There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the prevailing thinking among IT organizations was that what we deliver is more important than how we deliver it. Today\u2019s most successful CIOs recognize that service missteps can make or break their team\u2019s reputation. A culture of service excellence ensures that the IT organization is viewed and heard as a valued partner to the business.\n\nWhat does it take to achieve IT service excellence? For starters, it helps to know what we\u2019re talking about. Being service-oriented doesn\u2019t mean being subservient. And a good service strategy isn\u2019t about being all things to all people.\n\nIn a recent virtual roundtable discussion, five technology executives shared their experiences and best practices in building a service-oriented IT culture and workforce. Joining in the discussion were Brian Abrahamson, associate laboratory director and chief digital officer for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Renee Ghent, SVP of customer operations at HealthEdge; Karen Juday, former director of IT client support at UCLA and director of IT customer service at the University of Southern California, now a service excellence facilitator with Ouellette & Associates; Dr. Milo\u0161 Topi\u0107, VP of IT and chief digital officer at Grand Valley State University; and David Vidoni, VP of IT at Pegasystems.\n\nWhat a service-oriented IT mindset looks like\n\nWhile these CxOs represent diverse industries, their approaches to service have many common themes. Chief among them is shifting from an us-versus-them mentality about IT and the business to an attitude of \u201cwe.\u201d\n\n\u201cI think we\u2019ve done the IT industry a disservice by constantly referring to IT and the business, artificially creating this wedge,\u201d says Pegasystems\u2019 Vidoni. \u201cWe\u2019re all in it for the same reasons \u2014\u00a0to deliver better outcomes to customers and make sure that our organizations are successful. So we have to change the mindset on both sides, and we need to be playing off of each other\u2019s strengths to have a common goal.\u201d\n\nThat\u2019s a completely different perspective from the view that service is about taking orders and responding to requests. By contrast, PNNL\u2019s Abrahamson says a service-oriented IT culture should help build a foundation of trust so that IT is viewed as an equal partner. And part of that comes from being able to speak the language of the business and proactively thinking about what would best serve the client.\n\n\u201cService excellence really comes down to understanding the client\u2019s needs and how we can we make them as productive as possible to quickly deliver their solutions,\u201d says Vidoni.\n\nThose clients could be internal or external, and in fact, there are many lessons from the external customer experience that IT organizations can and should be applying internally as well.\n\nThe secret sauce that we\u2019re trying to capitalize on is bringing those consumer-grade experiences into the workplace,\u201d Abrahamson says. \u201cAfter all, we\u2019re all consumers \u2014 and as consumers we\u2019ve been conditioned to expect simple, easy experiences. Why should it be any different in the workplace?\u201d\n\nTo make this experienced-focused mindset central to their service strategy, his team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory follows a credo that emphasizes three major elements: bold, effortless, and personal.\n\nBeing bold means acting as thought leaders to bring big ideas forward or expand on others\u2019 ideas. Effortless is \u201can obsessive focus on simplicity so we become the grease on everything we do, because top-notch scientists don\u2019t come here to get caught up in bureaucratic processes,\u201d he says.\n\nThe third aspect, personalization, is one that many technology executives are heavily focused on today, particularly now that we have the analytics and automation to make experiences more individualized. Service personalization is about making customers \u201cfeel like a human, not a number,\u201d as Abrahamson says.\n\nExecuting on that principle requires IT professionals to be fully dialed in to mission and purpose. \u201cIt\u2019s really easy to say, \u2018I\u2019m just writing code. I\u2019m just processing an eligibility file,\u2019\u201d HealthEdge\u2019s Ghent notes. \u201cTo humanize the experience, our engineers have to recognize that everything they do is making a better healthcare system for individuals.\u201d\n\nThat\u2019s what brings the emphasis back to impact. When IT professionals proactively look for ways to better serve and address client needs, they not only build up stronger connections with their business partners; they also tend to get brought in early on in the decision-making process \u2014 instead of at the last minute when they\u2019re relegated to clean-up crew. \n\nWhile many technology teams still struggle to get invited to that first meeting, building trust through consistent service excellence can be the game-changer. Topi\u0107\u2019s advice: \u201cFind a way to be present, to lead, to move things forward, but not make it about yourself. Make it about that impact.\u201d\n\nMeasuring what matters\n\nAnother reason it\u2019s important to understand what service excellence really means is that it will help you measure the right things and ensure you\u2019re getting a full picture of customer satisfaction and engagement.\n\n\u201cI think we fell into the trap of just focusing on metrics around responsiveness, how quickly we were resolving tickets, how many calls were abandoned, things like that,\u201d Vidoni shares. \u201cThe problem with that is it was creating a watermelon effect, where everything looked green from the outside, but if you poked a bit deeper, you\u2019d find pockets of red \u2014 the true level of satisfaction and engagement with the service.\u201d\n\nHis team still looks at those metrics, but now they also look at more qualitative aspects of their services, such as how employees feel about the technology and how productive they are with it.\n\nIn Ghent\u2019s organization, the qualitative data was already there, it just wasn\u2019t being shared with her team. As a result, they were missing not just the comments about what needed to be improved but also the positive feedback and appreciation for what the team was doing to go above and beyond to get problems addressed.\n\n\u201cNow we get those results every quarter, and I sit down and review them with the entire team,\u201d Ghent says. \u201cWe go through the negative comments, but we also get to celebrate the positive things our customers are saying about us. It didn\u2019t cost us anything, and it has helped us reorient our team to having more purpose and pride in the work that they\u2019re doing.\u201d\n\nOuellette\u2019s Juday, who completed her doctoral dissertation on improving customer satisfaction through IT service excellence, agrees that responsiveness is only the tip of the iceberg. In training for IT professionals, she uses The RATER Model, originally published in the book Delivering Quality Service, by Valarie Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman, and Leonard Berry:\n\nIf you\u2019re not getting the full data to help you gauge progress and areas for improvement, Vidoni advises, \u201cReach out and work with those departments to cultivate champions who can help advocate on your behalf \u2014 to bubble up those comments and feedback that you may not be hearing. It\u2019s important to build trust at that level as well.\u201d\n\nBuilding a service-oriented culture\n\nLike any cultural effort, creating a service-oriented culture is a continual and multifaceted process, not a one-and-done event.\n\nAbrahamson keeps the momentum strong through continual reinforcement and sharing real-world examples of what excellent service looks like. \u201cWe\u2019ll tell credo stories on an all-staff call, talking about the act of making something effortless or the act of personalizing some part of what you do for a customer,\u201d he says. \u201cIt\u2019s about celebrating those accomplishments and making them very real. You need the entire organization thinking about how you simplify and personalize the experience, not just the management team.\u201d\n\nIn addition to a supportive environment, Juday\u2019s research emphasizes the role of leadership, particularly in terms of setting goals and rewarding service quality. Adds GVSU\u2019s Topi\u0107, \u201cYou really have to model the behavior you want to see. I believe that everything begins and ends with those leadership positions. They make a huge difference.\u201d\n\nTopi\u0107 points out that this isn\u2019t just about the leaders at the top of the org chart; direct leaders play an outsize role in what the culture actually becomes.\n\n\u201cA friend of mine uses the acronym SIP: You have to be supportive, inspirational, and positive, even when you\u2019re not feeling that way, because the real change is when you propagate it down across teams. If people get one message from me, but something else from their immediate supervisor, and then there\u2019s somebody between us who\u2019s not following that path all the way down and across, it causes fragmentation and confusion,\u201d he says.\n\nAt an individual level, people have to be motivated to deliver on service excellence and understand what\u2019s in it for them.\n\n\u201cThat also goes back to the influence of leaders, who need to say, \u2018This is important to us,\u2019 and then they need to show it by rewarding service excellence,\u201d Juday says.\n\nAnother important piece of motivation is feeling confident that you have the skills to deliver excellent service. Many IT professionals are keenly focused right now on developing their technical competencies but aren\u2019t getting the training they need to become better at service delivery.\n\nIncreasingly, CIOs are recognizing that service and other \u201csoft skills\u201d training is core to IT success today, and every bit as critical as technical expertise. According to Juday, after participating in training on achieving service excellence using The RATER Model, her team\u2019s customer response time improved from 4-5 days to 4-6 hours.\n\nVidoni\u2019s team is also embarking on service excellence training, with an eye toward increasing their business value and impact. \u201cWe want to give the team the tools to feel more confident and comfortable to execute with consistency. I think this training will help reduce the friction with engagement, make it easier for teams to engage, make it a better experience for our stakeholders, and, ultimately, lead to better outcomes,\u201d he says.\n\nMaking every interaction count\n\nResearch shows that it takes 12 positive customer experiences to earn back the trust lost to one negative experience. These are the moments of truth that can make or break a relationship and strengthen or erode the team\u2019s credibility. Every touchpoint along the customer journey, whether big or small, counts. And just as often, as Abrahamson says, \u201cIt\u2019s the small stuff that matters most.\u201d\n\n\u201cWe tell our folks, everybody sells,\u201d says Ghent. \u201cEvery moment of every interaction with a customer, you are potentially selling a new line of business, a professional services contract, or something else. They are watching the experience that we provide to them.\u201d\n\nMapping out those moments of truth across all of the different touchpoints customers have with your organization is tremendously valuable in gauging service levels and pinpointing where improvement is needed. Just don\u2019t make it a theoretical experiment.\n\n\u201cGo experience them yourself,\u201d Topi\u0107 urges. \u201cI will get a cup of coffee and go into one of our largest libraries and sit with my back to the service desk, pretend to be on the phone, and listen to the experiences. Listen to the calls. I will make a call myself and see what the experience is. I will walk through those labs and see what the experience is. How long is the wait? Why are students standing in this corner and no one\u2019s greeting them? Live those experiences that will significantly influence the decisions you make.\u201d\n\nGetting started\n\nThese executives have generously provided a valuable window into the strategies, credos, leadership philosophies, tips, and tools they\u2019ve applied to build and sustain a service-oriented IT culture and workforce. Now, it\u2019s time to ask yourself:\n\nReach out to me if you would like to have a discussion around the \u201cmoments of truth,\u201d The RATER Model, and how to build a world class service team.\n\nThis article is part of an ongoing roundtable series with CIOs sharing their best practices and leadership advice on a variety of strategic workforce and development topics. Previously, 7 CIOs discussed building a consultative IT culture. The next CIO roundtable will explore the topic of leading change.