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Strategic CIO
Commentary

IT & Customer Service: Why and How to Do It Better

If the IT department doesn't serve its end users well, those users may find undesirable, unsafe alternatives. What can CIOs do to improve IT's customer service?

MarketandMarkets research projects that the global low-code development market will grow to $45.5 billion by 2025, and Gartner is forecasting that end user spending on cloud services will reach $332.3 billion by the end of 2021.

Both surveys speak to one issue: that users are finding workarounds for IT so they can get their work into production sooner.

Some of these user workarounds of IT are born of the realization that IT is overloaded with request backlogs and projects, but there are also questions about IT service and responsiveness.

In IT, user complaints manifest in a number of ways:

  • You put in a request for an enhancement or a fix, and it takes IT weeks to respond;
  • You put in a request for an enhancement or a fix, and IT never responds;
  • You get shuffled to a junior person because the person who knows about your issue doesn't have time to work on it; or
  • You request a new application and co-develop it with IT, but it doesn’t turn out at all like you wanted it to be.

Most IT departments are aware of the service problem -- and they have made efforts to improve service -- but it doesn’t change the fact that the IT request backlog in most organizations is years long or that 50% of IT development staff work is committed to software maintenance. When IT workloads are this heavy, thinking about customer touch point functions like training or the help desk take a back seat for CIOs.

“The lack of transparency in many departments makes many internal users see the IT industry with some mistrust,” a Milldesk Help Desk Software blog stated in 2017. “This perception of a lack of transparency causes many to see IT as a poorly managed and disorganized department, which instead of being proactive tends to be reactive only to incidents. Add to all this an obscure communication, full of technicalities and lack of clarity, which only complicates the communication process, creating false expectations that in the end will not meet the needs of the business.”

Five years later, the quandary continues to exist -- as it existed in 2015, 2005, 1995, 1985, etc.

What can IT do about it?

1. Care about service

It’s easy to take internal users for granted, and fail to treat them as you would an outside customer. Service-oriented CIOs should dispel this kind of thinking.

One way to instill a customer service culture in IT is to reward it. Bonuses and salary structure can be revisited to see if customer-facing functions like the Help Desk or IT business analysts have some degree of compensation parity with more technical personnel.

Second, business and Help Desk functions can be used more proactively and strategically in IT work. For example, you don’t use the Help Desk as a deflection point so your most important technical contributors don't get called into solving an issue. Instead, you analyze the IT Help Desk log to see which applications and systems are most troublesome. Then you look into why that is. It might be that more work (or even a rip and replace of a system) is called for. What you want to do is to proactively stop the bleeding by fixing what is always getting broken instead of waiting till it breaks.

2. Anticipate users

The best way you can guarantee that the work you do for business users will meet and exceed their needs is to deploy business analysts upfront who have both the IT and the business savvy to know how to transform business needs into responsive and great IT. These people make it their business to know the business.

In plain English, they can suggest business ideas to users that users might not have thought of, and that technology can do for them. These same business analysts can visit users on a bi-monthly basis, just see how things are going in the business and with the IT systems that support it. Followup, continuous interactions like this demonstrate caring and anticipate/intercept problems before they happen.

3. Invest in automation, but in human interaction, too

In functions like the Help Desk, users can now create their own tickets and get automated updates on progress. This is great, but a real person who periodically checks in with them, or who jumps in on an a call when the issue is too complicated for automation to explain, is what users really want.

4. Cooperatively develop applications with end users

One strength of DevOps is its continuous interaction between users and developers throughout the development process. This is in contrast to more traditional application development, where the users and IT define an application, IT goes away and codes it, and when the users finally see the application again it isn't anything like the users thought it would be. Whether IT is developing in DevOps or in traditional methodologies, application developers and end users should be constantly interacting on applications throughout all phases of development to assure that business needs and application work remain in alignment.

How much you care

Over a century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt said:

"People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Not much has changed since.

When IT puts the same amount of effort into customer service as it does into technical skills and project execution, it will exceed its own and its users’ expectations and produce truly excellent products and services.

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Editor's Choice
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author