At Your Service

I want to talk today about that all important entity that often gives us joy, sometimes anguish, and is the reason we service providers get up in the morning.  The dear customer.

I’ve been agonising lately over the way service delivery is done, particularly in the outsourced IT space.  I believe we’re doing it wrong.  It feels all too often as if we’re fighting with the customer, bickering over the details of some or other statement of work or contract.  What’s explicitly included in scope?  What’s excluded?  Let’s have a meeting to discuss the various ways that statement 7.5 in section 82 of the contract can be interpreted!

It all feels very wrong.  As a member of technical staff often involved in this sort of carry-on I can’t help feeling that at the end of the day it’s the customer who loses out.  We never seem to stop to ask ourselves why we are arguing about a small detail.  This can lead to the customer feeling like they aren’t getting their money’s worth, or the big bosses of corporate IT feeling like the customer is trying to get an unfair amount of work out of a set budget.

It’s not just one company or even one industry.  This a general service delivery practice.  I’m talking about coming up with a black and white solution to a set of requirements, nailing down the details before work has started, then fighting to the death to keep those details in place.

Shouldn’t we be working with the customer instead of for them?  There’s an old service delivery anecdote which goes something like this: If you’re in the business of selling coffee machines to hotels, what you should be selling is a solution to the problem of providing quality coffee, at a consistent rate, to the hotel’s customers. This means not selling a coffee machine and moving on.  It means delivering peace of mind to your customer so that they never have to worry about coffee in their organisation ever again.

I believe we in the service delivery business have no more excuses.  We should be developing real relationships with our customers and truly coming to an understanding of their business needs.  We should be leveraging our knowledge and expertise in technical areas and helping our customers visualise a solution in a way they can clearly understand.

In the IT industry our customers come to us seeking a technical solution to a business problem.  They would like to use technology to help their business become more efficient, and ultimately more profitable.  It may sound idealistic, but it’s certainly worth striving for.

It’s time for customer service to change.  For the better.  Who’s up to the challenge?

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