Posted by Stephen Mann on June 28, 2012
Following the recent announcement of Forrester’s Voice of the Customer winners and while we wait for the release of a new Forrester book on Outside-In thinking, it seemed an opportune moment to look at the IT service desk from the perspective of its customers (or end users if you are still that way inclined). So the main body of this blog has been written by such a customer – they don’t work in IT they are just heavily dependent upon IT to do their job. This is how they feel …
Pre-service desk - old skool IT support seemed to work
It feels as though life was much easier before the service desk was introduced into my life. One “IT guy” supported circa 100 staff and was accessible via phone, email, IM, and by simply walking across the office floor. Times change, businesses grow, and technology becomes more complex and so we have to move on. The local (and friendly) “IT guy” gets replaced by a faceless IT team, usually locked-up in the basement floor, and suddenly we have to jump through a series of hoops to get our IT queries answered. There are incidents, requests, catalogs, and tickets, and all my colleagues and I want to know is “Why can’t I log into my email?” and “Can you fix it quickly, please?”
Thinking bigger picture
That said in reality does it really matter to a customer whether:
- Their IT support is run by one “IT guy” or via a service desk?
- They have an all-singing, all-dancing IT service management tool from one of the Big 4 vendors or a somewhat more basic platform from a vendor new to the market?
- There are five service desk staff or 100?
The chances are that IT’s customers really don’t care about any of this. No, all that really matters is that:
- Their day-to-day technology works sufficiently enough for them to be able to do their jobs.
- If they have an issue they can easily and quickly contact somebody to fix it.
- They receive good customer service (or are least treated cordially).
It’s important to remember that IT is not just about the technology, but that it is about the people. Customer service is an integral part of any job, specifically in IT, and it shouldn't be considered any less important than the technology itself.
A customer’s view on a service desk’s commitments to the business and customers
Anybody associated with the service desk should be committed to providing good, if not outstanding, customer service and should consider the following 12 areas:
- Never put the service desk before your customers. Don’t implement strict procedures whereby you will only deal with issues that are submitted as a ticket and confined to the service desk. Instead take in requests/incidents via every method of communication available to you and your customers – make yourself more widely accessible. It’s about helping people work not following IT-created processes.
- Always listen to the customer and their issues. It’s important that you don’t just hear the words but that you understand the tone of voice (and where appropriate body language), and most importantly that you don't rate the severity of the issue against the IT manual you have in your desk drawer. The customers’ problem may not be of high importance to the IT department but it's important enough to the customer for them to have taken time out of their precious working day to seek advice and help.
- Respond to customer needs. Nobody wants to hear the word “no” or “we can't help.” Even when you cannot meet all customer needs or fix all their issues there will always be something that you can do to make their IT (but business-affecting) issue easier to deal with.
- Anticipate needs. Don't make a decision based solely on how it works for the IT department. You need to think about how it affects the people in the organization. Remember that if IT fails business people cannot do their job properly, and chances are these are the people making money for the business. Remember that they probably pay your wages – you are their overhead. Put yourself in their position in the context of IT and support.
- Treat customers as human beings. Know who they are (including their names) and what their IT needs are. Do not regard them simply as a “ticket number.”
- Help your customers understand life on the service desk. Maybe if your customers better understood the issues you are facing (and the larger corporate IT issues) they might be less inclined to complain about service and IT as a whole? Also ensure that your customers are familiar with the service desk – you may have the best IT service management tool on the market but if your customers don't understand how it works the chances are that they’re just going to get confused, impatient, and angry.
- Learn how to apologize. You need to know how to say sorry for IT mistakes regardless of whether you caused them or not. Your customers are probably not concerned with who caused the issue; they just want somebody to take responsibility for it, to acknowledge that a mistake was made, and to help them fix it.
- Value your customer complaints. You may not like them but ultimately they may help you. When a corporate machine wipes itself clean owing to a virus don’t tell the customer it’s their fault due to something they downloaded when corporate IT security has failed to do its job properly (I’m also sure I don’t have the rights to download stuff anyway).
- Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions on how you can improve IT support, this will help prevent future issues with support and also help you better understand your customers.
- Provide regular communications to the business. Let your customers know what work has been done (and is being done) to improve IT service delivery and keep them informed of potential upcoming issues/downtime. So don't let the good work you are doing stay hidden in the background, and don't expect customers to guess when you're performing maintenance that will prevent them from accessing corporate networks or services.
- Ensure that you can support all employees. You need to appreciate that not everybody works in the same office as IT Support staff - you may have global offices or remote workers. Informing external staff that you will “fix the issue when you are next in the office” is simply not good enough. These employees are just as important to the company as those based in your office and their IT issues are no less critical.
- Don’t treat your ‘customers’ like five-year-old children. Everybody appreciates the concerns around security but putting machines into complete lockdown to the point where they probably need an admin password just to fire up Microsoft Office is not acceptable (I jest here). Significant working hours are lost due to minor issues that could have been quickly and efficiently fixed by the employee themselves had they had the appropriate access.
I’m not trying to “preach to the choir” here. I’m not claiming to be an expert on the service desk. I don’t have a professional qualification on “how to provide excellent customer service.” Perhaps I don’t even understand the basic concepts of IT service management. However, what I am is more important than any of this because I am a CUSTOMER.
You can learn more from me then from any number of books, Google searches, or team meetings – because I live the life of a customer and I know what I want and need from my service desk and IT as a whole.
Some of you may be reading this thinking “why are you stating the obvious?” If you are then good, perhaps you are already keeping your customers happy. There again just because you know all of the above doesn’t necessarily mean you are implementing it, does it? In the words of Goethe: "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough we must do.”
Final thoughts from me
So that is the view of a service desk customer, I was going to highlight my favorite commitments but then realized that it would be most of them. This anonymous customer might not be indicative of all IT service desk customers BUT have you taken the time to check? Do your metrics highlight such IT failures or are you happy that your IT support is absolutely marvelous? It probably isn’t – ask your customers.
Finally, thank you to the anonymous person who wrote 90% of this blog and, as always, your comments are appreciated.
If you enjoyed this, please read my latest blog: http://blogs.forrester.com/stephen_mann