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What every CIO could learn from Tufts University about understanding the customer experience.

by Michael Maoz  |  March 19, 2014  |  2 Comments

Tufts University, with a campus on the outskirts of Boston filled with bright, eclectic students, has introduced an amazing program that every CEO should consider for their CIOs hoping to understand the business better.  Full disclosure: Tufts is a family Alma Mater. They do not excel at most sports. They do have a statue of a PT Barnum circus elephant in the courtyard that serves as the mascot (all that is left of the original circus elephant are ashes from the accidently-cremated Jumbo, lovingly and whimsically kept in a peanut-butter jar). And they have a deep, renaissance commitment to learning.

Their commitment is to great depth in a discipline, while creating the Renaissance person – the polymath – young women and men who can tap into insights from multiple disciplines to solve a problem. Now to our CIOs: Tufts has launched a program where incoming students have the option of applying for a “Gap Year” prior to beginning their studies where they see another part of the country or world. You can see details here: http://bit.ly/1kYXkP6, but they are not the point. The point is: Imagine if our CIOs had the opportunity to be paid to spend a year living on the front line serving the customer?

In a popular US television show, CEOs go out and see what it is like to be a lower-end employee. The point there is to see what it is like to be an employee. But what is it like to be a customer? How does the customer perceive your channel strategy? Do they live the experiences the way that you engineered them? Do they love your mobile apps the way they love Uber or are you as quirky as Cloak, or do customers want to use your mobile chat the way that they do WECHAT (China) of Nimbuzz (India) or Kik (Canada) or Kakaotalk (Korea)? Do they love you on Twitter like Mashable? Is your Facebook site as active as Upworthy? As likeable as the Huffington Post? Does anyone love the technical grooviness you offer the way that they love Twitch? Would anyone compare your iPad app to Houzz? Or the level of great advice to Betterment.com?

If you, as a CIO, do not know all of the sites that I listed, you are already in trouble. Why? Because you do not have any idea what the best sites and apps provide. It also means that you are stuck deep in various forms of techno- and process- bias. A bit of Confirmation Bias and a bit of Overconfidence Bias (don’t trust my explanation – see http://bit.ly/1ejYWiq and others), leading you (as we all do!!) to prefer your own information, and to see information as confirming your world view.

So: out into the world you go, dear CIO – live at the end of the road where your technology touches the end customer. We’ll pay you for the experience. Keep carefull records. Take pictures, record voices, write notes, kick the tires of the competition.

The world is an endlessly changing place – process, likes, technologies, customer habits. I just got off of a plane from Tel Aviv, where I met over 75 companies in seven days. Techno-Speed Dating. I experienced marvels like 24-year-old PhDs who’d completed university at 15, and secret military projects that look like social networking startups. Geeks in green. And a City Hall where anyone can enter their apartment number online and receive the building layout, apartment size, location, taxes, local building permits planned and outstanding, average taxes for like-real estate across the city, and more. All without leaving your iPad. And insurance companies like AIG with a “Safe Drive” program where sensors inside of your vehicle determine your driving patterns and compare them to what is legal, and then rebalance the cost of your insurance accordingly. Today that is “Wow.” Tomorrow it will be a standard across the world.

Get out there. And have your CEO read this! You are in your role because you are razor smart and love how technology and process meet. Don’t let them dry you out!

Seen any good CIO programs to get you out into the world of the customer? Let us know….

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Michael Maoz
VP Distinguished Analyst
13 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Michael Maoz is a research vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His research focuses on CRM and customer-centric Web strategies. Mr. Maoz is the research leader for both the customer service and support strategies area and customer-centric Web… Read Full Bio


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