When it comes to managing IT in business, end-user satisfaction can be an elusive goal. The IT department carries a lot of responsibility, and fulfilling end-user service demands is only part of the picture. As an internal service provider, the IT department serves multiple interests, both strategic and operational, all within the boundaries of IT management best practices. Finding “satisfaction” within all that is not easy – but it can be done. Read on to learn how.
The IT Management Service Dynamic
The Wikipedia online encyclopedia defines customer service as "the set of behaviors that a business undertakes during its interaction with its customers". That's a basic definition, but how does it apply to the internal IT department – where the “customer” is also a “co-worker”? That’s where IT service satisfaction gets tricky. To start, you have to consider the four (4) parts of the IT service relationship:
- The Performing Organization. The designated IT department (or related organizational entity) providing the services.
- The Service Portfolio. The actual types of “services” provided, formed by the operational mission, business needs and related technical capabilities.
- The Service Customer/End-Users. The end-users (individuals and as departments) receiving the services, and the company (employer) for which the services are performed.
- The Service Behaviors. The "manner" in which the services are provided considering quality, effectiveness, timeliness, efficiency and performance.
These four (4) elements combine to form the IT service dynamic. In actual practice the performing organization executes the service portfolio, delivered to the end-users through various service behaviors. That’s the technical definition. Now it’s time to move on to the real questions at hand – what constitutes “service satisfaction” within this dynamic and how can you best manage to realize optimal satisfaction levels?
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Does Service Satisfaction = No Complaints?
In a traditional "external customer" sense, customer service is often defined by customer satisfaction, or the lack of customer complaints. For the internal IT department, customer satisfaction must go beyond "the number of complaints received". As noted above, internal IT service providers answer to multiple "customers", and, as luck would have it, these customers often have conflicting interests. Taking human nature into account, it is impossible to keep all the customers "satisfied", particularly if “satisfaction” is left open to interpretation and the heat of the moment. Therefore, effective customer service planning and management must take all conditions and circumstances into account. To survive politically, the customer must be kept "reasonably satisfied", as business needs are met, costs are managed, and conflicts are balanced.
Once you realize that “IT end-user satisfaction” is a balancing act (as opposed to an identifiable absolute), then the drive for optimal “satisfaction” is equally nuanced and strategic. To realize stated goals, related service planning should be guided by five key principles of quality service:
- Services must be properly aligned with business needs, operational requirements and the strategic management vision.
- Service delivery must be based on acceptable standards and management best practices.
- Open communication must be the cornerstone of IT service delivery and the IT/end-user relationship.
- Services must be developed and delivered in partnership with the end-user community, with appropriate buy-in of all policies and procedures.
- Service delivery must be subject to ongoing reviews and change in order to achieve continuous improvement.
Each of these principles must then be translated into an executable Customer Service Action Plan (CSAP), used to guide service encounters and seek appropriate levels of “service satisfaction”. The goal is to realize satisfaction levels sufficient to establish IT service “acceptance and awareness”. End-users may sometimes be unhappy with technology related policies (which may be viewed as restrictive or bureaucratic), but those perspectives should not be allowed to spill over on to the views held of service quality, timeliness and overall performance. That’s where the CSAP comes in to play.
Creating the "Customer Service Action Plan
The Customer Service Action Plan (CSAP) is the primary deliverable used to plan and implement "satisfaction" goals, objectives, strategies, and all related actions. The CSAP is typically triggered in response to evident “satisfaction” deficiencies and/or as part of a regularly scheduled IT service review. The first step in CSAP development is to evaluate and quantify current “satisfaction” levels, based on the following metrics:
- Actual utilization of the IT service portfolio as reflected in the number of support requests, project requests, consulting requests and related engagements.
- Actual results of projects and consulting engagements considering timeliness, budget compliance, lessons learned, and the degree to which established success criteria were met.
- Reported satisfaction feedback relating to the use and delivery of the IT service portfolio, including the degree to which end users believe that the services offered are relevant to their needs and priorities.
- Identifiable variances, anomalies and potential expectation gaps in light of reported satisfaction levels and related trends (positive, neutral or negative).
The next step is to utilize collected information to determine actual CSAP goals – i.e. what actions must be taken to either improve or maintain “service satisfaction”? Related remedial actions should follow the five (5) key principles of service quality listed above:
- What steps can be taken to improve service alignment?
- What steps can be taken to improve the way standards and best practices are applied and followed?
- What steps can be taken to improve service communication considering accuracy, timeliness, relevance and professionalism?
- What steps can be taken to build or strengthen the IT/end-user partnership?
- What steps can be taken to further the need for continuous improvement?
Above all, the CSAP analysis must look for ways to eliminate service expectation gaps. Nothing can be more damaging to IT service satisfaction than the existence of a sustained expectations gap. When end-users have unrealistic expectations regarding the types of services provided and related performance obligations, it will be impossible to reach desired “satisfaction” levels. An effective CSAP can minimize that risk, leading to IT services that are largely accepted, utilized and appreciated. And, with sufficient “satisfaction” as a whole, you can then concentrate on the negative perceptions to minimize related consequences.
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ITtoolkit.com staff writers have experience working for some of the largest corporations, in various positions including marketing, systems engineering, help desk support, web and application development, and IT management.
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