How to Tell if Your ITO is a Service Organization

By Patty Azzarello

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I heard a story about a CIO who got such great personal service at a Ritz Carlton hotel that he ended up sending his entire IT staff to Ritz Carlton hotel staff customer service training. That is taking the concept of IT being a service organization to a new level!

On the other end of the spectrum, I saw an email from an IT organization of a multi-billion dollar company to all employees that read, “To serve you better, the IT help desk is no longer accepting phone calls. Please use only the email and web interfaces.” My favorite part is the “To serve you better ... ” line. The level of service you want to provide should be something you decide on purpose and actually discuss with your staff.

That being said, there is a single strategic decision that any organization needs to make with regard to customer service. Do we want actually provide customer service (Care) or do we want to have a required customer service presence a the lowest possible cost (Cost)?

Once you make the Care or Cost decision, you need to make sure you create a service policy and processes that match the level of service you want to provide. Your service strategy needs to cover three areas: Motivation, Systems, and Authorization and Training.

Motivation - Customer Service Strategies

Care Decision: People believe it is their job to solve the customer's problem.

Cost Decision: People believe it is their job to close a “trouble ticket”.

As a front-line manager, I have made the mistake of measuring closed tickets. The only thing you really accomplish is for your people to be unhelpful, but more quickly. You need to find a way to measure the customer’s satisfaction with the resolution to the problem. You also need to let your people know that their job is to solve problems, not to "close tickets". Start by not calling customer problems, “trouble tickets”, call them what they are―“customer problems”.

Systems - Customer Service Strategy

Care Decision: The systems are equipped to allow credits, upgrades, refunds, make long distance phone calls and allow the person to say “yes”.

Cost Decision: The systems are locked down to prevent any cost incursions no matter what the customer's situation. No reason or business judgment can make a difference. The service person is only able to report, “the system won’t let me do that”.

Look at your systems. Do they allow your people to make choices based on business and customer care judgments? Or are they constrained to allow only a narrow band of service? Do you have an escalation process? Can someone call you if it is really important?

If you are constraining your systems to absolve or prevent people from making judgment calls to provide service, you have made the Cost decision.

Authorization & Training - Customer Service Strategy

What do you want IT to be known for? As I wrote in a prior article, think about your help desk as more than a help desk, it’s important to realize that 90% of the impression across the company of IT and of the CIO is driven by people’s experience with your help desk.

Care Decision: People are trained to listen, think, and make judgments, expected and encouraged to actually solve problems. People are allowed to incur cost to solve a customer problem.

Cost Decision: People get fired for incurring cost to solve a customer problem. People are trained to only read what is on the screen and instructed to say “I am sorry for the inconvenience. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Another thing you need to decide―on purpose―is what type of person you want answering the phone. Do you want someone who is technically gifted who can solve the problem directly, or do you want someone who is able to empathize with the end-user, then route the problem to the right technical staff?

Sadly, many service leaders don’t make the choice on purpose, and staff their help desk with people who are neither technically gifted nor empathetic. So, the user ends up not getting his problem solved, and infuriated in the process. Make this staffing choice on purpose and then provide the necessary training to make sure that your service staff are delivering the level of service you want to be famous for (because you will be famous for it, either way).

It’s also important to realize that you can do a lot to train and motivate and authorize people so solve problems without costs escalating out of control.

Here are a few ideas:

Personally use and test your standard service processes: Get a first hand experience of how good or bad the level of service is. Fight your way through your own voice menus or website interfaces. You will never improve it if you don’t have first hand experience. Even things like changing the names of things on the website to be more understandable can make can make a huge difference in customer satisfaction. Call things by the names your users understand and expect, like “SAP Financials”, not “db admin support”.

Note what you like, and what embarrasses you: Make particular notes about where your level of investment is creating a negative feeling in what you experience, so you have that as data for future budget discussions. Once you get first hand experience you will also note opportunities to improve service. You will be surprised at how much you can improve service simply by changing scripts or run books.

Spend a regular shift in the call center or on the help desk: All executives should do this. But for CIO’s it’s a must. Experience personally what customers call in about and how they are treated by your processes. Get their reactions directly. I guarantee you will uncover broken processes, or repetitive or chaotic tasks that degrade both productivity and service. You can fix many things for free if you just show up and pay attention.

Involve the team in cutting cost without degrading service: Offer an award each month for the most creative approach to reduce the cost of providing service without diminishing user care. You can accomplish this if you involve the people doing the work to help figure out how. This also goes a long way to give them authorization, motivation, and training to actually solve problems.

Remember, you will be known for the service you provide. Don’t leave it to chance, and don’t miss opportunities to fix things that don’t cost a lot.

Patty Azzarello became the youngest general manager ever at HP at the age of 33. She ran HP's $1B OpenView software business at the age of 35, and was the CEO of an IT software company, Euclid Software at the age of 38. She has been working with IT executives to build their careers and put their IT strategies into action for many years.

Today Patty is the CEO of Azzarello Group, a unique services organization that helps companies develop and motivate their top performers, execute their strategies, and grow their business, through talent management programs, leadership workshops, online products & public speaking.