The 24/7 CIO: Are you really open for business?

The Web offers cheap and easy access for our clients (internal or external) to access services 24/7. As a result, our Web stores and public facing sites have become “must be available” on the same basis. But how many of us actually follow through?

Catching up on bills on a recent weekend, I was doing Internet banking, paying a parking ticket and checking a utility bill. Except for the annoyance of having to remember and type in passwords (being able to view my recent electricity usage requires more security than accessing my bank accounts), everything was fine. Fine, at least until I needed to check on a health insurance claim. As soon as the screen flashed up, I remembered, again. While this company prides itself on customer service, promising 24/7, I have yet to ever get access outside of standard office hours. In this case, I got a generic message, paraphrased as “we’re normally available 24/7, but we guess since you got this message that we must doing some sort of software maintenance. Here’s our hotline number, staffed Monday-Friday during office hours.” 

Needless to say, this experience is not good customer service. Maybe I’m just incredibly unlucky that I have only tried the few times that maintenance was actually in progress, but I doubt it. This certainly wouldn’t happen in a Web store environment, where no service is understood to be no business and lost future visits. More likely this stems from a corporate culture of the customer is captive, so they have to follow our rules, perhaps coupled with classic “lipstick on the elephant “ architecture; that is, a nice Web portal to an ancient batch system that really hasn’t changed since the 70s. Talk about creating an opportunity for your competition! 

Before you dismiss this as “well that’s them, I’m OK,” perhaps you should take a more careful look at all of your services as they are delivered, not against the standards of your industry, but to the standards of the Web consumer, whether a paying customer or your own employees, where anytime, anywhere is the expectation. Using some old management clichés, this is shifting the thinking from “we’re no worse than anyone else” to “we’re here for you whenever and wherever you decide you need us.”

Going from 99.7% availability to 100% is non-trivial in both cost and staff resourcing. Determining what services need to be continuously available isn’t easy. Here’s where you, the CIO, can take a leadership role by changing the paradigm from a narrow focus of delivering what your business unit client asks for to one that is strategic: what is needed to deliver truly excellent customer service? For example, do you track how many times your “sorry and go away until Monday” pages are hit and offer a form to leave a message and promise follow-up? Or perhaps include a short survey when your site is up asking “how are we doing?” And you’re using social media; what is being said there?     

It’s about using our roles as IT leaders and experience as customers to do our real job: improve our organization’s ability to be successful. Our competition is Google, Facebook, and the other major utilities. We’re not in the same business, but they set the rules for presence on the Internet: continuous, robust full service. Imagine what a weekend blackout of Google would be. Can’t you see the governmental special commissions following days of apocalyptic media commentary and sharply devalued stock prices, probably triggering a U.S. Congressional investigation, and a call in Canada for a royal commission on how to lessen our dependence on foreign information services? 

To your customers, being turned away when they need access sends the message that you don’t care about them. It leaves them wondering why you don’t care when they’re paying you for a service, while the “free” services are always there. More importantly, the answer to the question of whether one of your competitors can do better is only a few clicks of the mouse away.   

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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