Careers Special Report 2015

4 ways for IT to connect better with customers

Top IT shops know the value of having users and IT work together to build better systems. The setup can benefit the business, and give IT workers a leg up in their careers.

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The relationship also helps spawn some of the smaller projects that benefit Valco, such as an initiative that added a couple of columns to a report for the shop floor. "If they didn't think IT would care, they would decide not to fight for it," Robinson says. "Once they know IT cares about how the business works, about efficiencies and ultimately service to the customer, then they're probably going to be more inclined to ask."

It's not always easy to coax the softer business skills out of his technology-minded staff, he concedes, citing his efforts to foster the art of "patient listening" — hearing all the facts before formulating an opinion.

"For IT people, their minds are running so far and so fast ahead that they already know what the solution is before the sentence is complete from the business person," Robinson says. "We need to not do that. It's kind of tough at times."

To keep listening top of mind among IT people, Robinson often holds debriefings after customer meetings to go over what transpired and suggest ways that his staffers can improve their interpersonal skills.

But there are also pitfalls to constantly driving IT people to interact with business people. "It does tend to thin the herd of your IT people," Robinson explains, noting that some techies will always prefer staying in the back office.

He urges managers to cultivate curiosity among IT employees. "Ask IT staff, ‘Why are you doing this? How does this help our end customer?'" he suggests. "It's that curious nature that drives everything."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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