are likely already engaging with customers. For those CIOs who are in a company that is still trying to figure out how they’re going to make their products or services more innovative through the use of technology, my advice is to raise your hand. Ask the sales team and product support team if you can join them in the field when they meet customers or listen in on customer support calls to learn first-hand about their challenges and goals. I promise that there’s nothing like hearing directly from the customer.

For instance, in my past career in the life sciences industry, we observed the process physicians used to register patients for clinical trials. And it’s no secret IT people sometimes have a different way of looking at the world. So as we watched the whole process—enrolling the patient, getting consent, and so on—we could see several different ways to improve it without a huge effort. So, we worked with our clinical trial management teams and made changes that considerably sped things up for the physicians, which was very appreciated by them and ultimately good for the business.

If you’re not able to regularly meet with your customers, industry conferences are your next best bet. Attend sessions that involve your customer or a similar company, write a summation of what you heard about their pain points and how your company might help, and then test your ideas with your internal business partners. That could be all it takes to bring a fresh and valued perspective to the table, and further demonstrate that IT is a true strategic partner with the business’s best interests top of mind.

Bottom line: By becoming a more customer-centric CIO, you’ll be more valuable, you’ll increase your influence, and quite frankly, you’ll have far more fun—seeing customers use your product to improve their organizations is one of the most inspiring things a CIO can experience.

More Reading