A recent newspaper column bemoaned the loss of the American service culture. It appears that the ‘customer is king’ culture perpetuated by large US corporates is fast disappearing and is being replaced with the ‘customer who spends loads is king’.

Apparently IT is to blame as more sophisticated CRM systems mean that the corporation no longer has to assume all its customers are equally likely to spend money – they know the big spenders, and concentrate on wooing them. But this seems odd when some products are harder to differentiate between and prices so low that cost is no longer a deciding factor. Service is the only thing customers use to choose between different companies and is the only thing that engenders customer loyalty.

Companies with a significant online presence seem to do better in the customer satisfaction stakes. The likes of Apple and Google score high as do operations like Tesco.com and fashion retailer Next’s online business.

The argument from researchers at the University of Michigan is that most companies still want to behave like their forefathers who were manufacturers. That is maximising profit through technology and ramp up productivity. Of course customer service is not particularly productivity enhancing, unless you are an online company. If you are then good, service not only increases sales but it also engenders strong customer loyalty, with effective websites stored on users’ favourites lists.

Some older companies worked this out long ago. Financial institutions have been using IT to balance productivity with customer service for years, and they have very high customer satisfaction levels.

Working together

Sharing knowledge and information has always been the route to success, but for large geographically dispersed organisations this has been difficult. Often operating in silos dictated by product groups or geography, businesses ran numerous duplicate systems with all the inherent inefficiencies that brought. This year collaborative working is a hot topic for many IT directors, and the continuing standardisation, componentisation and globalisation of infrastructure systems represent a great opportunity for organising knowledge management and collaborative working practises.

One IT director recently suggested that the two surges of the industry – regulatory compliance and decreased budgets − were the reasons that collaborative working was now a real possibility. Having to make economies, consolidate systems and really know what is going on in the company, means that most IT directors now have an unparalleled view of their organisations. Put this together with the increased availability of better, new reporting tools, then the opportunity to make a difference to the bottom-line through strategic use of IT has never been better.

Fluffy works

Most people know of someone who has been promoted out of their area of expertise to become a manager, with disastrous results and clichés – couldn’t run a bath, couldn’t manage his way out of a wet paper bag and couldn’t run a piss-up in a brewery.

Unsurprisingly, occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola found that 31 per cent of UK managers do not do any of the things normally associated with good management, like coaching and developing staff, and that most companies do not reward managers for exploiting good practises.

Many managers feel there just is not time to do it all and the so-called ‘soft skills’ of people management are the ones that get neglected – especially if there is no reward for doing them.

Again younger companies often with an online emphasis are better at people management, as are those companies in really closely competitive markets. Statistics from McKinsey have shown that companies with good management practises really are more productive and offer greater returns.

If you haven’t already, perhaps it is time to invest more time in your greatest assets. Delegate the day-to-day running of the organisation and all the boring compliance stuff, and take a close and fluffy look at your people. In the long run they are the key to your organisation’s future success and having the occasional piss-up in a brewery is very good for morale.