Yesterday I spent nearly two hours resolving an issue in which
one of my ISPs “turned off” my account because it had failed to
update its records. The low point of the conversation was when one of the help
desk/customer service reps decided I needed a new security phrase. He asked for
my father’s middle name. I replied he didn’t have one. He then stated that we
would use my father’s first name. Being that I am a Jr. and he had just
finished verifying my full name and address not more than two minutes before, I
told him that he would have to figure that one out on his own, and I ended the
conversation. I called back and finally spoke to someone in the United States
who resolved my issue in less than five minutes.

Needless to say, I was infuriated by the whole affair. I am
sure you have had similar experiences. In fact, how many of you can say that
you actually look forward to dealing with a company’s help desk/customer
service/support?

It’s easy to identify the cost-cutting measures responsible
for this degraded service. Moving support staff to off-shore facilities, staff reduction,
and cutting hours of availability leads to poor communications, longer waits on
the phone, and frustrated customers.

Unfortunately this has become the norm in private industry, but
what about government? I am talking with more and more people in government IT
shops who are considering these same cost-cutting measures regarding their
customer service. I see this as a negative trend. But you don’t have to
outsource to have lousy customer service. I know a number of government
employees that refer to their help desks as the “helpless desk” and
would rather have a root canal than have to call for assistance.

I hear how business and government leaders have lost faith in
IT, and that we must start to change negative perceptions regarding IT
performance. One way to repair that perception is to recognize that customer
service (i.e., the help desk) is usually the face of IT for any organization. If
you consistently present a negative or surly attitude to your customers and partners,
you end up with low expectations and a bad reputation.

The customer service downward spiral

So why do we allow poor customer service to happen? Partly
because we are always having to do more with less. With economic pressures
being what they are, something has to give, and that something is often
support. Secondly, I think it is partially related to the fact that we have a
captive market. The public has to consume government services whether they like
it or not, and government agencies don’t have a choice in who provides them
their IT resources. So why should anyone bend over backwards to make them
happy? Thirdly, I think many IT departments have an inflated view of
themselves. They have forgotten that the role of IT is to be an enabler. The organization benefits from
them to the extent that IT makes the rest of the organization better, faster,
and smarter. IT is there to serve and to be a partner. If IT is not performing
those basic functions, there is a problem.

Achieving excellence in customer service

Despite these reasons above, good IT departments know that excellence
in their government IT organizations starts with the customer service area of
their operations
. This is not the place to skimp or to put their “problem”
employees. Good IT departments also know that good customer service is more
than lip service, and it requires a culture change. Negative attitudes towards
customers should be frowned upon. References to 1D10T errors by frustrated support engineers or displaying a condescending
attitude toward users should not be tolerated. Good IT departments also know
that excellent customer service is infectious and employees other than those at
the help desk will participate in the process when user feedback is positive. Lastly,
good IT departments know that excellent customer service affects the bottom
line. If the organization is happy with you, funding for your staff resources
and special projects tends to follow.

Check out these resources on improving customer service and
help desk support:

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