Building a client-focused IT culture

Building a client-focused IT culture

Three key elements that you need to consider when adopting a service mindset

When you think of good service, what comes to mind? What separates elevated service from the norm? To answer these questions, let’s first understand the difference between customer service and hospitality.

Customer service includes all the things we do for our clients, while hospitality is how we make them feel and the experience we leave them with. The goal is to create positive, memorable experiences for the client.

Clients remember the really good and the really bad. If it is just normal, it is forgotten very quickly. The key to delivering these types of experiences is the mindset that your team and culture brings to the daily interactions with your clients.

I’ve worked with thousands of clients and have identified three vital mindset factors necessary to build a client-focused IT culture.

1. Learn to love complaints

Complaints are a good thing. It should be much more disconcerting not to hear your clients complaining. Too often, unhappy clients remain quiet, giving you no chance to prove you can do better or solve the issue at hand.

This bad news then tends to spread more quickly than the good news. Complaints are your clients’ form of communication and they should be both treasured and encouraged.

They represent a learning opportunity for you and your team, a chance to get it right. You can’t fix it if you don’t know about it.

With that being said, this is not an easy mindset to develop. This is due to the emotion that gets tied to a complaint. We take them personally and often feel the need to justify or defend.

Complaints often sound disrespectful or even hostile. You need to look beyond the personal and turn complaints into something impersonal, trackable and logical.

What if you stripped away all the emotion from the complaints? What if you simply heard them as information or input that you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to?

To accomplish this, I recommend using the following process:

  • Thank the client for making the complaint. This may sound counterintuitive but it assists you in making the required mindset change and lets the client know you are interested and that you care.

  • Gather more information. Get into their world and find out all you can so that you can assist them. The goal is to investigate and not interrogate.

  • Apologise even if you don’t think it was IT’s fault. Show the clients that they are important and they matter to you. Saying something as simple as ‘I’m sorry you had this experience’ can make a difference in how the client feels about the service they receive. The one caveat here is that you must really mean it and it must be sincere. A false or insincere apology can be worse than none at all.

  • Ask how you can help. This doesn’t mean becoming an order taker or being a door mat. It means really listening to the client, finding out what happened, what is making them unhappy and then making a commitment to take steps to rectify it.

2. Make every interaction count

This mindset focuses on the daily interactions that IT has with both business clients and IT peers. You need to recognise that every interaction and impression counts. These are the ‘Moments of Truth’.

This term was first conceptualised by service management guru Richard Norman and then popularised by Jan Carlzon, a renowned turnaround artist who wrote a book with that title.

In a typical organisation, hundreds or thousands of these moments take place every day. The first voice they hear at the help desk, the first link they click on the IT Website, the email they receive from IT, every time they encounter a member of the IT staff in the hallway or the lift.

If you think about it, if any member of your team was riding in the lift this morning with the CEO, would you be confident and secure in the interaction that would take place?

Or do you have certain team members who cause your heart to jump into your throat when you think of this scenario?

All these moments can work to IT’s benefit or detriment. If you map out all the moments of truth that clients experience with the IT organisation and assess what their experience is like through those interactions, you’ll have a good idea of your organisation’s level of service and where it needs to improve.

This can range from the tone of your voice and body language to a much broader scale, like revamping all your forms or streamlining your Website interface.

3. Develop a ‘we’ mentality

Creating an IT service culture is not an individual effort. A team mentality is important because a service-oriented culture requires consistency with all team members. No matter who a client interacts with, they need to experience the same positive attitude and have the same positive experience.

Consistency is also important for developing long term trusted advisor relationships with business clients.

Clients will increase their loyalty to an internal IT team, when all the experiences they have with IT team members are positive ones.

It’s time that IT gets rid of the all too common ‘us versus them’ mentality toward the business which suggests a separation at best and a combative relationship at worst.

IT organisations must realise that they and the business are part of the same whole, the very reason they want to provide excellent service is that they’re working with their business counterparts to achieve a common goal.

The development of a service process is a continuing strategy, a method, and a mindset. It is not a result. With every day, every moment, and every interaction between IT and its clients, impressions are formed for better or for worse.

It is these impressions that will determine the level of hospitality that your clients feel and are critical to the creation of long-term client loyalty. It is service that will raise your IT department above commodity status.

Lou Markstrom is the co-author of “Unleashing The Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together”, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. He is also a professional development specialist at DDLS.

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