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In a service culture, the customer comes first. Employees are rewarded based upon their customer service efforts, and they are encouraged to “go the extra mile” in assuring customer satisfaction. Great customer service is a central focus of some businesses, and customer satisfaction, loyalty and continued patronage are among the primary metrics that organizations use to gauge their success.

Ultimately, isn’t everyone a salesperson, including IT professionals? On the job, employees continually promote themselves and their work to build trust and to be seen as a problem solver. Failing to do this could lead customers to looking elsewhere.

Current IT environment in companies

In the past five years, there has been a migration of business users from central IT data centers to vendor-sponsored clouds. At the same time, low-code and no-code development has flourished, sparked by a new generation of citizen developers in user departments who are tired of waiting for IT to complete their requests. CIOs have noticed.

More companies are investing in the development and recruitment of employees with soft skills such as empathetic listening, the ability to convert a user’s business need into an effective IT solution and the willingness to go the extra mile to meet a user’s need.

Unfortunately, not everyone in IT can make the switch to an IT service culture.

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The benefits of a service culture

When disputes and unhappiness arise between IT and the internal user departments that IT serves, the culprits are usually poor communications and misunderstandings.

Historically, some of this can be traced back to IT’s penchant for communicating in technical terms that business users don’t understand but are afraid to ask about because they don’t want to appear unknowledgeable.

In other cases, it is IT’s task orientation. Once a project is defined, IT gets to work and forgets to stay in touch with users with updates, so users get nervous.

Other disputes might arise due to difficult users. These are the users where business analysts who are skilled in negotiation skills can help. And when needed, these issues can be escalated to user management for resolution.

In all of these examples, if IT focuses on empathetic listening, timely and proactive communications and “going the extra mile” in service, projects will run smoother, and user-IT collaboration will foster higher levels of internal customer satisfaction.

What challenges could IT teams face when adopting a service culture?

Unfortunately, not everyone in IT can easily make the switch to a service culture, especially when it comes to internal users, which they can tend to take for granted.

In one case, a CIO of a major Midwest bank let several of his top system programmers go because they refused to move outside of their silos of expertise and collaborate with others in the internal IT service culture the CIO was trying to cultivate.

“It was a tough call, and it was hard to lose them,” he said. “I had to bring in expensive consultants to fill their shoes while I recruited for these difficult-to-fill positions, but I knew we had to become a service culture going forward.”

What IT can deliver

IT can deliver responsive and proactive communications to users and customers about tech issues and project execution. It can do this by meeting regularly with users at the beginning of project concept building. In these early sessions, IT can help users identify business problems and find ways that technology can assist in solving them.

In application development, IT and quality assurance (QA) can spend as much quality time on application usability for users as they do in application technical execution.

At the help desk and in application development, IT can proactively communicate project progress and challenges. In all cases, communications should be in plain English and not in technical jargon.

How IT managers can support a service culture

As a company builds a service culture, CIOs should identify IT team members with strong customer and communication skills and place these individuals on the front line.

Some areas of IT that might encounter more challenges with a service culture are systems, database and networking administration. IT pros in these areas must be able to collaborate with customer-facing business analysts, but they don’t have to be on the front line. This allows highly technical personnel to remain focused on the tech while business analysts work with IT and with end users as liaisons.

It’s important to remember that empathy and open, proactive and continuous communications from IT to end users can build trust and loyalty, even when projects fall behind. As one user told me when I was in IT management: “It’s not so much that a project is behind. It’s that no one told me about the delay in advance, so I could plan other work while the problem was being addressed.”