Responsiveness and service delivery: A terrible example

Marc Schiller looks at an example of terrible service delivery and asks what lessons IT leaders can learn from it.

OK everybody, this simply blew me away. I just received an e-mail, and I can't believe the words on the screen in front of me. My immediate thought: I have to share this with my colleagues on TechRepublic. But before I say another word, read the e-mail below and we'll pick up our discussion in a moment.

[A quick note of context: This e-mail was sent in response to a request my client made of its business partner to learn if they could get information about whether a certain project could be done and, if so, by what date. Except for masking the names of the people and the company to protect the innocent (as well as the guilty) I have reproduced the e-mail verbatim.]

Dear Jack:

After some discussions with our IT department, it has been decided that I need to submit a formal "Business Request" (BR).

What this means to us is that IT will need to size the change and submit a price and time estimate. It also means that the process has been taken out of my control and therefore I can no longer guarantee that I can get as timely a response.

The normal process for our IT department is to meet once per month and gather the BRs they have received and talk through the pricing estimate. If the business decides that they are willing to pay the price IT has given us, then the work goes into the queue to be scheduled.

The project is placed in the queue based on a point system, which weighs importance, level of complexity, and the resources required to work on the project and their availability.

At this time I cannot guarantee that I can meet your timeline.

Tim Braverman

Director - Customer Analytics and Reporting

XYZ Corp.

A missed opportunity

Clearly this company and its IT group are at least 20 years behind the rest of the world in terms of IT responsiveness and service delivery. What makes this e-mail even more troubling is that it was sent from a company (the vendor) that makes tens of millions of dollars a year from the relationship with the requesting company (the customer). In other words, the internal IT group at the vendor company is negatively impacting a multimillion-dollar customer relationship. Bad news!

What a sad case of an absolute golden opportunity missed, i.e., IT had the opportunity to play a truly significant role in delivering on a customer's request. Instead, they escorted the customer into the 1970's black hole of IT development.

What's really wrong here?

I'm sure none of the TechRepublic readers would defend this practice. But at the same time we all realize that there needs to be an orderly and sensible process for dealing with IT service requests. And the fact that it happens to be for a customer doesn't really change things a whole lot. There still needs to be a structured approach and method for moving a request through the development process.

So what is it about this e-mail that instinctively rubs us all the wrong way? I suppose it's the fact that while we all know there needs to be a controlled development process, all the customer was really asking for was a time and cost estimate for the project. And the long, drawn-out process described in the e-mail to get to this simple answer just doesn't cut it anymore.

Is this really such an unreasonable request?

What would you do?

I'm sure that nearly everyone on this site has to contend with this very question on a regular basis. And so, rather than tell all of you what changes I think this particular company should make, I'd like to take an opportunity to learn from your collective experience.

How would you advise this company to change its process in order to be more responsive to critical customer requests? Would you:

  • Make the IT meetings more frequent?
  • Make those meetings collaborative with the business?
  • Eliminate the company's point system?
  • Have the business submit a request with certain date and budget parameters from the start?

I think the value in hearing from everyone on this topic is not so much in finding THE answer, but in generating some conversation and in exposing a variety of possible answers, each of which has its place, depending on the organization and the specific situation involved.

So let's hear from you ... tell me what you would advise this company to do in order to establish a more customer-responsive approach to work order management.

Once I have a good number of answers, I promise to write up a synthesis of the best ideas (with a few ideas of my own, of course) so that you can use them in your ongoing challenges in this arena.

Editor's Picks