To function effectively within the enterprise, IS organizations cannot operate in a vacuum. Too often, IS organizations fail to adequately communicate with their users. This lack of interaction can lead to confusion, suspicion, and conflict. To avoid dissatisfaction and resentment, IS organizations must maintain good communication with their end users.
An informed user is a happy one
Your clients deserve to know what’s happening to them and why. Keep them informed about any changes that will affect them. How would you feel if the accounting department kept changing your payday without an explanation? Users who understand the reasons behind your actions will be less irritated and more supportive.
You should also let users know in advance about the changes that will affect them. This gives them time to prepare and conveys that you’re concerned for their well-being. The larger the change, the more advanced notice should be given. Don’t give them two days notice before changing operating systems. (I know you can’t change an enterprise OS in two days, but you get the point.)
Not just a string and two tin cans
There are many ways to keep in contact with your clients: e-mails, voice mail, and in-person meetings. Each of these methods has its strengths and weaknesses. Choose the one that best suits your organizational structure and available resources. You should use at least one method on a regular basis. Using all three together is even better.
E-mail is probably the most common method of IT support/user communication. Cheap and quick, e-mail takes the least amount of time and energy to utilize. IS organizations should use e-mail on a daily basis. E-mails can be used for a variety of issues, including the following:
- General announcements
- Project updates
- Virus warnings
- Outage notifications
E-mail is particularly helpful during outages. Planned and unplanned outages alike should be accompanied by an e-mail message to all affected users. This message should clearly state the issue or trouble, what’s being done to resolve the problem, and the outage’s duration. Don’t forget to also send an all-clear message when the problem has been resolved.
However, e-mail is not without its drawbacks. Often impersonal and misunderstood, e-mail should not be your only form of client contact. Many users may not even read all their e-mail and, thus, may never get your message. Although valuable, e-mail should be used in conjunction with other forms of communication.
More personal than e-mail and just as easy, voice mail should also be used on a regular basis. This, of course, depends on whether your organization has a voice mail system or not, but for our purposes here, we’ll assume that it does. Hearing a live human voice is often more appealing than just an e-mail. You also have more control over your message if you’re speaking it rather than writing it. Two people can read the same sentence and interpret it in totally different ways. With a spoken message, however, you can use vocal tone and inflection to define more clearly your intended meaning.
Unfortunately, voice mail suffers many of the same weaknesses as e-mail. Some users may not check their voice mail very often, or they may delete your message without listening to all of it. Also, much like e-mail, there’s a limited sense of you as an actual person. You’re still just a voice on the phone without a real identity.
Face to face
Personal, face-to-face contact is by far the best method of IT support/user interaction. This puts a face with your voice and e-mail address. Whenever possible, deliver your messages in person. Your statements will be better understood and more openly received when coming straight from the source. Also, you’ll get immediate feedback by being able to see firsthand the users’ reactions. If your users are resistant to your efforts, you’ll know sooner face-to-face than you would with an e-mail or voice message.
Face-to-face meetings, however, do require the most time and effort. Scheduling an agreeable time for all parties can be difficult. For an extended client visit, you’ll probably need at least a week’s notice when trying to schedule.
Find what works for you
When deciding how to communicate with your clients, remember to choose what works best for your organization. If you’ve got offices and employees scattered throughout the country, face-to-face meetings may not be feasible. Perhaps your organization lacks a voice mail system, or many of your clients lack e-mail access. Regardless of your situation, your primary contact method should reach as many clients as possible and be loud enough so they will listen. In the end, it will make your job much easier.
How do you keep users informed about issues that will affect them? Do you use some or all of the techniques discussed here? Do you have another way to keep users “in the know” that wasn’t mentioned? Tell us about it. Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.