Customer Service in IT: Strike a Balance for Added Value

IT managers and their staff often find themselves in the midst of a common service conflict. On one hand, IT is called upon to continually respond to end-user requests for support and service. That's one part of the IT management paradigm. Of course, it doesn't end there. Read on for more.

On the other hand, IT must also answer to the company for the ways and means in which technology investments are managed. That is also the role of IT. And unfortunately, there will be times when one role will conflict with the other.

IT Customer Service: It's A Delicate Balance

As an example, consider the challenges involved in establishing and enforcing software standards. Within one company, individual business units might want to choose their own software, even when that software is common to the entire organization (i.e. word processing). Strict construction of standard "make the customer happy" service principles dictate that IT take all reasonable steps to assist their end-users in that effort. On the other hand, company interests may just dictate something else.... i.e.that software standards be established and enforced in order to lower support costs, enable volume purchasing, and avoid platform incompatibilities.  (Also Read:  Technology Standards Policies)

In just this one instance, the potential for conflict is evident. Since the end-users are affected by software choices on a daily basis, many of these same users may want to make their own product selections. And IT software standards, if adopted and enforced, can stand in the way.

And so, the negative perceptions develop. These end-users may conclude that ITis not responding to their needs, and is therefore not providing quality customer service. Continual service complaints can result, and IT may find itself excluded from key business decisions and activities (i.e. your end-users choose to work around you rather than with you...)

This is the question you must consider….

How can IT avoid negative customer service perceptions while serving both end-user needs and company interests?  What's the answer? IT managers must take all necessary steps to uncover potential conflict, and then find the means to manage and mitigate these conflicts before they get out of hand.

Service Planning To-Do List

Step 1: Analyze

  • Consider IT services, roles and responsibilities, and categorize each by customer and company interest served.
  • Identify priorities -i.e. are there any sound business reasons for the consideration of overall company interests above the needs and preferences of individual end-users or business areas?
  • Identify any overriding factors that could influence a service, the way it is provided, or how it is communicated, such as management directives, budgetary considerations, or regulatory issues.
  • Put it all together to form workable solutions, services, policies and procedures.

Step 2: Mitigate

  • Once you know that you have a service area that requires special attention, carefully consider the ways to minimize any negative perceptions:
  • Find the middle ground - formulate IT services to provide end-users with sufficient flexibility to meet their goals and objectives, (which implies that you understand those goals and objectives)..... but ensure that these services are also in keeping with overall company interests and technology best practices (which must also be understood).
  • Acknowledge IT potential.....not to merely manage technology, but to enhance and maximize its use and benefit. If it comes down to a delicate choice between the end-users or the company, let management make that call.

Step 3: Communicate

  • Let company management in on the conflict.....they may not realize that there may discrepancies between what IT is asked to do and what may be best to do.
  • Communicate IT policies and decisions in writing, including details and underlying reasoning.
  • Market IT services and policies through personal interaction with the end-users whenever the opportunity arises. Insights can be gained through personal interaction that might not otherwise rise to the surface.
  • Be consistent in enforcing IT policies or procedures, but also acknowledge the need for valid exceptions.
  • Obtain upper management support for all policies, and reiterate the importance of that support, particularly when a policy is tested.
  • Encourage and provide mechanisms for feedback from IT staff, end-users and their management. Listen to IT staff...they may observe the signs of negative perceptions long before problems are actually escalated to management.

Continue to find more on this subject in our featured articles Managing IT With a Strategic Vision, Offering Apologies for Service Failures and Negotiation Tactics to Minimize Service Conflict.

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