An Action Plan for Improving IT Customer Service

The first step for the CIO is to work on shifting the orientation and language of your IT team. This improves IT's reputation across the organization, which in turn improves morale. You'll find that your IT professionals are more inspired when they are viewed favorably by their users and their peers.

An improved departmental reputation results in the opportunity to increase collaboration with other departments and brings you into a role of strategic involvement in shaping the goals of the organization.

In the long run, this can mean fewer budget battles and, in many cases, increased funding. It's not an impossible effort, as we'll show below.

Here are seven action steps you can take within your IT organization to improve customer service:

  1. Acknowledge that your IT staff is service-oriented. Show that you value their willingness to respond to problems at odd hours and to stick with repairs until they are accomplished. Often, their efforts take place behind the scenes, unnoticed by those who are being helped.

  2. Look for a peer department in your organization. Especially, seek one in another service function that has a strong reputation for high levels of customer service, such as a library. Find out how they do it, and see if they'll partner with your IT organization to help change things.

  3. Create a shared vision with the peer department for improving IT's customer service ratings. This vision should include a high-level action plan.

  4. Assess IT service skill ratings/levels, current practices, etc. to find gaps or areas of weakness so that you can address these early on. This enables you to establish a baseline on which to build. Deficiencies in technical skills can be addressed through professional development goals set with each staff member. Likewise, training is also available to help with communication skills and to address the "geek speak" syndrome. For example, when Assumption College IT team members undergo performance review, they prepare a self-evaluation. This evaluation reports on their progress with their goals for the year, which, in turn are linked to the IT Department's Strategic Plan. As part of the review, they use the Strategic Plan to set goals for the coming year, as well. Skill development or acquisition is an important part of their personal performance plan.

  5. Begin to implement the plan, and include your IT team members from top to bottom as much as possible. Use the goals identified in their performance plans to engage them in departmental improvement. Don't be afraid to adjust the plan along the way as necessary.

  6. Assess the program and measure the improvement. Solicit feedback from clients through online surveys, focus groups or interviews.

  7. Celebrate success along the way. Recognize the contributions made by individual staff members and groups within IT. Such recognition will build momentum, which is critical to making and sustaining progress. Staff recognition is powerful and should not be left only to the CIO. For example, at Assumption we have been using a big, ugly but funny inflatable trophy, which we pass from person to person as we feel the urge to express appreciation for a job well done. The kudos are recorded in a notebook that travels with the trophy, as well as on the department portal page. Whenever the CIO receives a compliment about a staff member, it is also posted on the portal.

Another step we've taken at Assumption College is to hold quarterly half-day all-staff meetings. Rather than use these meetings as opportunities to report on current projects, we use them to explore more abstract questions, such as:

  • "What are our values?"

  • "What is our mission in relation to that of the College as a whole?"

  • "What is our vision for IT?"

As we explore these questions, we have begun to find commonalities as a team, as well as areas where we disagree. This has been important, because we now understand that we cannot assume that we are all moving together toward the goal of providing excellent customer service.

We also hold an annual retreat. The retreat has been an opportunity to work on planning, reviewing the past year, and exploring new ideas. Along with the professional commonalities mentioned above, we find that we share other interests that we would otherwise not have known about. We find that we serve our external clients better when we know -- and serve -- our internal clients well.

This article was originally published on 08-29-2011
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