My mobile phone rang on Sunday evening, in the midst of
dinner with my family. Generally only friends, family, and clients have access
to this phone number, so I answered despite an unfamiliar number appearing on
the screen. A woman’s voice came over the line, with obvious background noise
and a low-quality connection, and she promptly launched into an unintelligible

It took three attempts to clarify that she was calling from
Direct Buy, her heavily accented English making the company’s name difficult to
understand. I try to avoid being rude with unsolicited callers, but I cut off
her pitch and hung up in disgust.

I’m not a Direct Buy customer, but they’re apparently a
membership club-style retailer selling major appliances, furniture, and durable
goods, promising discounts on what are presumably high margin, big ticket
items. Their website pitches expert assistance and is loaded with photos of
high-end kitchens.

Cost isn’t always

Presumably someone in the corporate warren of Direct Buy has
a cost model for customer acquisition, and has attempted to squeeze every penny
out of the process by employing what sounded like a boiler room call center
resorting to ambushing customers during mealtime. The obvious question is
whether this approach would be more successful with higher quality (and
obviously more expensive) agents, especially if your brand purports to provide
expertise and higher-end products.

Unfortunately, many IT organizations take a similar approach
to their processes, especially since IT is a cost center in most businesses. We
attempt to wring every penny out of a process with little regard to the long-term
cost and benefit. An obvious example is the help desk, where agents are often
benchmarked based on ticket resolution times. Users quickly become frustrated
by IT people constantly calling and asking if they can close the ticket, or
worse yet, unilaterally closing it and forcing them to create a new one.
Obsessing over ticket “resolution” times rather than implementing a
satisfactory resolution generates “corporate entropy” rather than a successful
service desk.

Similarly with large scale projects, there are workarounds
and scope modifications justifiably implemented in the heat of battle to get a
project done, with promises that these shortcomings will be corrected later.
With the system live and the big dollars spent to get it in place, there’s
generally little appetite to revisit these incomplete items even though they
might produce major business benefit for little additional IT cost.

The price of customer

It may be unfamiliar for many in IT to consider a somewhat
mercurial area like “customer service,” but as enterprise technology comes ever
closer to paying customers, this benchmark should be considered just as closely
as cost. As sales representatives and front-line employees become equipped with
an increasing amount of corporate IT-provided technologies, you’re now
partially responsible for the experience your customers have when interacting
with your company. When customers wait while systems are loading, or sales reps
can’t quickly produce a quote without a multi-day wait, your brand is
tarnished. If you don’t think a high quality customer experience matters to
your customers, ask BlackBerry or the U.S. Federal Government how their brands
are perceived these days.

Obviously not every company has the need or means to make
every internal and external interaction exceptional, but the first step in
understanding the right level of spending on customer experience is
understanding your brand and corporate strategy. Spend some time with C-suite
peers, particularly the CEO and CMO, and as you gain clarity into their goals,
discuss how IT can help contribute to customer experience at the right level of
quality. Rather than alienating potential customers in the name of cost
savings, you can shift the discussion to creating a satisfying customer
experience at an appropriate spending level.