Think Tank: Beyond service management

Most IT service organisations have adopted ITIL or similar service management disciplines. Service management requires new processes for users. Service is provided only after a service request is raised, new initiatives need a business justification, service level agreements need to be in place, and the list goes on. Any experienced IT manager knows that certain disciples are necessary to be able to deliver reliable and cost effective IT service.

Many IT groups are so bound by processes and rules that they forget about end customer satisfaction. Some customers find the processes cumbersome but just stop complaining. Others find the process of justification too difficult and their legitimate needs are not met.

Here are some approaches I have used to move from service management towards service excellence and high customer satisfaction.

Understand the Business

IT organisations exist to support and enable the business. If IT staff — and I am not just talking about the business analysts — don’t understand the business, the ability of IT to provide excellent service is hampered. In the case of a communication failing to branch or store, I have seen IT staff entirely focused on service standards for their silo without having any idea of the real impact it is having on the business and customers. Improving IT boffins’ business understanding is not difficult, but it does require a sustained effort, especially when the IT group is large and not co-located with the users.

Visit the key operating areas: Regular visits by small IT teams to see the business operations is a must. The idea is to meet the users of the systems and technology. See how well the systems and technologies support the staff do their job. Are they reliable? What happens when systems fail or are slow? Are the systems too difficult to use? Is there a training issue? The aim is to learn what is happening and to avoid the temptation to provide instant solutions.

Learn the business language: Every business has its own terminology and language. Teach IT staff the basics — accounting, supply chain terminology or investment banking, for example. Common language creates a greater understanding, breaks down silos and develops empathy.

Business analysis skills: IT staff have a tendency to provide instant solutions before they fully understand the problem. Learning how to ask questions, understanding the situation fully, and gathering and analysing facts helps ensure you are solving the right problems and providing good solutions.

Operational account management: The concept of account relationship managers is not new. Typically account managers focus on strategy and other big-ticket issues because they usually don’t have the time or desire to be bogged down with smaller issues.

Next: Focus on operational issues

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Focus on operational issues

Use experienced service leaders to proactively focus on operational issues that affect the performance of the operating units. Assign them a small budget to authorise minor equipment upgrades or other improvements that address niggling issues. Larger issues would be escalated to relationship managers.

An example: In one organisation, remote branches had very old PCs and others had a very slow network. The users hadn’t reported the problems; they may have in the past but no action was taken. The organisation replaced the PCs from the refresh budget and upgraded the lines at a minimal cost, thereby demonstrating that IT cares about user needs and is proactive.

Operational account managers will regularly meet with team leaders and managers from business areas to understand their problems. They will (along with team visits) identify training gaps, issues with ageing equipment, systems usability issues and other process issues. At times, they act as user champions inside IT to improve level of service and customer satisfaction.

Service desk

Most organisations now run a central IT service desk. Using a service desk as a single point of contact for routine service requests is an established practice. Here are a few tips to improve the service desk:

Measure customer satisfaction: Most service desks measure performance in a number of ways. Key measures include calls answered within a defined time, calls abandoned, calls per agent and first call resolution (how many problems were fixed in the first call, for example). Measuring customer satisfaction for a random selection of closed (and open) requests gives timely and specific feedback on the performance of the service desk, and can be achieved by follow up calls or emails soon after. This satisfaction measure should be used in addition to monthly or quarterly satisfaction measures, as the latter tend to measure the overall service.

Use of self-service: Many common problems, like password resets, result in a lot of users making phone calls to the IT service desk (especially on Monday mornings). Using self-service tools for these types of problems frees IT staff from boring tasks. There are many good examples of self-service used by Microsoft, Google and eBay using frequently asked questions (FAQ), diagnostic tips, software downloads and password resets. With a small investment the techniques can be used in the enterprise as well.

>b>Use of Web 2.0: Another way to encourage self-help is put solutions to common problems on a Wiki, blog or message board. Allowing users to post and contribute to the site would enrich the knowledge base. However, care should be taken to monitor the forum so that ‘bad practices’ do not propagate. Web forums are also helpful to identify areas where applications or services can be improved.

Next: Customer centric metrics

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Customer centric metrics

Most IT organisations measure availability of the servers, websites and the network, which often have only a loose correlation with the actual user experience.

For example, network and servers may be working but a key business process may be running slowly due to an application issue or overload. In addition to measuring the availability of the servers, therefore, CIOs should take steps to introduce customer centric measures.

Align measures to key business processes: The first step is to identify the key business processes (loan approval or store checkout process, for example) that are important for external customer service. The second step is to identify what system or systems enable the service to perform at an acceptable level. The third step is to measure the performance (availability and response times) of the systems and report these measures. The metrics clearly demonstrate how well IT systems support actual business performance.

Customer-centric measures create a direct and measurable link between business operations, customer service and IT service. The measures help the IT staff to focus on more granular service indicators. In the retail environment, for example, measuring store checkout down time is more important than server or network availability. Existing system performance measurement tools can be used for these measures.

Communication during outages

One of the major bugbears in many businesses is the lack of information from IT about major changes and outages.

It becomes an important issue during major systems problems and installations. The IT team may be working very hard to fix the issue, but the business users have no visibility of what is going on and feel that IT is not taking their issues seriously.

Incidence manager: It is critical to assign the responsibility of communicating with key managers and team leaders during outages. The person cannot be involved in the nitty-gritty of solving the problem but must focus on providing timely communications and updates via the available channels, such as recorded messages, phone calls, website updates and meeting key staff. Support the incidence manager with incidence coordinators.

Be visible: In one instance, an intermittent problems with a business process, was affecting the business. We placed a technical person in the area for a couple of days. In addition to getting timely and reliable data on the problem, IT was able to demonstrate empathy and urgency, which went a long way towards improving service satisfaction. Similarly, having people on ground during major changes can boost confidence and lead to speedy problem reporting. This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas. Key thoughts here are to go beyond impersonal processes of service management and develop better business understanding, empathy and trust, leading to improved customer satisfaction.

Hemant Kogekar is the principal of Kogekar Consulting. He has previously held CIO/IT director positions with Suncorp, Citigroup and Franklins.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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