You need to support the people not the technology

Sorry but I’m "frustrated of Peterborough" (but not directly at IT for once). Having just come off a half an hour call with two major credit card provider customer service staff, I’m frustrated to within an inch of screaming at...

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Sorry but I’m "frustrated of Peterborough" (but not directly at IT for once). Having just come off a half an hour call with two major credit card provider customer service staff, I’m frustrated to within an inch of screaming at someone. In some ways this blog is my outlet (but there is interesting stuff eventually).

You might think I'm overreacting, however, when one’s time is so limited these days, it is difficult to rise above the fact that I wasted 20 of the 30 minutes most likely because the major credit card provider has offshored its customer support to save money (please note that the offshoring is an assumption on my part based on my interactions).

But what has this to do with IT?

Hopefully you didn’t need to ask this question... I had an issue with a credit card service; many have issues with corporate IT services. We all call up, we all expect a quick resolution and many expect to be treated in a customer, rather than supplier, focused manner.

Oddly enough, I spoke about this exact point at the itSMFUK London Regional yesterday from an IT service management perspective (well specifically a service/help desk perspective). That we are now too focused on the mechanics of things (tool and process and scripts) and that, in some ways by virtue of this, we have dumbed-down the IT service desk.

This is not intended as an insult to service desk people, they have a difficult job: a job where they day in, day out, deal with the fallout from IT failures and the potentially unhappy customers. In an environment where there is very little good news or praise.

So what went/goes wrong?

Oh, I could bore you to death on this (if I haven’t already). But here are a few customer service low-lights that translate to the IT service desk world:

  • Point of entry “etiquette”: Asked three times via the automated interface, and then by the first customer service agent, for my credit card number. I’d lost my card and I am not at home. I didn’t have the number. The second customer service agent asked me for my credit limit as a security question, how am I expected to know this without my credit card statement (I’d already admitted that I wasn’t at home)? We need to think carefully about how we ask customers for information at the initial contact; how does this set the tone and possibly the course of the ensuing interaction?
  • The system is always right: This is a biggie for me. Telling a customer that they are wrong because the system says otherwise is a big mistake. "Your account was closed in May," my response: "then why did you send me the new card two months ago and why do you write to/email/text me weekly to start using it?" Then, as if by magic (OK, through looking a little harder), the "open" account was identified.
  • Dealing with customer frustration: The first customer service agent was too "bound" by her scripts (in so many ways and instances). It was obvious I was becoming frustrated (but hopefully not angry). The next thing I know, she had returned me to the automated call handling system with no warning or explanation (if she hadn’t been struggling I’d have assumed it an accident).

Thankfully a very helpful customer service agent picked me up (although they were in the wrong part of the business to help) and passed me back to where I needed to be. Same-old-same-old though. Your account has been closed, but this time with the added repetition of things due to language issues.

I asked to escalate my call due to my frustrations over their inability to help me and, as often happens with offshore call centres, the request was ignored and even more effort applied to helping me. Thankfully, and hopefully, I will now have a replacement card in five working days.

So what can IT learn?

Yes, I know the above is a big moan but it does closely mirror where I think we are within IT. Most of us will have experienced at least one call to either a corporate, or supplier, IT service desk where the following of scripts and the inability to effectively communicate has caused us frustration and delayed our ability to get back up-and-running quickly.

That experience is most likely ultimately caused by a financially-based decision to staff, operate or even locate the service desk based on price rather than quality of service.

In my opinion it’s a massive mistake that I&O organisations continue to make. The service desk is the business’ window into IT, and a major part of how the business perceives IT performance. We shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot by not placing greater attention on how well our service desks perform; not at a mechanical level, but at a people level.

The caveat here is where the business has specifically asked for a “cheap and cheerful” service desk, the equivalent of Ryanair over British Airways, but it is a demand rather than supply-based decision.

We not only undervalue the importance of our service desks, we undervalue our service desk people.

So ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is a service desk only as good as its people?
  • Where do service desk analysts sit in the IT hierarchy?
  • How are they chosen?
  • How are they rewarded, educated and trained?
  • How is their performance viewed?
  • How are they valued?
  • Do we value the part they play in the business’ perceptions of IT?

Ultimately, I believe that, when it comes to the service desk, we should recruit better people, pay more, but also expect more. We need problem solvers not script readers. We need people people.

The changing business and IT landscapes (increased customer expectations, the consumerisation of IT, competition/the loss of the internal IT monopoly) mean that we need to up our IT service desk game. It’s like in poker where they recommend that you "play the person, not the hand".

We need to support the people not the technology.

What do you think?


Posted by Stephen Mann

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