Let The User Dialogue Begin…ITaaS Focus Groups Are An Important Step

Any good business owner will tell you, getting inside your customer’s head through firsthand interaction is invaluable for shaping services and products to meet their needs. And the value of user feedback on our new IT-as-a-Service catalogue is no exception.

That’s why I was excited recently to participate in our first focus groups to get business users’ thoughts on our new service catalogue portal, through which they will request services – the focal point of EMC IT’s transition from a traditional IT operation to an ITaaS model.

It wasn’t just what the eight business users from Massachusetts and Ireland had to say about the portal design, though their comments were immensely helpful. It was also the fact that we have begun this vital conversion for understanding their experiences and perspectives. After months of weighing whether we were ready to engage them, we are now hearing from them. The door is open to communicating with those we are trying to best serve. Positive or negative, I was fascinated to hear whatever they had to say and I can’t wait to hear more.

In the precision-oriented IT industry in general, and at EMC specifically, we tend to be so focused on perfecting a process before going forward that it gets in the way of taking action. We are inclined, for instance, to want all the focus group questions “baked” before beginning a dialogue with users.

In reality, however, you don’t need to have all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed to begin a useful exchange with clients. These conversations can’t be totally scripted; and they shouldn’t be. When it comes to customer focus groups, it’s better to err on the side of quicker and more often.

It’s true that you don’t know what you’ll hear from clients and you may even be unsure what questions you should ask. But isn’t that the point? Go out and get started and figure out how to improve the process as you go along.

So our two debut focus groups, held with a handful of participants getting a limited glimpse of our catalogue design, represent an important first step for EMC IT. After all, we’re transitioning from a centralized agency that has long dictated what users could consume in a command economy – to a responsive service provider seeking to win their business by meeting their wants and needs. That means IT will need to continue reaching out to its users to get their feedback. This is a skill we need to hone going forward. The more we do it, the better we’ll get.

The nuances of focus groups are interesting. It isn’t always what clients are saying, but how they’re saying it, that is useful. In fact, some marketing experts, including Harvard professor Jerry Zaltman, suggest that most of customers’ preferences are actually rooted in their subconscious. Zaltman created a patented process called the Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique, or ZMET, in which subjects are asked to explain with images, not just words, their true feelings about products and services.

Getting IT users to express themselves with image exercises may be a bit extreme for an initial IT foray into customer focus groups. But don’t discount the value of getting inside your users’ heads as your company makes the transition to ITaaS.

The trick is to get introverted technology folks to take the plunge and begin interacting and that may require setting up a group of dedicated people to drive the outreach effort. Remember that first conversations are liable to take a while to set up, but the process should get easier from there.

The results are almost a guaranteed win-win because you’re building a long-term capability, figuring out how to conduct conversations around quality with customers much more broadly that just front-line sales people. Potentially you can even get customers participating in helping to demonstrate the tools and evangelize ITaaS.

For the most part, users have plenty to say about their wants and needs. All you have to do is ask.

If you have some insights you’d like to share about your company’s efforts to get IT user feedback, we’d like to hear from you.

About the Author: Dell Technologies