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Aligning IT to the Business: Managing Customer Expectations

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If your IT customers expect one thing, and you deliver something else, they might be satisfied -- but that's highly unlikely. The best way to keep customers happy is with a four-part strategy, as Harris Kern explains.
Placing special emphasis on a comprehensive approach combining organization, people, process, and technology, Harris Kern's Enterprise Computing Institute is recognized as one of the world's premier sources for CIOs and IT professionals concerned with managing information technology.
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Each year, Information Week takes a poll of its readers on the top issues affecting CIOs and IT departments. And each year, the issue of aligning IT to the business is at or near the top of the list. Key to the issue of aligning IT is the ability to maintain credibility, which requires properly managing customer expectations.

I've watched many IT organizations struggle to gain and maintain credibility with their customers. And I hear frustration on both sides—IT managers frustrated at the pressure and lack of appreciation from their customers, and customers frustrated at the slow pace of systems implementation and poor quality of service. These disconnects are disappointing but often understandable, given that IT professionals are often unable to effectively manage their role of service providers by aligning their customers' expectations with their department's ability to deliver services. Here are four lessons we've learned in working with IT departments and our own customers.

Attitude

Attitude is everything in business and in life, and there are hundreds of books available on how to build and maintain a success-oriented attitude. I won't duplicate that literature, nor is it our place to help you feel good about yourself. Managing your customers is essential to your success, however, so we need to cover a few basics.

IT professionals often disconnect with customers early by not having the right perspective. IT professionals consider themselves computer scientists rather than businesspeople or service providers. But we're in the service business, not the science business. Your customers care as much about computer technology as automobile drivers care about combustion technology. It's your job to align yourself with your customer's needs, and explain your services in their terms, not yours.

The second attitude disconnect is the failure to understand the basic human psychology of expectation and satisfaction. Keep commitments. If you promise five widgets and deliver six, the customer is happy. If you promise five and deliver four, he's disappointed. He may get over his disappointment and adjust to the reality, but you won't get full credit for your hard work.

Resist the temptation to alleviate short-term stress by over-promising future products.

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