How to Manage Unrealistic Expectations
But, in the IT services realm, quality expectations are often confused with substance expectations, relating to the types of services IT provides, and the means by which those services are provided. When end-users are dissatisfied with IT services, quality problems are too often assumed. But, in fact, quality may not be at issue. Customer dissatisfaction may just be the result of an expectations gap ….. a quantifiable mismatch between service expectations and service realities.
Is the customer always right? End-user opinions and perceptions are shaped largely by expectations. Quality expectations should never be at issue. As a business imperative, technology end-users are entitled to the highest quality of service that can be provided. High service quality usually translates into fewer problems and higher productivity. Whatever the source of end-user dissatisfaction, IT must respond. However, the nature of the response will vary according to the source. If IT service quality is lacking, quality issues must be identified and analyzed. The resulting management response should focus on targeted solutions, looking at staff changes, new procedures or additional training.
On the other hand, if the reported dissatisfaction is due to "unrealistic or unreasonable" expectations, related response strategies must focus on relationship management, improved communication and service satisfaction.
Warning Signs of an Expectations Gap:
Do your end-users request services that are not part of your IT charter?
Do your end-users report systems limitations as error conditions?
Do your end-users feel that IT is more interested in control than in end-user needs?
Do your end-users view necessary systems maintenance as "outage"?
Do your end-users feel that IT is too slow to respond to non-emergency support problems?
Do your end-users frequently claim that project results fail to meet specified requirements?
The expectations analysis begins with one question …. Are the identified expectations currently being met? If the answer is "no", the analysis must continue to determine whether the expectation in question can be met … i.e. is the expectation realistic?
To determine whether an expectation is "realistic" or "unrealistic", it can be measured with the following five criteria:
1. Does the expectation exceed specific end-user needs and requirements?
2. Is the expectation in line with overall business goals and objectives?
3. Does the expectation fall within operational boundaries (costs, staffing, regulatory, contractual)?
4. Does the expectation fall within technology boundaries? (feasibility, compatibility and serviceability)?
5. Can IT meet this expectation considering existing operational and technology boundaries, and related limitations?
Depending upon the nature and source of your expectations gap, specific response strategies will vary, but will always be built on the following four elements:
Communication: to share the results of your gap analysis with your end-users in order to quantify expectations, and explain why said expectations cannot be met.
Negotiation: to find suitable alternatives to close "the gap" between expectations and service reality.
Documentation: to record conclusions in order to avoid future misunderstandings.
Escalation: to inform appropriate management personnel when "gaps" cannot be resolved through direct negotiation with end-users Example: if an end-user expectation is viewed as "unrealistic" because it out of alignment with overall business goals and objectives, IT staff may not be able to bridge that "gap". In all likelihood, these issues will require escalation.