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How to Communicate IT to Your Customers

Updated: May 8, 2023

by Jim Rinaldi - 3GC Board Advisor: Former CIO of JPL, IRS, FDA and Marriott

There are two questions I ask when I either join a new organization or assess one: How much is spent on IT? And how does one ask for IT? The latter question tells me a lot about the maturity level and relationship to the customer. Often, the relationship to the customer is through a help desk or calling someone they know. While this in itself is not bad, it does raise many questions. It also could be a sign of informality and from a customer standpoint, you have to know someone in order to get support.

The help desk is often the first door to IT and if done well, can be a positive interaction. Customers of IT may not know IT beyond “they fix my problems”. In this way, IT is viewed as tactical rather than strategic. In my experience, every customer facing system, meeting and interaction is an opportunity to become strategic. I wanted every customer facing system to be intuitive to the customer not to IT. For example, our help desk call tree was by department vs. service. I thought that was confusing and should be much simpler and easier to use. Our customers should not have to know who in the organization can solve their problem, but rather describe the problem or request they have, and then the system routes it to the right area of IT.

Here are my thoughts on making sure IT is known for what it does and measuring how well it does it. Customers of IT often do not know what IT really does. So raising awareness of the IT services and capabilities are key. A website, email updates and internal communications can help. I’m a believer in IT managers and key IT resources meeting with customers. The interaction can be a way for connecting a face to the organization.

To build on this a little more, every internal customer is different. They have different needs and expectations of IT. Organizations are like that as well. Accounting will have some unique needs. So will procurement or HR or product development. It is important that IT finds and understands the nuances. For example, HR may use email as their main contact approach. If so, why not work with HR to create a system where notifications are sent. This could be unique to HR. The common IT needs across functional organizations are where IT can leverage capabilities. I would argue IT still should make sure each customer segment feels their needs are special. In reality, this approach helps build relationships and trust.

Customers like to know what is changing and how it will impact them. IT creates the most change for customers, whether through updates to the desktop, system upgrades or identity and network access. This became even more apparent during the pandemic. While people worked from home, IT provided as seamless an environment as possible to make that happen.

So building on the above, take note on how you communicate to your customer segments. I have tried many methods, including meeting directly, assigning a point of contact to each segment, and in some cases over communicating. I knew when we over communicated from the complaints I would receive about too many emails! Nobody could accuse me of not communicating!

So with the basics discussed, what should IT leaders do to raise awareness and build relationships with their internal customers? My recommendation is to develop a marketing plan (not a sales plan) to increase knowledge and feedback to IT. This plan should have many ways of communicating IT services and capabilities. This plan can also communicate how IT stays current and has an understanding of emerging technologies. The places I worked always wanted to know how I felt about technologies and their potential impact. Today, ChatGPT and AI, is in the news every day. What does that mean to your company and what plans do you have to adopt or track it?

In the marketing/communications plan, I recommend having the following actions:

  • Give talks about relevant topics at your company and how IT plans and executes.

  • Have an IT Expo to demonstrate IT systems, technologies, and impacts. This was a very exciting time for me and allowed me to meet more customers in a single day. I also confirmed key executives attended and made sure I or another key member of my staff, escorted them around the expo.

  • Create a site where customers of IT can track changes and availability.

  • If you offer device selections at your company, have a user-friendly site that shows what is available and how to acquire it. I used a catalogue of software and hardware that fit our standards and had options.

  • Create a “Customer Advisory Council” to bring in customers to interact with IT on planned changes, if things not going so well and have them be a part of the IT process.

  • Develop positions on emerging technologies. I saw this as a way of demonstrating that IT stays current and looks to the future. Your customers may be more aware of new technologies than you. Having a position says you and your team are engaged, knowledgeable, and able to plan vs. react to change in technology. And there is always change in technology!

  • One that is very important to me is to track help desk tickets metrics. Some tickets are for problems and others may be for requests. Know the difference. Also, how well you handled the tickets. For those tickets with complaints, have follow up with each customer impacted.

  • Seek feedback whenever you can. This feedback may be anecdotal information but could be useful. Customers will appreciate attention and feedback as well.

  • I like for my IT organization to be recognized internally and externally. An article in a trade magazine or an award helps raise awareness. External recognition demonstrates to your workforce something positive about IT. I used this a lot and it works!

Finally, it is always necessary to be objective about your services. “Eat your own dog food” and relate to your customers. Don’t be defensive. Instead, show a willingness to address issues.


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