My most popular blog of 2012 wasn’t written by me … but I guess you might have expected this if you’ve already read a few. That blog's author, an end-user (or is that a customer of an internal IT organization), now returns to look at the IT service desk through a customer and customer experience lens. I’ll let them continue in their own words …

So how is your customer experience?

It’s never been more important to build strong customer relationships (regardless of what type of service you're offering).  Long gone are the days when the customer purchasing path was straight-forward, and when the only route of post-sales contact was the phone.  In 2013, we need to be proactive and embrace consumer-driven change, harnessing the power of new technologies as well as improving older methods of contact. 

Whether your interactions with customers are face-to-face, via the internet including social media, or over the phone; and whether they involve physical or virtual products; they now need to generate a good “experience” for customers.  In the age of the “empowered customer” failure to manage these “experiences” can lead to missed opportunities and/or customer loss. And not just with the affected customer(s).

So what is “customer experience” and could it apply to IT service desks?

Forrester’s definition is simple: “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.” So for an IT service desk, could it be: “How end users perceive their interactions with your service desk”? And if so, how do you deliver this increasingly critical “customer experience”? 

In my (I admit limited) experience, many IT support executives come from a technology background – which may mean that they are likely to be technical and/or analytical, and thus possibly unable to always put themselves in the shoes of the IT customer.  Therein lies the first challenge for IT – ensuring that the people at the top of the IT support tree understand that a customer-centric or outside-in approach to delivering service is important and what this entails.

Getting your metrics right can help

The second challenge is how the IT service desk measures its performance: While talking about being customer-focused and touchy-feely can help, I personally think that defining the right set of key performance metrics is critical to providing a great customer experience.  Otherwise how can you improve your service and/or anticipate upcoming issues? 

However, I imagine that it is all too easy to decide upon a set of metrics that end up being more harmful to your customer experience than helpful. For example, many call centers and/or service desks monitor average call length, with shorter call times being deemed as success. As a result of this pressure to be quick, calls are likely to be rushed, customers are likely not to be listened to properly, and agent demeanor is likely to be less friendly and more abrupt as they rush.  What does this result in?  A poor customer experience!

Also, metrics may suggest improvements are being made because call times are becoming shorter and shorter, but this one-dimensional statistic doesn’t take into consideration whether or not a customer left the shorter call feeling happy or frustrated or even mistreated.

So what metrics should you be using? Well, I'm only the customer, not the expert, but a few "common sense" suggestions would be:

  • An assessment of how well your IT support activities line up with business risk and impact.
  • How your customers feel (customer satisfaction and/or experience surveys – and not the long, drawn out ones that nobody has time for).
  • The relative level of focus on prevention rather than correction – to fix issues before they actually occur (remember, a customer is having a "good" experience if they aren't having to contact you with an issue in the first place).

(Stephen – a future blog on common IT service desk metrics and how they can adversely affect your performance will dig deeper into this). 

What else should you be questioning?

If you’re providing a service and believe in customer service, I suggest that you regularly question your “attitude” to four key elements of customer service: CARE – communication, application, resolution, and expectation (I’d like to quote the origin of this but I’m struggling to pin it down, I’m sure I didn’t make it up though): 

  • Communication. Is your service desk providing consistent, clear messages to customers on current issues/downtime?  Can these messages be easily received (or accessed) and understood?
  • Application. Are your people courteous, friendly, and proactive in responding to incidents or service requests?  Do they understand the impact of failures or delays? Do they take ownership of the issue as opposed to “passing the buck”?
  • Resolution. Are resolutions delivered in a timely and empathetic manner?  Does your team follow up on issues even after they have been resolved to ensure customer contentment or satisfaction?
  • Expectation.  Are you setting accurate expectations on resolution or service times and delivering on these promises? 

IMHO, training your service desk employees to foster a positive customer service attitude and skills is incredibly important to delivering powerful customer experiences and thus better deliver on the business’ needs and expectations for IT support in 2013. (Stephen’s caveat – for some organizations, a cheap-and-cheerful IT service desk will always be the primary business requirement, mostly likely based on reducing cost).

To finish …

If we receive bad service in a shop we walk out, share with the world how poor the service was via social media, and vow never to shop there again.  Why should the way customers interact with their IT service desk be any different?

If you haven’t already taken a look at your service desk’s customer experience then now is the time to step back and do so (Stephen – you might want to read this too). Otherwise how long will it be until you’re waving goodbye to your customers and possibly your job?