Quick word association. I say “Customer Service” and you say....
All good stuff, to be sure. But these days, it's just expected. I mean, no one's writing home about good, basic customer service when you call for support.
Richard Nugent wrote an excellent piece on Do What You Say and Say What You Do. The article is about leadership, and he makes an excellent point about the relationship damage caused by a disconnect between what you say and what you do.
It's no different in IT Service Management. If customers are expecting one thing, and get another, or if IT says they will deliver a service at an agreed level, and do not – the relationship will be damaged.
The sad truth is, it takes a lot of time and effort to build the relationship, but very little time to damage it.
Not new news, you say?
Perhaps not, but things are changing rapidly in technology. Your users have unprecedented options for enterprise-grade IT services on the open market. They experience incredible levels of delivery in the services they consume outside their jobs.
They're also increasingly social online, and have instant access to global opinions on technology and service.
Like it or not, you're in competition with both the services and the perceptions to which your users have access. The bar's been raised. Long gone are the days when their only experience with technology is what they get from corporate IT.
Not to worry. IT also has new options to radically change the face of customer service. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Customer service is still about people and relationships.
From your own experience with providers, for example from the phone company or appliance repair technicians – what is most annoying to you?
I think I know. Think communication, or more accurately – the lack thereof.
Relationships are built on open, honest communication. Same thing mother taught you. Tell the truth. Treat people with respect. Call if you're going to be home late. That sort of thing.
Amazing, then, that so many service desks still leave their customers in the dark. Nothing says 'you don't matter' more than leaving them wondering what's happening with their request, or missing commitments, or not calling back when promised.
We've all experienced good and bad customer service. Ask yourself, “what would I want?”
Call back when you said you would? Maybe an email when there's progress or status change on my ticket? How about a scheduled commitment for a technician visit, and a text message confirming the technician is en route?
And don't underestimate the value of a follow up call after an issue is closed. If there are any remaining issues, you'll be able to correct. If the customer is satisfied, they'll appreciate the call. Either way, the message is very clear – “you really are important to us”.
So, what kinds and how much communication is right? It all depends, of course; but one thing is certain - it's a relationship, so ask your customers.
A surprising (well, maybe not so surprising) comment I once heard: “How about not sending me a ‘we're happy to report your issue has been resolved and we're closing your case' email when no one's called and I still have the same problem?”
This is where transparency comes in. I've talked before about how an SLA is needed for good customer service. But that's only half the equation. The other half is openness in how well you're meeting that SLA.
Transparency. Open Kimono. The good, the bad, and the ugly of how well IT is delivering services. It's how you build healthy relationships with your customers.
Don't wait for monthly or quarterly reviews to give them a rehearsed song and dance about how well you're doing, skillfully dodging the uncomfortable bad news. Dare to make service level performance information readily available on a customer portal, available for all to see at any time.
Tracking packages is a great example of high touch transparency enabled by high tech. Technology allows customers to have 24/7 access to the exact whereabouts of their shipment from anywhere in the world. This just wasn't possible a few short years ago. Now it's expected.
High-tech enabling high touch.
We like to know what's happening with our stuff. Knowing my package is on a truck for delivery this morning allows me to make the best use of my time and manage my business. It transforms me from a helpless victim of The Shipping System to an empowered, respected customer.
IT customers are no different. They are busy professionals who have a business to run.
Your customers have never had more options for technology providers. Smart IT organizations are working hard to differentiate themselves as the highest value-adding provider. Effective use of technology for high touch transparency makes all the difference.
Thankfully there are some really great service management tools out there. And you don't need to spend a ton of money for bells and whistles. Get a solid tool that covers the basics well, and use it for all its worth.
It's not the technology that builds relationships. People do. Put yourself in your customers' shoes. What do they need, and how can technology help deliver that? Don't make it complex. Focus on your customers, and find ways to improve high touch and transparency.
That's the bridge that connects what you say to what you do.