Communication and expectation setting is one of the easiest ways to improve the perception of IT within an organization.
One of the most effective tools in an IT leader’s toolbox is expectation setting. Setting expectations and over-communicating have a large impact on the perception of IT for several reasons.
First, let’s look at the first line of support: the help desk. If an internal customer opens a ticket with the help desk, then there's something relatively urgent about the situation. He can’t log on, his e-mail isn’t working, he can’t get to the internet, etc.
On the help desk, we may know that a ticket has been opened because we got an e-mail telling us as much, but that's usually it until the issue is resolved. If the internal customer receives a phone call or an update on their issue pretty quickly, he develops a level of confidence in IT's understanding of the sense of urgency that he feels. Even if a more serious Level 1 issue arises, which puts the user at the back of the line, a simple communication saying that IT is focusing on a major issue and their problem will be addressed as soon as possible would be helpful. Customers don’t mind waiting (usually) when the situation is explained and they can understand where their issue falls in the grand scheme of things--as long as they are informed. If they're not informed, they begin to wonder why IT is taking so long to reset a password.
When the customer starts thinking like this, all kinds of things start creeping into their heads. And the longer that situation is left to fester, the worse the thoughts get. Pretty soon, you start seeing really low scores on your customer service survey, even though you hit your Service Level Agreements (SLA).
Let me give you two examples that happened to my team last week. First, our telecommunications provider acted too fast (I know this sounds impossible, but it did happen). We were in the process of switching over to our new provider, so we submitted our usual request 45 days out. Well, the company made the changes without notifying us.
Typically what happens is a scheduler notifies their customer (us) two days prior to performing the work. In this instance, that notification was issued the same day the work was done. Inevitably, something went wrong and two of our remote sites did not have phone service. In healthcare, that's pretty severe. Our remote site was notified that the provider would try to have a tech come out "tomorrow." Obviously, that wasn't going to cut it, so I get on the phone and I call all of our service providers, even one that only manages our data connectivity to start calling the provider to get a tech out ASAP.
After this, I sent out an update to management of the remote site as to where we were with the situation. When we got confirmation that a tech would be there within the hour, we also notified management. With both communications, the remote site management felt that IT had the same sense of urgency they had about the situation and they felt comfortable that we were handling it.
Even after the situation was resolved, we over-communicated the post mortem. Re-training the scheduler to ensure a two-day notification window so that we could have a resource on sight just in case was part of the post mortem. Also, we made sure that we would have two spare cards for the PBX system at the site so if a card blew out again, we could replace it very quickly. There were a few other minor items, but communicating this to management helped them feel confident in the IT organization and comfortable in the fact that there was a plan in place if this ever happened again.
The second situation had to do with a major fiber cut in the Evansville, Indiana area. It affected phone and data. Now, there really isn’t anything you can do for a fiber cut except wait, but that doesn’t help management of the remote site feel any better. So being solution oriented, the IT team started getting a 3G air card and a router that would at least allow for internet access to be driven out to the site. We went through some hoops because we didn’t have all of the pieces in inventory, but before we had to drive the setup out to Evansville, they repaired the fiber cut. All during the outage we let site management know that we were on the phone with our provider and attacking it from every angle. Additionally, we notified them that someone from the IT team would be there shortly with a way to provide internet access. When the crisis was over, we received all kinds of e-mails from the management group of that remote site. One response actually had the word “Wow!” in it.
Expectation setting also goes a long way in project management. If a schedule slips or a change in scope occurs or a surprise cost happens, setting expectations goes a long way in instilling confidence that IT has things well in hand. Projects like swapping out a phone system for a new VoIP system affects almost every employee. There is a level of confidence when picking up a handset, there will be a dial tone. When you start messing with something that employees rely on day in and day out to do their job, you get some real concern. Communicating with users what will be different goes a long way to accepting the system with minimal complaints and very high adoption rates.
In essence, communication and expectation setting is one of the easiest ways to improve the perception of IT within an organization.