Customer Experience Management in IT

How many of you have had a bad retail experience and left a store in a foul mood because your customer order didn’t arrive on time, there weren’t enough help on the counter, or your discount coupon wasn’t accepted.

Frontline employees often bear the brunt of annoyed customers that have a bad experience. The best they can do is mop up the mess caused by poor back-office process with polite efficiency. For example, the frontline store assistant can’t load and drive the delivery truck to get you your order. All they can do is make the front-end experience the best one possible while continuing to fire fight the results of poor back-office process. Having  spent 18 years managing a team on the frontline of store employees, believe me when I say the burden of delivering a great customer experience should not rest solely on your frontline employees whether they be retail, hospitality, IT, or another industry.

How many of you have used social media channels to complain about your internet service, your aeroplane flight or other service because you know it’s the best way to get a rapid response from customer service departments? What is becoming clear is that while thought has been put into increasing the number of contact channels, the same priority has not been placed on ensuring the support processes and training match the channel. As a result, the customer experience is inconsistent depending on which channel you use.

Bad end-user experiences can lead to frustrated customers.

How does this relate to IT? As in the consumer world, a great IT customer experience is not a happy accident or just the result of the polite telephone manner of support.  It’s the sum of the total engagement that a customer has with the IT organization to achieve the outcome they need.

And yes when I refer to customers, I am talking IT’s end users. They are your customers who have the option to feel loyal and satisfied or dissatisfied and churn in the same way as in the consumer world.  So what can we do in IT to manage the complete experience?

  1. Have processes that support IT. If several customers have phoned the service desk every month to report that their file backup facility has failed again, you can bet that over coffee they are telling their colleagues not to download that facility and open a Drop Box account instead. Instead of fire fighting it’s time to look at root cause processes. Good problem processes can improve the customer experience as well as improving the motivation level of your first line team. At the end of the day, great customer service is about customer convenience, if a customer of IT feels inconvenienced they will “shop” elsewhere. If an unplanned change was actioned by your Data Center employees no matter how much you empower your support there is no way your first line IT support in the UK can hop across to their Data Center in Texas and roll back that unplanned change. With a good change management process support staff can ensure they know what changes have been forward planned, which customers will be affected and therefore notified so they can focus on the handling the unexpected service disruption which was not caused by their own colleagues.
  2. Ensure consistency in Contact Channels. Every contact point has the potential to increase or reduce the value of your customer’s experience of IT. If you introduce a new channel of support like self service, live chat, or twitter, make sure that the processes, activities, and staff expertise match the channel so that the experience is consistent not matter which method of contact is used.  Otherwise you are actually adding to your service management contact handling issues.
  3. Know your customer. Recently I met a Service Delivery Manager who was absolutely passionate about going out and visiting all of the organizations offices to understand what her customer required.  Taking the time to visit the customers of IT will provide both a better understanding of the end outcomes and shifting requirements as well as providing effective feedback loops. Good IT support staff want constructive criticism to improve their performance and the IT organisation as a whole needs customer feedback for continual service improvement.
  4. Set the right expectation.  Looking back to your bad experience with a retail store this is possibly where you thought that the store and the rest of the business needed to be synched better. Why did they still take orders for next day delivery when half the country was under snow and they had no chance of honouring that commitment? You can’t perform miracles so set the right expectations through sensible SLAs that work for both the customer and support staff.
  5. Scrutinize reporting metrics. If you are measuring support staff on the number of Incidents they close in a day, then you are effectively telling your IT staff to treat your customers like an incident ticket not a name. This isn’t the type of customer experience you really want to encourage. Instead consider reporting metrics that measure outcomes and more importantly find out from your customers themselves how satisfied they are with IT.

Even if you believe that you are providing the best experience possible to your customers of IT, don’t get complacent. A worthwhile read is Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, in which Disney talk about combustion points where even finely tuned, processes break down. Instead of contributing to a positive customer experience, begin to turn a guest’s good day into a bad one.  So keep a look out for IT combustion points and stop them turning into explosion points.

In the world of IT Service Management customer experience management should not start and stop at your 1st line team.  Your employees need to be supported by consistent, joined up processes, good training and the support of an IT organisation that really understands who their customer is and what they need to achieve. Alternatively you can have them spend all of their time fire-fighting on the front line until eventually they and your customers of IT leave you.

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  • Mel, the points you make about IT managing the complete experience are very true. Like retail customers today, IT customers have a wider rangle of options when it comes to provisioning resources than in previous decades – the ‘DropBox’ approach you mentioned, plus all the other cloud-oriented service providers out there like Google, Amazon, and Oxygen, where all you need is the will and a valid credit card. And these cloud providers offer more than just storage. You can provision applications too…

    IT need to get a grip on this because whilst their customers may be getting their jobs done by cutting IT out of the loop, it can lead to serious security issues, where information is moved outside the ‘walls’ of the business and placed in environments that may not necessarily apply security policies in line with the type of data stored. It’s not that the cloud providers are unsecure per se. It just that non-IT people may not be aware of the level of security certain pieces of data require, so are unaware of which options to check when provisioning external resources.

    Business Performance:
    Slipping around IT can also hinder the overall business performance of the company – e.g. if data critical to analytics ends up in database silos unconnected to the central data warehouse. This reduces a business’s ability to form a complete picture of its position, and in turn means that both tactical and strategic decisions are likely to be well off the mark, which will impact brand, revenue and the very existence of the company.

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