The number-two priority

FRAMINGHAM (03/17/2004) - CIO magazine's annual reader feedback survey is a 26-question, 10-screen online behemoth, but we generally get close to 1,000 responses from folks like you who want to help us get better at serving your needs. I've just spent a couple of days wallowing in the numbers and have pulled out a couple of interesting findings.

Your answers to survey questions that track your priorities corroborate certain trends. For example, the cautious optimism that the economy is on a true rebound is affirmed by the fact that "supporting new business activities" and "enabling growth" have climbed several notches on readers' priority lists. At the same time, the imperative of "IT cost reduction" has dropped a few notches in importance. The engines of growth are clearly building steam, and IT is regrouping to power those engines.

But your answers also reveal some disconnects. One centers around IT's external customers: Their satisfaction has been your number-two priority for two years running, second only to security, and it is two notches higher than internal (user) satisfaction. But how much time do IT leaders really spend with external customers, analyzing their actions and needs, and discovering opportunities for information technology to better their customer experience? Use yourself as an example. How many hours did you spend with your company's customers during the past six months? As a customer yourself, do you recall speaking with or providing feedback to any IS person from a company you buy products or services from?

I suspect not many of you answered positively. In a different CIO study of 100 IT leaders of well-respected and award-winning shops, only 39 percent said they conduct satisfaction surveys of external customers. This compared with 89 percent that surveyed internal users. And only one-third linked employee pay to customer satisfaction.

If external customers are such a high priority, you'd think IT leaders would be spending more time focused on this population. Granted, it isn't an easy group to read. Aside from customer service systems, most external customers don't come in direct contact with technology. But they have needs that must be understood. And they have shifting priorities (just like CIO readers). So, just as we reach out to readers as part of our effort to provide better service, IT leadership has to reach out to external customers. If you are doing that effectively, I'd like to hear how you are going about it. Please drop me a note.

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