Editor’s note: Ed Gagnon is president of Charlotte-based Customer Service Solutions, Inc.
By EDWARD GAGNON
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – If you work in the world of government, education, healthcare, or banking, you’re working in an industry that’s heavily regulated. There are rules, policies, and laws governing much of what an organization must do or how it does it. You’re in an industry that has a tremendous amount of daily contact with your consumers, students, patients, and other customers. And all the while, you find yourself in the information technology (I.T.) arena within these high-touch and highly regulated places.
It’s not easy on you, your staff, or the organization to continually improve the organization’s efficiency and customer service to its external customers through the use of technology. Moreover, at the same time, you’re tasked with hitting your own budget targets, recruiting/retaining staff, and satisfying your own internal customers.
That’s a daunting challenge for any I.T. department in any industry. So how do you help your customers succeed and yet still create a customer service-oriented mindset in your own I.T. department?
Changing the Strategic Direction
Much of the solution lies in the understanding of the differences between the traditional I.T. department and a modern day Technology Service Center (TSC). The traditional I.T. department is very technology-focused, where the leadership looks for the newest technology and attempts to find applications for it within the organization. The I.T. department is structured in a very hierarchical manner, where decisions are typically made from the top, strategic plans are built on newly anticipated technological advances (assuming that the I.T. strategic plans are made at all), and each I.T. division within the department is trying to hit their own often-conflicting goals.
For a more modern TSC, the organization tries to determine its success by determining how to help its customers (particularly internal customers) achieve their goals. This requires a relationship with internal departments that fosters willingness for internal customers to share their strategic plans, and for the TSC to construct its plans around applications or services to help these customers achieve their goals. The performance metrics used by the TSC have a strong customer component, where many of the success factors relate to how well their customer departments achieved objectives. This results in a measurement of customer satisfaction and a timely means to address any problems.
This customer needs-driven I.T. planning and the resulting incorporation of customer satisfaction and success into your balanced scorecard are part of a high-level refocusing on the importance of the customer.
Structuring for Account Management
But more structural actions need to be taken to move forward as a TSC. For example, organizations that are truly customer-focused will want to have some formal structure in place for relationship development efforts with their customers. This includes TSC staff dedicated to various customer departments to learn more about their business needs and proactively suggest technology solutions.
This structure, essentially an account management/relationship development division within the TSC, would also serve as a conduit for addressing issues between the customer and the TSC management/staff. This positioning of the account management function helps to ensure that both the customer needs are being appropriately addressed and appropriately balanced against the broader organization’s mission, goals, policies, and regulatory constraints.
The account managers would be charged with getting to know the customers, developing ongoing communication with them, addressing “retention” issues (where customers may look to outsource rather than work with the TSC), and looking for opportunities to use TSC services in ways that the customer never considered.
Changing the Culture
An I.T. department can have the best structure, plans, and measures in place, and it can still fail. This is because the I.T. department’s culture won’t accept the direction that the organization desires. This can be due to many factors such as the organization not having a “rallying point,” or a true reason for the change – something that staff can see as a near-term payoff, something they can buy into. Maybe management isn’t “walking the talk.” The organization needs to make sure it’s aligning its incentives and rewards system with customer satisfaction. Sometimes, business processes and project management structures need to be redesigned to be more customer-friendly. Staff must be hired, trained, and equipped to know how to improve service levels, communicate effectively, and be successful in this environment.
It can be a daunting task to move away from the I.T. department mindset to one that supports the organization’s mission of serving its customer, while balancing its own financial goals with the success of its internal customers, and retaining its expertise in the visioning for and delivery of technology.
But as organizations are continually asked to do more with fewer resources, to be technology experts and still be service-oriented, daunting tasks must be completed successfully.
Make sure your I.T. area has the customer needs-based planning focus, customer-oriented metrics, internal account management structures, and organizational culture to be successful for the long-term.
Ed Gagnon is president of Charlotte-based Customer Service Solutions, Inc., which specializes in customer retention and growth strategies, training and research. He can be reached at (704) 553-7525 or Ed.Gagnon@cssamerica.com.