DAILY INSIGHT: Customers—what do they know?

Focus groups help this tech department better serve its customers. 
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Focus groups help this tech department better serve its customers. 

By Rich Valerga, CIO Advisor

I’ve often thought of the disparity between serving customers in the technology world and providing customer service in almost any other industry.

Most of us in the technology world don’t even call them customers. They are “end users.” In the business world, they are elevated to “clients.” Other industries call them consumers, shoppers, prospects, or things of that nature. But we tend to call them “users,” which implies that they “use” us. Or maybe they “use” our services? Perhaps. Either way, it’s not a very flattering term and our department does not use it, preferring to refer to them as our “customers.”

So now that we know what to call them, do we know what to do with them? Other than help them obtain the academic goals for the district, build and support the infrastructure, etc. I’m talking big picture. If you look at the trends today, they are all about how technology can help you “reach” or “stay in touch with” your customers better. But there is not much out there about how customerscan help technology reach them more effectively or maximize utilization.

It may seem old school, but a method we have used time and again with great success is the focus group. We recently deployed an updated service-management tool. We took the time to have separate focus groups with administrators, school-based customers, and service technicians prior to the product deployment.

In our first meeting, we had a WebEx to discuss the current service-management tool and get their feedback about it. We were able to take that feedback, make modifications to the interface, and bring them back for an in-person focus group to discuss the new “look and feel.” Our customers were overwhelmingly pleased because they were heard, involved in the process, given ownership, and got the chance to make a huge impact on the future of service management in the district.

Despite what you may think, the people who often know your products and services best are your customers. The technology industry can no longer continue to operate in a vacuum with no input from the people they provide for. Ironically, technology has brought Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, You Tube, and many other social media platforms front and center to allow customers to call companies out on their derelict customer service. We can either embrace that feedback or hide from it. We chose to embrace it and learn from it because that’s what makes us better at serving our students and our customers.

Rich Valerga is CIO for Memphis City Schools.