IT Customer Service: Does Your Team Have the Right Mindset?
For many CIOs, the idea of providing good customer service is far from exciting. Many equate "service" with being subservient, reactive and weak. But, in fact, the opposite is true today. Now that business needs technology more than ever - and new types of technology sources are appearing almost daily -- internal IT is no longer the only game in town. Businesses will choose the provider that can deliver the fastest, most responsive service at the best cost.
The ability to provide consistently high levels of service can be the deciding factor for whether internal IT makes the cut. In fact, customer service is the foundation for creating a new, high-performing IT culture that enjoys a solid level of trust and credibility, securing its position as an integral part of the business.
But good service doesn't just happen. It's not about "being all things to all people" or catering to the squeakiest wheel; nor should service be "something Joe provides," hinging on friendships formed between individual IT personnel and business clients. Instead, service should be an attitude, the glue that holds together the entire IT organization and flows out to the enterprise.
Five Ways to Develop an IT Service Mindset
To cultivate that attitude, CIOs need to develop a service strategy that guides the IT organization toward adopting a client-focused mentality and imbuing a culture of customer service. Here are five crucial ways for CIOs to develop a service mindset, which is essential for launching a successful service strategy.
1. Know what "good service" looks like. Good service is not subservience. It starts with understanding - and really caring about - the client's goals and concerns. It involves being fully engaged with the interaction at hand and conveying a willingness to serve by addressing the client's needs with respect and concern.
Characteristics of good service include:
addressing issues promptly and courteously
working to understand the client's needs
going out of your way to resolve an issue
being easy to work with and approaching issues constructively
Done well, the business client will walk away thinking, "I really like working with these people!"
2. Develop a "we" mindset. Service is a team sport, where a good pass or run-batted-in is more important than being the IT all-star. The more the team depends on one player's performance, the less chance it has of winning. The "we" mentality is important on several levels. First, the IT organization itself needs to be unified so that it works together in a positive and fluid way. Given the complexity and ever-changing nature of technology, IT's only chance for success is to break down the silos and work as one, cohesive, cross-functional team. Then, when the business gets a consistent experience from all IT staff members, it nurtures loyalty and trust. The IT organization should also feel it's on the same team as the business, replacing a mentality that is too often combative and "us vs. them." IT and the business are both part of the same community, one that should feel a vested interest in doing the best job for the company.
3. Learn to love complaints. Who could love a complaint, right? Well, what if you stripped out the emotion and simply heard complaints as information to which you otherwise wouldn't be privy -- insights that might enable you to take action before something worse happens? Complaints are often your clients' main form of communication, so you should treasure and encourage them. They are a learning opportunity, your chance to get it right. To interpret complaints in this constructive way,you need to develop a new way of responding to them, which includes four steps:
thanking the person lodging the complaint
gathering more information about what went wrong
apologizing for the circumstances
asking how you can help.
4. Make every interaction count. Every impression counts when it comes to providing good service. These interactions are often called "moments of truth," which leave clients with an impression of IT's performance, whether positive or negative. In the average IT organization, hundreds or thousands of these moments of truth occur every day. Clients form impressions every time they encounter IT, from the first voice they hear when calling the help desk, to the subject line of an e-mail, to the first link they click on IT's Web site. Moments of truth can even include tone of voice and body language. Moments of truth can work to IT's benefit or detriment. Just one negative experience can cause the client's impression to sour, while it takes 12 positive interactions to repair the negative one, according to industry statistics. If you map out the service you provide into moments of truth, you can start to understand how clients experience the IT organization and begin making micro-improvements that can have a huge impact.
5. See service as a strategy. It's not enough for individual IT professionals to offer good customer service. The real call to action is for the entire IT department to undergo a cultural shift. It's up to the IT leader to not only acknowledge that it's crucial to craft a service strategy but to also communicate the strategy and be sure it's used consistently by all members of the IT staff. There are three elements involved in making this happen:
Never stop talking about service. IT leaders who want to build and sustain a service culture talk about the issue all the time, incorporating it into meetings, newsletters and presentations as well as performance measurements.
Clearly define your service level offerings. IT should not offer the same level of service to all clients. Think strategically to define several levels of service - say, basic, enhanced and premium -- and decide how to apply those levels based on the needs and expectations of your clients. Understand your clients' expectations and then focus on what you can do to meet them.
Engage clients in the culture shift. A service strategy will only be successful if your staff sees things through the eyes of the client. Invite clients into the process and ask them to share their impressions of IT service. This can be a painful experience, but in the end, it's far better for IT to hear these assessments than for the client to share them with someone else.
Successfully developing a service strategy requires leadership to affect culture change from the top down, and it requires every member of the IT team to become engaged in a new mentality of delivering technology services. By making some key adjustments, CIOs can help their organizations redefine themselves as a provider not of technology but of business impacting service.
About the Author
Dan Roberts is the CEO and President of Ouellette & Associates and contributing author of the book "Unleashing the Power of IT," which is based on helping more than 3,000 IT organizations build and sustain a world class, service-oriented workforce and culture.