Refine Your Service Value Proposition
IT organizations are service organizations. They don’t become service leaders through sightless evolution. IT leaders must engage their counterpart business unit leaders (i.e., the heads of logistics, purchasing, etc.) to have a good grasp of their own departmental goals, plans and objectives. Understanding the strategy and goals of the business it serves is critical to the alignment of objectives. The IT organization can provide better service if it understands the objectives of internal customers.
Revisiting the IT value proposition during annual planning sessions is an important exercise for IT managers. This will help IT managers understand the real and softer elements that are the differentiators of IT services. For internal customers, Value Proposition is the collective services they receive upon investing in IT capabilities and services. We have to understand that it includes more than just the core IT services (equipments, applications, and connectivity), and even more than just quality— it also involves several softer variables that will differentiate the total service offering such as responsiveness, innovation, collaboration and commitment.
These are two perspectives representing the two words of the terminology “Value Proposition” itself— “Value” and “Proposition”. This is broken down into:
- Value (Internal Customer’s Perspective) = The benefits received by the business upon investment on IT capabilities and services.
- Proposition (IT’s Perspective as Service Provider) = The total offering to the customer in exchange for their investment.
IT best practices such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and IT Services Management (ITSM) ensure that IT is aligned with the goals of the business organization. IT’s challenge is beyond technology. Its challenge is to deliver services that enable the business to balance performance, quality, risk and cost. IT’s attention is shifting from discrete technology initiatives to optimizing the value of business services delivered by IT, driving positive business outcomes and improving customer experience.
Commitment to the business’ end-customer
Although the IT organization’s direct customers are typically internal (the business units), IT is expected to play an important part in the ultimate value proposition— the value proposition to the customers of the business units (the end-customers). When I was an IT business process manager in the Philippines, we used to program appointments that will require IT personnel and managers to accompany Area Sales Managers on their sales visits with customers. These visits allowed us to experience the action from the frontline and engage our end-customers. At the time, we were implementing Internet and mobile applications to enhance customer service management. These personal meetings with end-customers allowed me to hear first-hand the affirmations, complaints and suggestions. That experience enriched our perspective and allowed us to improve and design better customer solutions for our commercial organization to sell and serve to our end-customer.
Do your information technology (IT) capabilities enhance the experience of your internal customers (business users) and external customers (customers of your internal customers)? Do IT managers throughout your organization recognize their responsibilities for effective customer relationship and business alignment? What’s it like to actually walk in your customers’ shoes? Do you know what your customers actually experience? Simply put, do your IT capabilities achieve meaningful differentiation by enhancing customer experience, in and out?
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
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Why do your employees feel uncomfortable about being empowered? Why don’t they follow the instituted risk and change management processes? Why don’t they put customers first? The answers may lie in your control systems — and the fact that mediocrity is too easily accepted.
Whenever an IT organization excels in providing services to its customers, its customer service orientation is guaranteed to be deeply embedded into its culture.
Culture is one of the softer elements of an organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to improve its service delivery system.
Culture offers answers to some really difficult issues in IT services delivery, such as:
- Why employees feel uncomfortable and somehow do not want to be empowered (Review your control systems — your controls might be too tight to encourage empowerment. You might also be surprised to find that making mistakes is severely punished.)
- Why employees don’t follow the instituted risk and change management processes. (Check the extent to which anyone actually follows protocol.)
- Why getting employees to put customers first is so complicated and why there are so many complaints about poor service. (Review what happens when employees fail repeatedly in tasks and have so many complaints against them—most likely nothing! Mediocrity is tolerated!)
- Why critical IT problems are recurring. (Check approach to problem management. Most likely you are reactive in terms of issues resolution. You do not address the root causes of the problems. Do you have a culture of preparedness, contingency and proactive problem management?)
- Why employee turnover is so high even though they are paid competitively well relative to market standards. (Check the extent of camaraderie, teamwork and cooperation. Review learning practices. Are employees mentored or coached by managers and leaders of the organizations?)
If you want to improve the IT service culture of your organization, you have to understand that it is not an overnight endeavor.
Organizations don’t create culture overnight. Culture develops. There is no instant formula for creating culture or else you will end up with an artificial one with a weak foundation. Such type of culture is not sustainable. You don’t create culture by merely creating or declaring mission statements and rules. You don’t create culture by simply implementing new applications and best practices copied from other successful IT organizations. Culture happens through consistent behavior over time embedded and encouraged by leaders.
What does an excellent IT services culture look like? Like any culture, it is a collection of service traits, and behaviors that get repeated over time and embedded in the organization’s subconsciousness. The values, behaviors or traits you need to nurture and develop in your team to improve your IT services culture are as follows:
1. Customer First – Internally and Externally.
Fostering a “customer first” attitude means creating a work culture that values the customers. It needs to be applied internally and externally. Customer-friendly behavior should be encouraged. It is important for IT, at every level of the organization, to build a meaningful relationship with its customers. This practice will help IT to understand the requirements and needs of the business and allow them to align their services accordingly. Every interaction point — from frontline service desk personnel to managers handling customer engagements — should provide a consistent level of customer service.
This “customer first” focus must also be practiced at every unit of the group — and even between themselves. Customer service behavior should not only apply to the external customers of the organization. Each individual, department or function is interdependent. At any point in time, one could either be a supplier or a customer to the other. It is simple logic. If one part is a weak link, it will impact the service of the whole. If customer service behavior is practiced on a consistent basis, externally and internally, it becomes part of the IT group culture.
2. Collaboration and Teamwork
The best teams have a commitment to help each other. The culture of shared responsibility is all about teamwork and collaboration. Developing teamwork is about creating a group culture that values collaboration. With teamwork, no one completely owns an area of work or responsibility. It is shared by members of the team. Each member is encouraged to be involved and contribute to the attainment of the group objectives. In a group that has teamwork, members believe that working, planning and deciding is better done collaboratively.
3. Proactive Approach, Not Reactive
It is important to find or identify patterns and get to root causes of recurring issues. There has to be a strong drive to solve problems and stop recurring critical issues. In addition, teams need to prepare for critical incidents because these will happen. Problem management and disaster preparedness should be built into the IT culture. This is not an individual task. It should be managed collectively and involve all areas of IT.
4. Learning Organization
Learning is the best way to create culture and transmit culture. IT must have a culture of continuous learning. Employees who are well trained take more ownership and have an active role in operations. Attitudes become more positive and people aim to do things better. Learning in an organization should start early. This means starting the moment you hire an employee. An on-boarding program is one of the best ways to prepare employees and cultivate the kind of traits and behaviors you expect from them. In organizations with a strong service culture, new hires — who are selected in part for their service skills — quickly find out that the organization is serious about customer service.
5. Creativity and Empowerment
Creative people don’t accept standards as a given. They are obsessed with innovation and change. They are impatient for progress and will always look for ways and means to improve how things are done. For IT organizations to embed creativity and empowerment into their culture, IT leaders must learn to value negative results as well as positive ones. When you create something new, you don’t always succeed. The culture of encouraging creativity and empowerment will lead employees to be more collaborative, effective and innovative.
Being service oriented, or more specifically, being successful and excellent with providing services can’t be achieved swiftly. A service culture has many attributes that may be difficult to achieve. If you are trying to make your organization more customer-oriented, you need to assess what customer service traits are more prevalent and what needs more work. Creating a culture of service requires that you practice the service traits we covered earlier consistently in order to develop the attitudes and norms that will govern the behavior of all the members of the organization.
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.
In Part 1 of this series I talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture maturity of an IT organization. In Part 2, I listed the different rewards IT organizations can derive directly or indirectly from having a strong IT brand. I also defined the concept of IT Brand Identity and IT Branding.
- IT Brand Identity marks the tangible representation of your IT brand. This representation can be in different forms – your mission and vision, your service offers, culture and style.
- IT Branding is the process of building and improving IT brand identity. This identity or culture is shared by employees and groups that control the way you interact with each other and with stakeholders outside of t he company.
I derived the idea of associating quality of IT service delivery and IT branding from the opinion shared to me by William Gearhart. Bill is the VP of Information Technology of the organization I work with. Bill’s comment was as follows:
“Critical to the success of any company or its branding is the business model and the success of delivering it hourly, daily, weekly, etc. You can brand any identity but it is the delivery and focus of the team that moves you up the ladder of respect within an organization.”
Bill goes on to say:
“I believe you establish the partnership and respect, apply your brand and then focus on assuring your service delivery and processes move forward with the organization(s) you are supporting and enabling.”
The relentless pursuit of high quality IT services is central to IT branding. It is the factory that creates meaningful stories in the hearts and minds of our internal customers. These stories ultimately shape the perception of your internal customers – thus, strengthening your IT brand identity. High quality IT service is the best IT brand identity. For a service organization like IT, the surest way to create trust is consistency in the delivery of services.
Facets of Quality in IT Services
Quality is the best problem solver. IT organizations that consciously pursue quality in all its services take a proactive approach in problem management. This pursuit guides IT organizations on which problems to solve first and which opportunity to seize. Problem management practices are essential in this effort. First of all, problem management should be proactive. It should be focused on studying trends in order to reduce recurring issues and ensure long-term solutions by addressing root causes. Reducing IT incidents directly helps in improving customer or end-user experience in using IT services.
Quality is the best customer relationship. High quality in IT services is the silent salesman. Consistency in IT service delivery will create good perceptions and a positive experience for internal customers. I think that a high level of quality enables IT to function as a business partner of its customers. Somehow it is the same as selling a product in the market. No matter how much you spend in advertising and promotions, if the product is questionable and does not have good quality, it will be difficult to sell. It is important for IT to focus on delivering high quality products and services right the first time. This is done through effective change management and high quality implementations.
Quality is your best identity. IT branding and quality of IT services delivery are two sides of the same coin, in that high quality IT services creates a good IT brand identity. The level of quality in your company’s IT services determines how your organization is perceived by your partners and internal customers. It is important for IT managers to understand that the organization establishes its brand by building trust. The best way to create trust is consistency in providing high quality services.
A Final Note:
One can define quality in many different ways depending on the point of view. However, quality in the perspective of a service organization such as IT is defined entirely by the customers. The customers’ perception is reality. Quality is based on the customer’s assessment of his or her entire customer experience which is the consolidated evaluation of the organization’s different touch points. Again, I believe that the persistent pursuit of high quality IT services is central to IT branding. High quality IT service is the best IT brand identity. For a service organization like IT, the surest way to create trust is consistency in the delivery of services.
Photo courtesy of www.zebratranslations.co.uk