IT recognizes the service desk as the “voice of IT,” but does it also recognize the service desk as the “voice of the customer”? If IT organizations have business analysts, relationship managers, or service managers, they probably have more exposure to a wider part of the business than the service desk. Yet, when the service desk interacts with the customer, its focus is on restoring service, not on improving IT services.
For most IT departments, the customer satisfaction survey is the only mechanism for measuring customer satisfaction. Yet, these transactional surveys ask questions about the interaction and the restoration, not the service itself. Additionally, transactional surveys only reach those customers (users) who are using support services. What about all of the employees who use IT services to carry out their day-to-day tasks and aren’t calling the service desk?
The service desk can facilitate improvement across the entire service lifecycle by acting on what its staff learns from customer interactions. However, the service desk doesn’t stand alone in this effort. It needs to be built into every aspect of the service lifecycle and by every group within IT, and it needs to start much earlier in the service lifecycle. To truly understand customer expectations and perceptions (internal and external), and deliver services that not only add value and increase satisfaction but also satisfy the business’s needs and help it reach its goals, IT must go beyond the customer satisfaction survey. The ultimate goal should be the creation of a unified IT department that can serve as a true business partner and share in making better decisions that enable the business to achieve its goals.
Working Toward a Unified IT
At a high level, the steps involved in moving toward a unified IT and true business partnership include:
- Defining services and breaking down silos
- Understanding the current situation: the business’s needs, expectations, and current perception of how IT’s services impact people’s jobs and the business’s goals
- Identifying what IT needs to know across the service lifecycle
- Identifying or creating customer touchpoints throughout the lifecycle
Before IT can be successful in enabling the business to meet its goals, it must clearly define its services, from both a business-process perspective and an IT perspective. Internally, IT must identify the resources needed to deliver services and the costs involved. IT must also break down internal silos and unite IT in working toward the business’s shared goals. Finally, IT must let the business define the quality and value of services based on the business processes they facilitate and the business results they impact. All of this needs to happen before services are introduced to the business.
Characteristics of Silos vs. Unified IT
||Focused on alignment and continual improvement |
||Service mentality |
|Lack of communication
||Strong communication |
||Clear responsibilities (RACI) |
|Limited accountability (Lone Rangers)
|Unrealistic commitments that can't be met
The next step on the path to unified IT is understanding what the business needs to accomplish and how IT can help. Through meetings, discussions, interviews, etc., IT needs to learn about the following:
- The business’s current strategies (and it should get involved in defining next year’s strategies)
- What employees in all areas of the organization do every day
- Employees’ current needs, expectations, and level of satisfaction with IT services
- Ways to improve IT services to make employees’ jobs easier
It isn’t always easy to get this type of information. If IT doesn’t have a strong relationship (partnership) with the business currently, IT leaders may need to focus on building the business’s trust in IT. This process may start with “exposing reality,” or showing the business what IT has learned through experience and by following trends. By demonstrating that IT can quantify what is happening to the business and make concrete suggestions for improving services, not only will the business gain a better understanding of IT’s existing services, it will also start to trust that IT is truly interested in working with the business and participating in the decision-making process.
To have a true partnership, IT needs to be able to quantify its costs and accurately forecast the cost of projects and their impact on the budget; this will provide the business’s decision makers with the information they need to fully understand the costs, resource needs, and risks of any strategy that requires IT services. These risks might have an effect on the business environment, and IT should be able to quantify that effect (e.g., how many users were locked out of a key business application, how many locations were impacted, how long the service failure lasted). Trust—true partnership—depends on IT’s ongoing ability to measure, monitor, manage, and communicate.
Gathering this information can also be a challenge. A good way to start is by determining what IT needs to know in each phase of the lifecycle. The chart below lists some examples of useful information IT needs from the business, and vice versa.
Information Needed Throughout the ITIL Lifecycle
||• Business vision |
• Business goals
• Business initiatives
• Customer needs and budget
• Customer input
||• Functional requirements |
• Business requirements
• Project budget
• Success factors
• Design document
• Release criteria
• Testing requirements
• User acceptance
• Mechanism for tracking issues
• Service level performance
• Business impact
|Continual Service Improvement
• Measures against goals
• Success of execution
• Future plans
• Improvement needs
The next step is identify all of the opportunities for customer interaction (touchpoints). Identifying touch points allows IT to better plan for and execute service delivery. Additionally, it’s an opportunity for both IT and the business to understand “the other side” and get a better perspective on the whole picture. This facilitates better business decision making and the delivery of more transparent IT services that positively impact business outcomes.
IT has many opportunities to interact with and learn from the business. These touchpoints provide a means of building relationships and partnerships, improving services, and integrating processes (IT and the business). The table below lists some examples of touchpoints across all lifecycle phases.
Touchpoints Across All ITIL Lifecycle Phases
• Business case development and approval
• Business strategy and initiatives
• High-level planning
• Planning meetings
• Marketing assessment
• Project teams
• Steering committees
• Business requirements
• Functional requirements
• Gemba walk
• Gathering service level requirements
• Rollout planning
• User acceptance testing
• Change meetings
• Finalizing service level agreements
• Communicating rollout schedule
• Command centers
• Support contacts
• Complaints and escalations
• Follow-up calls
• Enhancement committees
• Status updates
• Broadcast messages
• Service catalog
• Collaboration and communication
Continual Service Improvement
• Postmortems (lessons learned)
• Service review meetings
• Major-problem reviews
• Postimplementation reviews
• Customer satisfaction feedback
• Reports, metrics, and measures
• Quality, efficiency, and value
Once IT has identified what it needs to know and where the touchpoints exist, it needs to make a cultural shift and build these mechanisms into projects, processes, and every aspect of service development and delivery. It’s important to recognize that multiple feedback methods will be required to ensure that IT has the most complete understanding of the business’s current reality (the big picture). Because this will be a major change in the way IT and organizational decision makers operate, executive backing will be necessary. Remember, this is a business partnership; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Strong relationships are essential for success.
Putting It All Together
This all sounds good in theory, but how does it really work? Let’s explore a real-world example.
The CEO, CFO, CIO, and division leaders are planning for next year. They’re reviewing feedback solicited by and from the business and IT—ideas for new services or changes to existing services—and discussing the initiatives for each division. Some of these are documented in business cases that present costs, resource needs, risks, and benefits; others are based on what the service desk has learned from its interactions with customers (users).
Once the decision has been made to move forward with any promising initiatives, the CIO brings the documented business plans to IT so that it can identify any infrastructure projects that will be needed to support these initiatives.
Project teams are defined and steering committees are assigned to each project. Steering committees are made up of business partners and IT professionals, and they will make any decisions about changes in scope, costs, functionality, etc., throughout the project lifecycle. The project teams will define business and functional requirements; they will learn how the business operates today and where efficiencies can be gained and processes improved. The service level manager (or relationship managers) will begin to draft operational level agreements (OLAs) and service level agreements (SLAs), which will be signed and finalized before release.
As the services near release, the project teams conduct user acceptance tests and quality assurance tests the services (or changes to existing services). Rollout teams prepare for deployment and conduct pilots. Simultaneously, the service desk participates in testing, and staff are provided with documentation (e.g., release notes, step-by-step procedures) and trained to support the services. They’re also involved in developing and delivering training for the customers (users).
The new services are released by the rollout teams, and the command centers—early life-support teams, comprised of developers, subject matter experts, and service desk personnel—provide support and draft knowledge articles as they interact with the customers (users). The command center updates the standard operating procedures, as needed, and measures OLA/SLA compliance. Feedback is documented and recommendations for improvement are communicated to the appropriate teams and the business to drive continual improvement and ongoing success.
Continual Service Improvement
IT conducts monthly service review meetings with decision makers representing the customers (users). These individuals provide updates on service delivery performance (SLA compliance) as well as feedback and recommendations from business relationship managers or the customers (users) themselves. Additionally, IT holds postmortems to identify ways to improve its processes and methodologies.
True business partnership should be the status quo. IT is a vital member of the business overall, and the service desk is central to its success. It needs to be active in every phase of the service lifecycle, and it needs to be a key communication conduit between the business and IT. The customer satisfaction survey is just one line running through this conduit, and it can be a means of improving the efficiency of service desk operations. But beyond that survey, IT should be listening at every touchpoint and delivering services that help the business meet its goals.
Building a new culture takes time, transparency, communication, and trust. Every touchpoint in the lifecycle is a step toward the new culture. By taking advantage of multiple communication opportunities, involving the right people, and improving processes, the partnership will continually evolve and the business will see positive results. Customer service is more than a survey. It’s the way IT does business.
Rae Ann Bruno is the president of Business Solutions Training, Inc., an organization focused on training and consulting in various areas of ITIL, Knowledge-Centered Support, internal marketing, metrics, and process improvement. Before founding BST, Rae Ann was a practitioner at Siemens Energy & Automation and Cutler-Hammer. She’s currently a member of the HDI Faculty and the HDI International Certification Standards Committee. She holds a number of ITIL certifications and has written several HDI focus books, including What Have You Done for Me Lately?: Creating an Internal Marketing Culture (2010) and Translating IT Metrics Into Business Benefits (2007). Rae Ann is also a regular speaker at industry conferences, including the HDI Annual Conference & Expo and the FUSION Conference & Expo.