Should IT Treat Users Like Clients?

CIOs have emphasized customer service for IT, but what exactly does “customer service” mean?

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

June 11, 2024

5 Min Read
blocks with faces on them ranging from frowning to smiling
Philip Höppli via Alamy Stock

Customer service has been defined as “the support, assistance and advice provided by a company to its customers both before and after they buy or use its products or services. Customer service is a critical factor in ensuring buyer satisfaction, retaining customers, and growing a business …Companies go the extra mile to ensure that clients are pleased with products and services because they know that they could lose these clients to a competitor.”   

Should IT treat internal users like customers. Or better yet, like clients who are “more loyal, long-term customers who engage in a business relationship for advice, solutions, and personalized attention?” 

Most IT departments I visit espouse these values, but they don’t consistently practice them. The daily demands of IT work can relegate customer service to the sidelines. IT staff members can take users for granted, believing that users are a captive employee audience that has to use IT services anyway. 

However, in some cases users are fighting back, and IT might lose them to competitors. 

Users are fighting against what they perceive as poor IT service by hiring their own IT vendors and starting their own citizen IT groups. They’re developing their own mini-IT budgets, signing up with their own cloud services, and budgeting for new systems that IT isn’t even aware of. 

Related:How Predictive Analytics Can Help Developers Anticipate Users Needs

Is this a warning sign to IT that IT should adopt a more “client oriented" approach toward its internal users? 

A Look at Progress Made 

Realizing that user service must improve, many IT departments have already made strides in improving internal customer service. Among the innovations that we’ve seen are more self-help portals with do-it-yourself functions so you don’t have to wait for IT or other departments, and the growth of no- and low-code applications that employees can use on their own for application building. Also, there is Agile software development that engages both users and IT in inter-disciplinary application work teams; automated help desk ticket issuance and updates; and the ability of IT to fix many technical problems remotely. Analytics and AI automation have also been integrated into user workflows, which has made daily work easier for users. 

Nevertheless, there still is work to be done in the areas of relationship building and interpersonal skills when it comes to IT working with internal users. 

Identifying the Client Service Skills 

Earlier, we identified clients as being part of long-term relationships that were founded on loyalty and solution finding. In this sense, a client demands more than a transactional customer who might only need something from IT once. Internal users clearly fit into the continuing client category. So, what are the hallmarks of building successful client relationships for the long haul? 

Related:Building Collaboration Between IT and End Users

The answer: Empathy, follow-up, and anticipation are the three prominent qualities of a successful client relationship. 

Empathy in an IT client relationship means understanding the end business and the pain points of what an individual user is experiencing, identifying with the issue, and diligently pursuing a solution for the issue. 

Follow-up means getting back in touch with users after a project is installed to see how things are going. IT might see the project as over and done with, but how are users actually doing with the new system? 

Anticipation means exceeding the expectations of the user. For example, if finance requests a report that compares the cost of goods to revenues so it can determine the profit margin, IT might suggest a companion report that would also enable finance to look at item returns, defects, etc., giving finance a more detailed look into why a particular profit margin declined? 

In each of these examples, IT is going the “extra mile” for users and is making them feel like clients. When this level of performance is maintained, it has the potential to forge long-lasting, cooperative relationships that will enhance IT’s reputation as a solution finder and able collaborator. 

Related:Developing a Super User Strategy

Today’s Reality 

Of course, not every IT department reaches this apex of client service, so CIOs continue to list customer service as a strategic goal. 

This is understandable. IT is already overburdened with projects and deadlines. In such an environment, it can be difficult to focus on client-friendly skills. There also are some IT personnel who are not “people" people. These individuals should not be on the user front lines but can best be employed in technical work. And then, there are the users themselves, who sometimes can be clients that are so uncooperative that you’d like to fire them if you could. 

CIOs approach these issues by choosing strong communicators with technology savvy as their front-line business analysts. These are the people who excel in soft skills, but who can communicate with highly technical IT personnel. There also are CIOs who issue project report cards to users at the conclusion of projects. The evaluations ask how well the project met the business needs, but they also ask for feedback on IT support. 

Finally, CIOs who advocate for a client-focused IT must walk the walk themselves. As the late novelist Ken Kesey once observed, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.”

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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