Customer Service Excellence: Now More Than Ever

This year, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to present at itSMF-UK’s conference in London, ITSM16. The topic I chose is one of my favorites, even though my views differ from many in the ITSM world. I firmly believe that excellence in five areas of customer service (see below) can contribute greatly to the effectiveness of service management, which is, as we know, expanding beyond the world of IT.

Support centers have been measuring customer satisfaction for about as long as they have been in existence. If their reports are to be believed, satisfaction with individual transactions has been consistently quite high, while overall satisfactionwhen measuredhas been somewhat lower. One reason for this is the lack of satisfaction in IT performance as a whole. IT has been slow to deliver the systems and services businesses need.

But now, many of those systems and services are readily available from so-called cloud providers, often bypassing the organizational purchasing with the entry of a credit card number. Business units are acquiring technology-driven services they want with or without any IT department involvement (“Shadow IT”).

Rather than dealing with a monolithic “customer” (i.e., a business), those responsible for service and support are dealing with individuals or line of business units. Although the ITIL® definition of the customer as the person or group who defines and agrees the service level targets is still applicable, those services and levels are being defined in multiple ways with multiple providers for multiple people. These changes are also taking place within the context of increased scrutiny through social media, where unhappy customers at all levels often vent their dissatisfaction.

In spite of these changes, individuals who make up business organizations will continue to turn to the support center. The five elements of customer service excellence all play a role in the response:

  •     Insight – Understanding customer needs and requirements and making capabilities clear
  •     Culture – Navigating the organization’s way of getting things done
  •     Information – Transparency and the free exchange of information with customers
  •     Delivery – Meeting and exceeding customer expectations and business goals
  •     Quality – Consistently delivering on promises made to customers in measurable ways

The complexity of the relationships between the service desk and its customers demands better communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Of course, one of the best ways to know whether or not your service is successful is to monitor customer feedback. But there’s another step, and it’s the one so many service organizations miss: Act on the feedback. Of course no organization can do something with every suggestion, but organizations that are not achieving service excellence generally have an annoying habit: They ask for feedback and then ignore it. Don’t ask customers for their opinion if you are not going to listen, assess, and improve service accordingly.

As the relationships between and among the service desk and its multiple customers become more complex, automation is beginning to make some headway. Although self-service knowledge has become more popular, many organizations create knowledge bases that are not written from the customer’s viewpoint, and self-service adoption rates are low as a result. Cognitive systems can play an important role in providing non-human assistance in finding the right information for customers without engaging frontline support in repetitive, non-value-added interactions. If Level 0 is unassisted support, Level 0.5 is where automation begins to assume useful duties in support. This assistance benefits both the customer and the support center in that the customer gets the information they need faster and more accurately, and the support center delivers excellent service while controlling costs. Service is delivered at a level that meets or exceeds customer expectations, and the free flow of information and insight between support and the customer is enhanced, addressing two service excellence key points.

Is all of this work worth it, or does service management just back away from customer relationships and leave things at “good enough?” It’s up to your organization to decide.

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