Customer Service in IT: Strategize, Communicate and Follow Through

Customer service quality is essential to IT management success. In order to realize the many productivity benefits information technology has to offer, related operations and support services must be relevant, realistic and responsive. This won’t happen by chance.  In fact, it takes a decisive "customer service orientation" -- fully institutionalized as part of the strategic management vision. Read on to learn how it's done.

What is Customer Service in IT Management?

We begin with an examination of the key question - what constitutes "customer service" in IT management?

  • It’s an approach to IT management that focuses on end-user productivity and satisfaction.
  • It’s a strategy to build credibility and ensure optimal usage of IT products and services.
  • It’s an operational imperative to deliver IT services and operations that are fully aligned with a strategic vision for IT management.

IT departments are created to maximize the value of installed technology, providing a wide range of services to address multiple needs, including technology planning, product selection, installations, technical support and related services. No matter what the composition of an individual service portfolio may be, service success depends upon acceptance and credibility. And acceptance and credibility comes from quality service with a customer (end-user) orientation. This means that services are provided with the end-user in mind, considering business needs and a balance between organizational objectives and individual capabilities.

Obviously, quality service begins with appropriate technical knowledge and expertise. . In order to provide support services and solve technical problems, IT department personnel must have sufficient knowledge of the systems in place, an understanding of the technical principles involved, and the ability to apply that knowledge to deliver the IT service portfolio. But, as complicated at that may sound, this technical expertise is only part of the customer service equation.

There is also a “soft skills” side to “service oriented” IT management. To optimize IT acceptance and credibility, end-users must be made to feel that they “matter” and that the IT department is a professionally run organization, capable of understanding their interests and meeting their needs. Considering the need to consistently balance business interests, IT best practices and end-user demands (which may sometimes be in conflict), this is not always easy. There are many techniques and tactics that come in to play, but none are more important for customer service than communication and follow through.

5 Keys to Customer Service Communication

Communication provides the means by which the IT/end-user partnership is executed and solidified, leading to the desired results of acceptance and credibility.  Above all, "service oriented" communication must incorporate the following five (5) characteristics:

  • Accuracy. Communication must be accurate (the information shared must be valid, verifiable and useable).
  • Relevance. Communication must be relevant to the need at hand, whether it relates to a support request, problem, project, policy or other business need.
  • Responsiveness. Communication must be responsive, recognizing the value that “listening” brings to any service encounter or relationship.
  • Timeliness. Communication must be timely and consistent, ensuring that there are no gaps that would leave the end-user in a state of uncertainty as to what comes next and where things stand.
  • Professionalism. Communication must always be professional and courteous (whether verbal or written) to reflect properly on the professional capability of the IT organization.

Follow Through Drives Service Credibility

One of the most common factors inhibiting service credibility in IT management is a lack of follow through. To provide “service-oriented” IT, follow through must be institutionalized as a regular part of the IT service encounter. Follow through is realized when the IT department takes the contact initiative to provide status information and seek input. For example, follow through is essential to report the status of service tickets, to seek satisfaction with services provided, to gather more information as may be needed to fulfill service requests, to provide answers to “how-to” questions and to check on the delivery and/or installation of technology products.

To realize customer service success, follow through requirements should be institutionalized in the following manner:

  • Follow through obligations should be negotiated and established as part of the IT strategic vision.
  • Follow through obligations should be made part of IT job descriptions and performance reviews.
  • Follow through obligations should be formalized as part of an established Service Level Agreement.
  • Follow through obligations should be monitored as part of regularly scheduled service reviews, incorporating “lessons learned” recommendations for service improvement planning.
  • Follow through experiences and collective wisdom should be recorded as part of the IT “body of knowledge”.

As an example, follow through guidelines should set requirements for the timing of service request "acknowledgements" (confirming receipt of a request within a specific period of time after submission) and status updates (regularly scheduled depending on the expected length of time before resolution).  Uncertainty opens the door to conflict and confusion.  Information gaps will always be filled - the question is how?  Appropriate follow through ensures that IT staff remain in control of the "service narrative", minimizing negative perceptions and promoting customer service quality.

Continue to find more on this subject in our featured articles Simple Strategies for Service Satisfaction and Negotiation Tactics to Minimize Service Conflict.

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