Admittedly, I wasn’t grateful for the experience in the moment. It was many years ago now, but the lesson has served me well since then, likely hundreds of times. I can now sincerely say I’m very grateful to have the mantra "Never lose sight of your customer."
How did I learn this lesson? I had recently attended my first HDI conference and was inspired by what I’d learned and what was possible. So, when my supervisor mentioned to me in a relatively casual conversation that she wanted to understand what her analysts were doing all day, I thought “I will pull some metrics together, create a wonderful report, and automate it so she can see it whenever she wants.”
I jumped right in and started putting it together. Over the next three weeks, I worked on it when I felt I had time and worked unclocked overtime when I didn’t. I determined what information I wanted to look at and pulled data out of the ticketing system to support it. I built linked Excel reports and even that automated report I wanted to make. I really felt it was a thing of beauty, and when it was finished, I felt I’d built a “SuperReport.” I could track and trend how many tickets the service desk had and our available hours vs. occupied hours and demonstrate our ideal staffing numbers.
During those three weeks, I didn’t really talk about what I was working on, because I was sure it was going to be worth it when I was finished, and honestly, I think I wanted it to be some sort of surprise. I asked my supervisor if I could have some time, and I presented her with my work of art.
The meeting didn’t go as expected. My supervisor was pretty quiet, and I felt my confidence in my SuperReport faltering. Although she said that she was interested in what I’d done, I left the office feeling rather deflated and that somehow I hadn’t demonstrated the value of what I’d done.
The next day I got a meeting request to receive feedback on my SuperReport. I thought “OK, good. She just needed time to process it.” I wasn’t wrong, but when we met, the feedback wasn’t positive. Instead of the accolades I’d anticipated, it was a more critical review of how I’d spent my time over the past three weeks, and that the report wasn’t useful for her current goals. As I tried to pick my jaw up off the floor, I learned that when she was asking “What are my analysts doing,” she had been thinking about the types of work the service desk was receiving and resolving because she needed to provide Human Resources with job profiles and skill set identification. I had mistakenly interpreted that she was thinking about the volume we were receiving and whether or not we were working efficiently. As her words sank in, I began to realize that she was not saying that my work was poor or that it was not useful; it just wasn’t what she wanted or needed at that time. And that’s what made it a failure instead of a success.
What did I learn? I had lost sight of whom I was working for. I didn’t think of my supervisor as my customer, and when you get right down to it, I was working for me, not her. I was doing what I thought was important, what I thought mattered most, and if I’m honest, what was interesting to me. I hadn't asked my supervisor what she wanted nor if she wanted me to do it; I thought I was showing initiative, but what I was really showing was my business immaturity.
That experience, along with my supervisor’s patience and mentorship, taught me how important it is to remember your customer and how dangerous it can become if you do not. You can avoid having to learn the hard way (like I did) by asking yourself a few questions and remembering some key points:
Ask yourself “Who or what am I doing this work for?” If you don’t really know, then think twice before committing to that work. Ask yourself the same question a few times during your task or project to make sure you’re still on track. If you find yourself wondering what purpose or person you are serving, it’s time to check in with your customer or supervisor!
If you find yourself wondering what purpose you are serving, it’s time to check in with your customer.
Is your solution/result aligned with your team, department, or company goals? This may seem a little lofty. But it is wise to ensure that while serving your customer that you are also able to tie your results to your team or department. Who/what is benefiting from your results?
Anyone can be your customer. Once you are working on something, no matter what it is, the person requesting it is essentially your customer and needs to be treated accordingly. A co-worker who is asking you for a report is as much your customer as the client calling in for support on their printer.
What does your customer want? Be sure you are clear on what your customer is looking for and that they’re on board with your proposed solution or result. In my situation, because I hadn’t asked my supervisor what she wanted, I didn’t even have a customer and there I was doing all this work!
If your customer has asked you to build a red box, and you produce a blue box, it doesn’t matter how wonderful or perfect your blue box is. They didn’t want a blue box.
Kristin Jones is a passionate customer support advocate with a focus on people and process, and has been leading IT teams with delight for more than a decade. A lifelong learner who seeks to inspire others with fresh ideas, she is an active member of the HDI community and holds certifications in ITIL v3., HDI Support Center Manager and KCS Foundations. She strives to end each day having smiled more than frowned and having helped someone (or something!) work better. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kitonjones.