Technology is Customer Service First

#information technology #itsm #service

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many different kinds of technology departments in many different corporate environments from manufacturing to health care to software as a service (SaaS) companies. Some were public companies and others privately held. I’ve noticed that it takes a certain kind of person to want to work with server and network infrastructure in IT.

Sometimes it starts with an interest in computers either through gaming or an interest in programming. They become passionate about technology building their own computers from assorted components. Then they become the de facto technical support hotline for their friends and family who see them as experts.

Their first tech-related job is often a Help Desk position assisting users throughout the company with their day to day computer needs. All the while wishing they worked behind the door to the data center or server room where “the magic happens”. These are the machines that keep corporate America humming and if you really knew what it took to support that infrastructure, you might think twice.

When you start hearing things like servers, firewalls, routers, and load-balancers it all sounds like an opportunity to work with really cool equipment...and it is. But you couple that with things like service level agreements, fault tolerance, redundancy, and high availability, the fairly tale falters a little bit. What does it mean to promise 99.99% uptime? That means in a given year, you’ll allow for no more that 53 minutes of unplanned downtime for the services that you provide.

Services?!? Yes. Working in IT means providing a service and not everyone has gotten the memo yet. The people that consume your services are your customers. That’s right. You work in a customer service business. Some of your customers may be external customers but the rest of your customers are the other people that you work with. Do you run an Exchange server? Then email is a service that you provide and everyone with an mailbox is your customer. Do you run SharePoint or some other internal web site? Then the people who use those web sites are your customers...and they expect good customer service.

Not every IT department has made this distinction yet. Administering and supporting various technology components takes a completely different skillset than providing a service and making your customers happy. Each approach tries to answer the same questions but the driver behind your decisions is often very different.

For example one approach to providing email service might be to bring in Exchange servers and its related infrastructure. That would certainly provide some pretty cool tools to work with and put you in a position to get your hands on the latest technology. But supporting Exchange doesn’t stop when you click Finish in the setup wizard. It takes deep understanding of the entire Microsoft stack. Do you have that skillset on your team?

If you take a more customer service approach, you might deploy Office 365 for your users. This provides the exact same experience to your customers. They get to use the full spectrum of Outlook features but you get to leverage the experience and expertise of the Microsoft support team whose sole purpose in life is to support Exchange. Your customers get what they want, and you don’t have the stress of trying to understand, support and troubleshoot things like “Continuous Cluster Replication” or backing up your databases or filtering out spam.

Each approach is different but if the end result is measured by your relationship with your customers you’ll make better decisions about the technology you deploy.

So what can you do to make the switch to a customer service oriented IT department?


I think the first step is transparency. What are you measuring? What are your internal metrics? Make those metrics public knowledge and report on them regularly. Do you have some metrics that you aren’t proud of? Be able to explain what steps you’re taking to improve a particular metric. This helps your customer understand that you’re aware of problem areas and assures them that you’re working on making their lives better.


Ask your customers how you’re doing. Find a way to perform regular customer satisfaction surveys to get an idea of what your customer base thinks of the service you provide. Since we’re being more transparent now, make the results of these surveys public. If you’re ticketing system supports surveys automatically when you close a ticket, use that feature. Give your customers an opportunity to provide feedback as often as possible. If your customers are happy with your service, they’ll be more inclined to take 30 seconds and fill out a survey. If your customer is not happy, they’ll be eager to tell you about that too. Give them a forum to provide feedback and they will. Make sure that you address every negative survey directly with your customer, in person if possible. This demonstrates that you’re actually paying attention and want to improve your quality of service.

Measure Everything

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The first time you start to work with metrics in the IT department, it may seem like the effort isn’t worth the reward. After all, its a lot of work to track all of that stuff and what if the numbers are bad? I don’t want make things worse by pointing out deficiencies. To answer that, ask yourself this. How can you tell your customer that you’re getting better at providing email services if you don’t have the data to back up your claim?

Start with the easiest metrics first. Using the tools that you have today, what can you measure easily and start there. The value of metrics is being able to look at them over time and measure the differences. Over time, some metrics will go up while some go down. You can learn from them by asking “why?” and “what?” Why are availability numbers down? What happened that caused the decline? What can we do to prevent it from happening in the future? Customer satisfaction went up. You must have done something right, can you repeat it?

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you can measure given the right tools:

  • Whats the average time it takes to resolve a ticket?
  • How long does it take to resolve a printer-related ticket versus a web server related ticket?
  • How many incidents do you record per month?
  • How many service requests? Can you tell the difference?
  • What’s your average customer satisfaction score per ticket? per technician? per customer?

Making the transition to an IT department that is focused on customer service is not something that happens overnight but once you start managing your technology from a service perspective, you have happier users and happier users make for happier days for everyone.