Many corporate functions need to communicate to their internal customers.
Many of them do. And they do it a lot … mostly via long e-mails addressed to the whole organization!
Many of us have been there. Below are some tips for making customer comms work for an IT function.
They come from my experience and in no way am I trying to say that the list is complete.
- Understand what IT wants to communicate to the customer
You might be surprised. Initially, there is a perception that what needs to be communicated is obvious.
Keep asking questions. What do we want our customers to know / to be able to do / to think of us as a function? Do we know about all of the projects in the pipeline?
What do they plan to say to our customers? When?
- Set up a governance group
Once you’ve started answering all the question above you will understand that there is too much information for a comms professional to be able to handle, and it keeps on coming.
Setting up a governance group might be a good approach.
Depending on the structure of your organization I would recommend having representatives from Customer Service, IT projects, and programs, a senior member of the IT leadership team and a representative from the central internal communications function.
My recommendations for the objectives of this group are the following:
- Discuss upcoming customer-facing projects requiring comms
- Prioritize project comms and change resources
- Assign comms / change support as / where / if needed
- Agree on final comms content to avoid multiple rounds
- Agree on the triage system
This might be trivial but has helped me a lot in many discussions on why we need or do NOT need to communicate on certain projects.
I use a simple 3×3 matrix with the severity of upcoming change on one side and the number of affected customers on the other.
Once you plot all the projects on the matrix it helps you make calls on comms priorities and channels. It even helps you stop some unnecessary noise-contributing-comms.
If the upcoming IT change is self-explanatory, will not require a user to do anything. and will affect only 10% of users, why would we issue a carpet-bombing e-mail with a 10-page manual that no one will read?
- Agree on the approval process
Now you have your governance group and you have your triage matrix. You have all your comms plans lined up (that is my dream – never happened to me yet though!) – you need to agree who is going produce, edit and then approve the content.
My rule of thumb is that the initial content should come from the content owner.
Then, depending on the available resources, a comms professional would help to edit the content. It is then the content owner and the comms professional who will start circulating the drafts for approvals.
I usually apply the triage matrix to the development and approval process. The higher the score of the project in the matrix, the higher the approval level goes.
Most of the time it involves all of the members of the Governance Group – this is why it is good to set up frequent meetings for this group: you get them in one room and save time on circulating endless draft versions.
- Develop A Technology Roadmap
This is what customers understand, this is what IT colleagues like to see, but yet this is something that is very difficult to pull together.
I’ve discovered over the years that one of the reasons for this difficulty is fear of commitment.
What if we commit to Windows 10 launch in Q3 and it will not happen? My unequivocal answer is: it is better to put the launch in for Q3 and re-evaluate towards the end of Q2 – and then reschedule if necessary – rather than not to put it on the roadmap at all.
A roadmap has to be seen and recognized as a living document. On this note, never forget to add “last revised on…” to every version you issue.
- Identify the most influential customer touch points (for delivering information and for bringing in feedback from the fields)
In one of the companies I worked with, the best touch points were Service Managers.
They had their schedules for meeting customers face to face, presenting at their team meetings, managing local crisis.
We identified this as the best channel to engage with the customer. Beware: whoever you will identify as your customer touchpoint would most probably have their hands full already.
So, try to make their job easier – formulate your request clearly, provide clear directions and support materials.
And make an effort to set up time with them to listen to how customers react to comms: what works, what doesn’t.
- Work with the wider organization’s Internal Comms Team
You might think that IT changes are the most important ones to communicate, but you might be in competition there with such usual suspects as HR with benefits announcements or Central Internal Comms teams clearing up comms space for quarterly results campaigns.
Work with central coms. If you have your draft plan already, it is so much easier to readjust than to find out last minute that your important piece cannot go out on the day you wanted to.
- Reach out to all IT teams to make them aware of the process
Having a wonderful process, a triage matrix and a governance group might be all good, but if your IT managers are not aware of it, it’s a waste of time.
Invest time into going around team meetings, socializing the model, explaining how it works, how it can help.
- Educate IT colleagues about good comms
When I go to team meetings to talk about the customer comms governance if I have time I talk about what good comms is.
When managers reach out to me for editorial help I do not just edit and send it back, I make sure I explain what I have done.
I discovered that the Microsoft Word function to perform a readability test worked wonders with my IT colleagues.
It provided the comfort of numerical evaluation of their texts – they then seemed to understand why such texts (long sentences, passive voice, polluted with abbreviations) are difficult for the customers to read.
And no, running a readability test once did not change overnight how some colleagues write, but it definitely began building awareness, which is a great start.
- Reach out to customers to hear what they want
We all do this – we think we know it best. I discover again and again that our customers know it even “bester”. And they actually do have an opinion about IT. They are happy to share – we just need to arrange a room and buy pastries for coffee!
My favorite group to get new ideas from are graduates. Their minds are still fresh and haven’t been ingrained with corporate dogmas and the corrosive ‘it’s not possible’.
They genuinely believe things can change for the better.
They also happen to be the most tech-savvy in the company and they give great future-focused advice.