Don't Overlook External Actions

Your success does not depend solely upon actions taken internally by your IT department. It also requires constant communication across your enterprise.

IT groups tend to be reactive; they respond to clients' problems. Good IT organizations are also proactive in ways that are rarely publicized. For example, when a piece of hardware is approaching end-of-life, IT will plan ahead and replace it before it fails. When a major software application is due to be upgraded, IT will plan to roll the new version out to the organization. When new workers are brought on board, IT will make sure that they have the right equipment and applications to do their jobs. It's okay for IT to brag about these accomplishments to the entire organization through newsletters, portal announcements, email messages, or in a departmental annual report.

For example, "Get Connected" is the Assumption College Information Technology & Media Services newsletter. Published at least three times a year, it contains information about new services, updates and upgrades, and staff accomplishments.  Along with a section of the campus portal and regular portal announcements, the newsletter allows us to inform and also to brag about what we do so well. Occasional articles written by students for the campus newspaper also serve to get the word out in a positive way.

Clients are very often surprised at the many projects that IT accomplishes behind the scenes on their behalf.

It's also helpful to invite members of other departments or business offices to IT department meetings to speak about the value that IT has brought to them. This will help to emphasize the importance of partnerships with the rest of the business. It's also an opportunity to recognize IT team members who have provided excellent customer service.

Taking this level of communication a step further, you can create an IT users group or advisory group comprising representatives from other business units of the organization. This group can advise and advocate on behalf of IT and share what they learn with the rest of the organization. For example, The Assumption Technology Advisory Committee consists of faculty, students, alumni and administrators, along with representatives from IT. This group has been the source of great ideas, as well as input about our services. The Chair has spoken to the Faculty Senate about IT activities, helping to mitigate frustration with changes in our administrative software, for example, but has also helped promote events such as our Technology Showcase. The student representatives have been especially effective in reporting back through the Student Government Association.

As perceived IT service ratings improve, work to make IT more visible in other ways. Consider ways to partner with other organization units. Encourage your IT staff to serve on committees or participate in non-technology-focused projects. Attend organization functions. In order to develop more empathy on the part of IT team members (and, as a result, better service) for clients, it is helpful to know our clients away from their computer problems. Remember, this effort will be a process.

Increased communication can improve the degree of transparency related to technology changes, problems or improvements, preventing your clients from being blind-sided by outages or befuddled by changes that IT sees as improvements. A communications plan that provides structure for informing the organization about changes--both planned and unplanned--can assist IT in providing the information the organization needs in a consistent and transparent way.

Outstanding customer service involves a lot more than sending your people to customer service training. It requires a mind-shift for most IT professionals and also for the organizations they serve. Good planning, excellent communication, ongoing practice and encouragement will change the performance of your IT team, and improve the rest of the organization's perceptions of IT along the way.

About the author

Dr. Dawn Thistle is Executive Director of Information Technology & Media Services, Assumption College. Current projects include the implementation of a new ERP system, the development and support of a new web site and portal, and the upgrade of all campus network electronics, including expansion of the wireless network. Prior to this role, Dr. Thistle was Library Director at Assumption and Head of Reader Services, College of the Holy Cross.

This article was originally published on 08-29-2011
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