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CIOs are refocusing their staffs on customer-centric IT

Julia King | June 2, 2015
CIOs are giving their teams new marching orders to turn their attention from internal matters to external customers, who have ultra-high expectations.

customer centric it

Personal. Helpful. Simple.

None of those words is typically associated with the process of checking in for a flight at the airport. That's precisely why JetBlue Airways is getting rid of check-ins entirely.

"We went through a mapping of our processes and decided check-in was meaningless in that it added no value to the customer," says CIO Eash Sundaram. So IT rolled out a new system whereby certain customers are automatically checked in 24 hours prior to their flights. (The automatic check-in service will be extended to all JetBlue passengers in the next year or so.)

The no-check-in initiative is part of JetBlue's all-out push to deliver superlative customer service, which the airline sums up in its mantra of "personal, helpful, simple." In addition, Sundaram says IT focuses on being proactive rather than reactive.

"At the airport, we don't ask the questions of 'What's your name? Where are you going,'" he says. "We have already mapped all the touch points and eliminated those that add no value to the customer. We put people in front of our processes and look at all of our products through the customer lens."

Increasingly, a customer-centric approach is a matter of competitive advantage, even business survival. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to Walker Information, a national consulting firm focused on customer intelligence. Thanks largely to the explosion of digital technologies and the acceleration of innovation, "customers will be more informed and in charge of the experience they receive," Walker says. To be relevant in 2020, companies "must emphasize proactive and personalized service."

At JetBlue, says Sundaram, getting IT to this level of customer focus involved "a big mindset shift [because] IT was accustomed to thinking in transactions. Instead, we wanted to look at the customer's airport experience."

For guidance in making this leap, Sundaram says he and his IT team looked to--and continue to emulate--highly regarded, customer-focused companies like Google, Apple and others outside of the airline industry. JetBlue also partnered with Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at the Stanford School of Engineering on multiweek projects to immerse JetBlue leaders, including many from IT, in a customer-focused case study of the airline. The program included classroom training plus field research at San Francisco International Airport to help executives better understand customers' needs and JetBlue's practices.

At the company's headquarters in New York, IT is a stand-alone organization, but IT employees are integrated into various functions, like marketing and operations. Sundaram also leads the company's multi­million-dollar customer experience innovation program, along with JetBlue's chief commercial officer and chief customer experience officer.


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