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Improving IT Service : Creating a Culture that supports

May 27, 2008

  1. Understand IT Value Proposition. Understanding how IT delivers value to customers will help the IT organization initiate the journey to a service culture. The IT value proposition is a combination of what value IT delivers to the customer and how it delivers it. You must first segment your customers into respective stakeholder groups. By customer, we are talking about the small ‘c’ internal customer or user of IT services. These various stakeholders will have different wants, needs, and service expectations, and each must be considered when looking at value. Value is unique to each stakeholder group. Collectively, they will represent your composite IT value proposition. In today’s business environment, learning to manage your IT value proposition is a critical success factor.

  2. Align IT Service Processes. Once the customer view is understood, you need to conduct a gap analysis against your current IT service capability and use this to re-align your IT service processes. The focus needs to be on redefining your new IT capability model in terms of the processes, skills, and knowledge needed to deliver on and exceed your customer expectations. This needs to be supported by an enabling infrastructure, which includes organizational design, financial asset allocations, and internal information technology systems.

  3. Monitor IT Service Levels. With this new IT service capability model defined and in place, a monitoring system must be established to track customer service levels and progress towards the new service culture environment. This requires capturing customer feedback at multiple points and times in the service capability model. This service performance data will be used to measure improvement and to conduct root cause analysis as a basis for further changes in the model, allowing the cycle to be repeated.


Ultimately, IT is in business to serve the business. It is the effective deployment of Information Technology that allows your company to have the business capability needed to deliver value to your big ‘C’ customers. It is essential to have direct linkage of the IT function to specific business capability requirements and customer expectations. It is this linkage that will deliver the anticipated business benefits to your company. Establishing this linkage starts with understanding your customer.

To start, it is extremely important to understand what each of the various stakeholder groups expect and want from their IT function in terms of service delivery attributes, business requirements, and value. This examination needs to have a broad scope and looks at several elements of service delivery. These include:


Strategic planning to align IT with the business strategy.

Understanding and capturing user business requirements.

Managing user relationships.

Educating the user community on IT capabilities (the art of the possible).

Developing or acquiring new IT solutions.

Implementing/deploying new IT solutions.

Providing training for IT solutions.

Providing helpdesk support for IT solutions.

The easiest way to gather requirements is to engage the various stakeholders in a dialogue around their desired wants and needs. This can be done through a set of formal interviews and focus groups, and should be summarized into a document that will then be used to refocus the IT organization around the customer.

During this analysis, the focus is on what customers want and expect from IT on a day-by-day operational basis, as well as understanding how well IT is currently doing — what’s working, what’s not, what would they like to see or have, what needs to change, and how. For example, if users are unhappy with helpdesk response time, it’s important to understand what aspect of the helpdesk support are they concerned about and what would they like to see improved. It may be that the response time of the initial call back is extremely important to them. Part of the improved service delivery might be to establish a five-minute call back standard to make contact, to understand and capture the problem, to confirm a time when someone will be available to fix the problem, and to reassure the user that IT is there to help.

In capturing these customer wants and needs, it’s also important to differentiate between basic needs and those that will truly delight the customer. Kano’s hierarchy of needs, , separates customer expectations into three categories. Basic needs are those that are expected as the entry-level (or baseline) services and, if not met, result in significant customer dissatisfaction. Satisfiers are those that will deliver positive customer results. Delighter expectations are those things that the customer doesn’t expect, but, if delivered, would truly delight them and result in exceptional levels of satisfaction.
Image from book


Once the customers’ wants and needs are understood and documented, IT must now deliver on these customer service expectations. The customer value proposition analysis provides the basis for a gap analysis against your current IT service performance level. While you captured the wants and needs of the various stakeholders, you also gained a sense of what they would like to see. The difference from your current IT service model becomes your “gap.”

The gap from the current environment needs to be closed by establishing a new IT service model. This new model is defined by the processes, procedures, skills, and technology within IT, and how they are aligned with what the users want. Each must be examined to identify what needs to be changed. During this phase, it will be very important to establish some priorities of desired customer outcomes, by segment. Since this change will be a journey over time, you need to focus your resources and energy on improving the most important things first.

Many of the desired outcomes and attributes can be incorporated into service level agreements that need to be put in place between IT and the user community. Establishing a service contract with users is an important step in changing the service attitude of IT staff — it crystallizes user expectations and the IT commitment to delivering on its service value proposition.

An overall action plan, with a set of specific projects, can be defined with owners assigned to each. This should be approached on a process-by-process basis. For each major IT service process, a service improvement plan needs to be defined that outlines six to eight changes that need to be implemented, who is responsible for each change, when it will be completed, what resources are required, what policy change is required, and so on. This plan should be reviewed and signed off by the users. This is their improvement plan as much as it is an IT improvement plan.

This joint, team-based commitment is also an important part of changing the attitudes of IT staff. Their participation with the users in examining the current service levels and identifying what should be changed will gain their buy-in to the plan and their commitment to improving service to users. Assigning owners to each of the improvement action plans will also increase ownership and commitment to improving service levels and allow you to track progress.

Another important aspect of developing a service attitude within IT is the formal assignment of IT staff to the various user departments as service ambassadors. This relationship management responsibility is designed to engage the IT staff in building and maintaining relationships with the user community. The role focuses on customer expectation and satisfaction management. The objective is to improve overall user satisfaction levels, over time.

Reviewing the skills of your IT staff and mapping them against the user service expectations by process area may identify skill gaps that need to be addressed in order to improve customer service. A personal skills planning approach can be utilized to work with each team member to develop a customized skills development plan. This plan should include a number of elements that collectively will increase the skill level of the individual in the area needed to close the skills gap. The plan could include a number of the following elements:


Formal education and training courses, both classroom and e-learning based.

Participation in industry association committees, events, and conferences.

Mentoring programs, where the individual receives coaching from an expert who is available to answer questions and provide guidance.

Apprenticeship programs, where an individual participates in specific projects to gain new skills by working with others.

Certification programs, such as Project Management Institute (PMI) accreditation.

In addition to individual skills development planning, an overall customer service training program for all IT staff may be needed to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what customer service is and what needs to be done to improve it. This could be accomplished by an on-site seminar for the complete IT staff, or by a series Web-enabled customer service “lunch and learn” sessions. Regardless of the training mode, some customer service training for all IT staff will help in the journey to change their service attitude.

Finally, if you really want to change the service attitude of your IT staff, you need to change the measurement and incentive program to reflect the overall service objectives. Every member of the team needs to know that customer service is important for success and be committed to customer service as part of achieving their personal business commitments.

A personal commitment planning approach will engage IT staff in defining personal service goals, aligned with the overall IT service strategy. This approach establishes direct linkage between the individual and his/her area of focus and what is needed for service success. This “trickle down” approach ensures that the IT service objectives are in turn supported by the objectives of every individual team member.

Any objective-setting exercise needs to be coupled with an effective measurement and compensation system. It’s important to ensure that customer service measurements are objective and directly tied to the reward and compensation system of the company. Base pay raises, performance bonuses, and other recognition programs need to be driven by the overall IT customer service results. Every IT staff member should have some level of compensation directly tied to user service performance. A “big team” customer service measurement and reward approach is preferable, as it encourages strong teamwork in serving the customer and delivering high satisfaction. Every little activity or task can have an impact on customer service. When a service crisis occurs, you want the complete IT staff prepared to pitch in and help resolve it, because they know they are measured on overall customer satisfaction.

Once the IT department has examined how it serves customers and what changes are needed to re-align IT service processes with customer expectations, it needs to monitor progress towards the ultimate goal.

Sustaining the change requires a service management framework within IT that ensures everyone is focused on delighting the customer. This management framework contains a number of important techniques that you can implement to help achieve success, including:


Managing user expectations.

Capturing and resolving user complaints.

Tracking service level performance.

Conducting root cause analysis and continuously improving service processes.

Promoting a service culture.

Managing User Expectations

A useful technique that can be used to help manage user satisfaction is the Condition of Satisfaction Commitment Form (COScom). This simple form is used to initiate a discussion with users on their expectations or conditions of satisfaction for various IT projects, service support requirements, and so on. At the beginning of the project or specific timeframe, the service ambassador discusses the user’s expectations and documents them on the COScom form. This is then used throughout the project to test how well IT is doing on meeting their service expectations. If things are going well, then no additional action is required. However, if things are not going as expected, then agreed-to actions need to be defined to improve the service situation. This management of service expectations builds a formal process into the management structure of the company to ensure that IT is improving service levels at every level. At the end of the project, a more formal transaction survey can be used to provide a broader evaluation of the service experience. If you do a good job in setting and monitoring user expectations and deliver on their conditions of satisfaction, you will significantly increase overall satisfaction levels.
Image from book

Capturing and Resolving User Complaints

Another very important technique that you need to incorporate into your service management framework is complaint management. First of all, you need to capture, categorize, and log every complaint, regardless of source or impact on the business. Every complaint is an opportunity to understand your service value proposition and improve it. Complaints come in many different formats and through many different channels. Some will be done through strongly worded e-mails or voice messages, and others will be through direct, face-to-face contact. Regardless of the source or delivery channel, you need to log each formal complaint in a complaint log and assign an owner to resolve it.

This log should include the date that the complaint was made and the date that the complaint was resolved satisfactorily. This is extremely important. Customer satisfaction is directly affected by how you handle complaints. Users understand that the world isn’t perfect and mistakes happen. If you quickly acknowledge and capture the complaint, show empathy towards the impact it has on the user, and outline a plan to resolve it, customers will be very forgiving. The complaint will not impact overall customer satisfaction if you effectively and quickly manage the resolution. On the other hand, if you are slow to acknowledge the problem and carefree in how you deal with it, you increase the risk of having a dissatisfied customer.

You also need to make it easy for users to submit a complaint, and for your IT staff to capture it. Setting up a complaint e-mail address or voicemail box will provide an easy-to-remember and useful method for both users and IT staff to capture the complaint. Users should be encouraged to submit their problems online — this provides the start of an electronic audit trail that can be used in the resolution steps. The complaint can then be assigned a tracking number and a resolution owner, and logged in a simple database (e.g. using MS Excel or Access).

Establishing a complaint log and the capture of every single complaint will provide a set of metrics for statistical analysis and reporting. This will be used to initially establish a performance baseline and to monitor progress over time. The number of complaints and the resolution response time are two important customer service metrics.
Tracking Service Level Performance

If you want to improve service performance, you need to measure it. There are a number of things that can be measured and they fall into two general categories. The first category is the quantitative measures that relate to day-to-day operational service performance levels, such as response times, turnaround times, cycle times, and defect rates. These will be defined in the service level agreements established with users and are usually tracked electronically via system-generated metrics. These “service reports” are usually sent to users a monthly basis.

The second category represents the more qualitative measures based on satisfaction surveys. These tend to be more subjective measures that are influenced by relationships and attitudes. There are two types of user satisfaction survey techniques that can be used; transaction surveys and overall satisfaction surveys. The transaction survey is used to measure the specific and immediate response satisfaction levels. This is a test of the quality of the service interaction provided e.g. after a helpdesk query or after a delivery of a project milestone. See, “Transaction Satisfaction Survey” included in the Zip File. Having your IT staff request user feedback from their service encounters will help in changing their service attitudes. They will know that each time they interact with users, they are contributing to the service experience and that the quality of the service may be measured.

The overall satisfaction survey tests the broader level of satisfaction over time. This is conducted at least once per year and as frequently as quarterly during the early phase of implementation. These surveys test the overall satisfaction with IT and incorporate all aspects of service delivery, the good and the bad. They are an excellent vehicle to track service performance over the long term and can be used as the general barometer for the “big team” measurement scorecard used for annual incentive payments. This scorecard measures the combined percentage of satisfied or very satisfied users. A score in excess of 80 percent is deemed a good level of satisfaction, and in excess of 90 percent is outstanding. Once a baseline measurement is established, the bar can be adjusted annually to target the desired improvement in overall satisfaction. Annual improvements of 3 percentage points are typical in early years. See, “IT User Satisfaction Survey” included in the Zip File.
Conducting Root Cause Analysis and Continuous Improvement

Once you have established the new customer service standards and new IT capability model, it is extremely important to also establish a closed loop feedback structure. This will focus the IT staff on continuously improving the service processes. Change will not happen instantly and you will make mistakes. You need a mechanism to monitor progress and make adjustments to the service delivery processes. This is where you need to apply old-fashioned Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques to the situation. The process owners need to review process flows and job roles, analyze performance metrics, dialogue with the user community, and be on top of ensuring the processes you put in place are working to the users’ expectations.

When something isn’t working, the worst thing you can do is to ignore it. Doing so will allow it to fester and grow into a much bigger problem than it is. You want to apply root cause analysis techniques, such as “fish bone” charting, to get to the fundamental cause of the problem. You want to treat the problem, not the symptoms.

A outlines a simple “fish bone” chart that can be used. Starting with a clearly defined problem statement, the analysis is done along four spines. Each is examined to determine what, within each area, is contributing to the problem until the root cause is uncovered. Action plans are then defined to fix the root issue. Many times, problems are rooted in policy issues that are preventing the effective delivery of expected service. This focus on process improvement is an ongoing effort that, over time, will become ingrained in the IT service delivery capability. The very nature of focusing on continuously improving customer service processes will have a strong impact on changing the service attitudes of your IT staff.

Promoting a Service Culture

The most important thing you need to do to develop a customer service attitude within IT is to promote the initiative and make it a very visible part of the organization’s focus. Customer service must be front and center in everything you do. As the IT executive, you need to take the lead to make things happen. A ‘hands-on’ approach is critical to managing the behavioral changes required for the transition to a new service culture. Monthly team meetings should contain customer service discussions and content around new service process changes. During these meetings you need to review progress-to-date, current issues, and define actions to resolve service problems. They should also include examples of service success stories and a sharing of ideas and examples of what works well.

On a day-to-day basis, you need to coach your IT staff by continuously expressing your service expectations and by providing immediate feedback. You need to apply the “One Minute Manager” principle (The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard, Spencer & Johnson) and deal with issues on the spot. When you encounter a wrong behavior or service performance issue, you need to pull the employee aside and discuss it immediately. Providing instant feedback and suggestions for improvement in a positive, constructive manner needs to be done in a penalty-free environment.

To complement this service focus, you also need to recognize and celebrate successes. This can be done at many levels and will serve as a positive reinforcement of the service strategy in play. You need to make this exciting and fun, creating a lot of visibility for the service behaviors you are trying to develop in IT. Programs such as the “service employee of the month” can be used to recognize the new service attitude being expressed. This should be accompanied by some reward, such as a significant gift certificate or a dinner-for-two voucher at a local restaurant.

Another service program to consider is the user “service voucher” approach. This approach provides the users with “service excellence vouchers” that they choose to give to a member of the IT staff who provided special service to them. The users get to decide the “who, what, and when” they want to recognize for exceeding their service expectations. The approach works by having the user complete a brief description of the service encounter and what the individual did to provide exceptional service, and then hand the voucher out on the spot. There is no formal nomination or approval process required. These vouchers are then redeemed by the IT staff member for token gift certificates (e.g. movie tickets). The concept here is to have a lot of winners being recognized for a lot of positive service encounters with users. Winners and their success stories can then be posted on a bulletin board.

This approach also allows you to capture a user service vignette that can be used in promoting overall IT service improvement. These can be published in a quarterly newsletter to the user community, along with the service performance statistics that you are tracking.

These statistics are a very important way to ensure progress is made, because what gets measured will get changed. All statistics need to be published — the good, the bad, and the ugly — along with improvement plans. Over time, a graphical representation of these statistics can be used to show progress. This is important for both the user community, as well as for IT staff. Within the IT area, you need to keep these service statistics very visible by posting them on a performance bulletin board. Everyone needs to know exactly how the IT department is performing on its service objectives.

When major milestones are achieved, you need to celebrate the success with some level of excitement, such as a cake, a team luncheon, or a big banner announcing that you have achieved it (e.g. surpassing the 80 percent user satisfaction target for the first time).

Finally, you need to reinforce your commitment to service with your users. They need to be reminded that this is a journey you have chosen to pursue, that progress is being made, and that you are still committed to developing a service culture with your IT department. An annual thank-you letter to your users is one way you can do this. This letter would thank users for allowing you to serve them, review the service standards and objectives you set for the IT department, update them on the progress that has been made in the previous year, and announce any new service stretch objectives for the coming year


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