Customer service-oriented CIOs

by Ivor Soans    Aug 27, 2004

Just this morning, my bank managed to raise my blood pressure and stress levels all over again. Now, this is no bloated, government-owned public sector outfit where the words ¬’customer’ and ¬’service’ aren’t ever used in a single sentence, but a reputed foreign bank and one that’s known to be incredibly IT-savvy.

The bank is so IT-savvy that it has won coveted awards for its online presence; it uses technology tools so well that it offers me a personalized suite of complementary products based on the intelligent information it has gathered about me, my transactions and the like; and unlike many other banks this bank genuinely allows me to use all the products I have signed up for (credit cards, savings bank account, etc) through a single window.

Quite frankly, I hold this bank up as an example to others when it comes to usage of IT to reach me and equip me with innovative tools and features. No complaints on that score! However, when it comes to the people, it’s a different story. Over the last few months, I have noticed a gradual deterioration in service standards on the people front. For instance, to get a simple task accomplished, you have to call up many times; you repeatedly get wrong information from customer service agents and despite the highly innovative online interface from where you can also communicate with the bank, messages sent from there seem to end up in some black hole, with no response.

What gives? Is the banking finding it difficult to retain customer service personnel? I don’t know¬óbut what I do know is that I’m having an increasingly bad experience each time I come in contact with employees, as compared to machines.

And for me, like most other customers, the human element is what matters most. So, chances are my business will soon go elsewhere. And perhaps I’m not the only customer who’s upset.

The point is, despite all the information technology paraphernalia that you can throw in to build powerful customer relationship and management tools, they are only as good as the human who uses the tools to deliver the final experience. And the customer will pronounce judgment based on this experience.

How does the CIO make an impact here¬ódoes he even have a role? In my opinion, this is the kind of scenario that separates the CEO-material CIOs from the rest. Ensuring that the employee who’s the final point of contact with the customer delivers the goods is key. You could throw in more IT systems to monitor and ensure compliance, improve training and retention strategies¬óthe options are many, and yet there is room for more innovation here. How many CIOs are game for this challenge?