Promising good client service and delivering it are two different skills. It’s far easier to pledge good service at the start of a project than to actually make clients happy during the project or, more importantly, when the project has moved into the maintenance phase.
Establishing a client-service mind-set within your IT organization ultimately creates faithful buyers of your services, whether the client is external or internal. Nothing creates more credibility for your team than for senior management to hear user compliments on the quality of support that they receive.
But to earn the praise, you must walk the walk and talk the talk. Clearly identifying the value of client relationships and maintaining open lines of communication will result in satisfied and productive customers—the best measuring stick for IT support teams.
Identify your clients
IT organizations that support external clients are blessed with a fairly easy definition of their clients: the company and people who are paying for and using your services products. For internal-facing IT organizations, the “client” definition is not as clear-cut. My definition of an internal client is anyone who uses the company’s IT technologies and services. Assuming that everyone has an e-mail connection, that means every employee of the company is your team’s client.
IT managers should treat internal clients the same as external clients. It’s easy to respect external clients because they are a source of revenue. Internal clients too often are treated as a captive audience that can be dictated to and shown less respect. Manage your internal client relationships with the same care you would use with an external client, who can fire you if it doesn’t like the service it’s getting from your organization.
Internal clients may not write the IT department a check every month, but the respect and consideration you provide to your company users should be of the highest caliber.
Client-service management: Perspective dictates actions
One thought I reinforce with every IT organization is, “Without clients, we wouldn’t have jobs.” Companies and organizations use technology to support their staff as they work toward profits and strategic goals; IT’s role is keep those users productive with smart technology decisions and support. The very nature of the IT’s internal support mission suggests service.
A client-service mind-set is created by actions, not words. Memos and presentations that tout “world-class service” don’t mean a thing unless your IT organization lives, breathes, and delivers this service. To provide quality service, your organization should follow these guidelines.
The client is always right
This is not to suggest that IT is never right, but great service organizations presume that the customer is right, first and foremost. Take industry-leading hardware retailer Home Depot, for example. A customer brings in a malfunctioning power tool, and Home Depot replaces the item at no charge and with no questions asked, other than to verify that the item was purchased there. The sales clerk does not interrogate the customer about how they may have misused the tool to cause the malfunction or lecture them about the “professional” way to handle such a powerful instrument. This kind of service locks in the client’s future business, which gives your investment in that customer a much higher value in the long run.
When it comes to IT services, if the client is wrong, it is up to IT to explain the issue or to educate the client so they understand the issue.
It's an honor, not an obligation, to provide a service
Remember, the reason IT departments exist is to support those who do the work that pays our salaries. Unless your IT group generates revenue, this is always the case. Your internal clients may prefer not to have the additional IT expense, but most sound businesspeople realize IT improves productivity that enhances the business far beyond the department’s cost.
IT resource availability and accessibility are key
Nothing is more frustrating to a user than to not be able to get work done because IT systems aren’t working. All users should have easy access to knowledgeable IT support resources.
Problem solving takes time
Users should expect that, with some problems, you will need time for analysis and research to find an appropriate solution. IT managers should establish reasonable time frames for problem solving and effectively communicate these to client organizations inside the company.
Protect the user
IT has many responsibilities and a lot to do to maintain and improve systems. When you decide to upgrade that server or e-mail software, be sure to give the client plenty of notice and always try to do it during off-peak times to minimize user downtime. Your clients will appreciate the consideration. The role of IT is to provide IT services. The slogan “Uptime is king!” should be tattooed on every IT employee’s forehead, especially the manager’s.
Follow-up is the clincher
Doing what you say you will when you say you will do it sets you apart from the pack. It is the single-most professional act that ensures that your department is providing a high level of client service.
Make it a habit
Reward behavior that exhibits a “client-service mentality.” By doing this, you reinforce the service message to your team and to your clients. Both are important.
Keep the client informed
Frustration comes from a lack of information. You may not be able to solve your users’ problems as quickly as you would like, but keeping them informed of the status of a support call boosts your credibility. To keep your client informed and educated:
- Communicate your service levels and response capabilities.
- Establish support call tracking systems that allow the user to check on the status of a trouble ticket.
- Inform the client of a solution ETA.
- Make a follow-up call or conduct a review after the solution is in place to validate that the problem has been solved.
Client service has a dollar value associated with it. Every hour of user downtime costs the company real dollars in lost productivity. Think about what it costs when a server is out of commission. When you understand the productivity cost implications of taking a server down at 2:00 P.M., you should have different feelings about it. Use this mind-set to increase the quality of your service to internal clients.
Do you use internal service level agreements?
In some organizations, internal IT departments develop service level agreements with other departments to set expectations and create accountability. Is your organization using this technique? Tell us about it by posting a message to this article or sending us an e-mail.