I've been researching hosting providers (now universally dubbed "private clouds" by the trendy) for some experimental development work my company is doing. Ideally I'd like to use a provider who's built their environment around a certain web standard, and with some research found the names of several recommended vendors in what is essentially a commodity market. I searched out the first provider, clicked their link in the search results, and was promptly greeted with a "Browser Not Supported" message encouraging me to download an unfamiliar application. Like the majority of the world's web browsing public, I use Internet Explorer and have the latest version, IE9.
I should be in the ideal target market for this company. I'm looking for a host running a specific technical environment that they happen to support, I've taken the time to research this particular company and have come to their website directly and unbidden, and I have money to burn. Rather than welcoming me with open arms, they suggest I take 10-45 minutes out of my life to install unfamiliar software and change the very tool I use on a daily basis to interact with the internet. No thanks.
While there are still a few who cling to the notion of a "browser war," the majority of people who actually have a life find a browser they like and move on to more pressing problems. While this is a blatant example of "geeks gone wild" at the expense of potential customers, most corporate IT departments are guilty of similar attempts to frustrate internal "customers" and alienate the very people they serve.
Take the lowly help desk ticket, for instance. Anyone who has worked in a medium or large organization has likely been told to "create a help desk ticket" before someone from IT will actually provide assistance. The rationale behind tickets is reasonable enough: IT wants to track where it is spending its time, and capture the problems it has encountered and fixed, to reduce time spent fixing the same problem. With the help desk ticket being the entrée into all things IT, one would think the experience would be exceptional and a hallmark of grand things to come. Instead, one ends up sitting on hold, or encountering an unfriendly online system that asks questions to which the user doesn't know the answer-and far too many of them at that. In short, before that internal customer can even begin work on their problem, IT has created an adversarial relationship driven by an unfriendly interface.
Contrast this with something like the Disney theme parks. Before you enter Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, you've boarded a themed boat that slowly chugs toward a fantastic castle, with the themed music you've loved since childhood playing softly in the background. You've entered a magical and wonderful world, and this is before you've even pulled out your wallet to pay for admission. The initial IT experience at most companies would be the equivalent of being pelted with rocks, cursed at, and forced to walk through an unmarked maze just to find the entrance. The few who followed the process to its conclusion would arrive ornery and jaded.
It's easy to joke about the help desk and regard it as a necessary evil, but like it or not, it's the gateway to your IT experience and should be easy, frictionless, and perhaps even exceptionally pleasant. If you're going to force every one of your customers through the help desk, employ some crazy ideas like actually staffing it appropriately so calls are answered quickly, and electronically submitted tickets are responded to promptly. You obviously can't have your best and brightest technicians manning the phones 24/7, but you can have well-trained, competent people working the phones who log incidents, coupled with a dynamic and rapid follow-up that makes calling the help desk a pleasure rather than a dreaded inconvenience. Key to all these measures is realizing that your help desk is more than a bit of technology that helps your internal process, it is your face to your customers.
Just as the cloud vendor lost my business as soon as they suggested I embark on a long software installation and completely change my web browsing habits, IT's touch points with the community it serves can alienate and anger internal customers. While they may not be able to take their business elsewhere, they are likely to remember how they were treated when it's time for budget approvals and project proposals.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.