More and more companies rely on innovation as a central factor to successful business outcomes and the only reason to invest in its future. In today’s slow growth market, tougher global competition and commoditization, pursuing innovations more often is the only way to keep customers happy and their competitors at bay. One type of innovation that has been very instrumental to many businesses is through the use of technology – let’s call it technology innovation.
Others might think that technology innovation means always having the latest and greatest systems available in the market, or having the fastest computers and networks. This is a myopic view of technology innovation. Most large companies have now implemented a digitized platform using well-established ERP software, like SAP and Oracle. Further developments of those ERP platforms are available to those who have them as foundation systems. If those companies are in the same industry, there is a big chance that they will pursue the same business processes and best practices in order to offer similar product and services to the same group of customers. How do companies then differentiate?
The reality is that, it is no longer true that simply having the right digitized platform is a determinant of sustained success. It is how you use technology to transform your business capabilities in a fast and agile manner that gives companies competitive advantage. Success on these technology innovation initiatives relies on a person who has both technology and business knowledge to navigate and orchestrate shaping and execution of innovative technology and business ideas. Those individuals that fuel the cycle of technology innovations in the enterprise now have a name – Business Relationship Managers (BRMs). Companies’ focus on innovation has given momentum to the growing emergence of the BRM role and discipline. According to BRMI, Business Relationship Management (what BRMs do) is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”
Peter Lijnse, an IT management consultant, wrote the following in his blog entitled BRM is about innovation.
“IT Service Management people are often good at stating, ‘We need to talk to the business.’ But very few understand the business they work for.”
This is so true. One essential competency of a BRM is business IQ and that’s assuming the BRM is already a technology expert. Many BRMs tend to come from a supply organization, and therefore, they have IT background, but it is not always the case.
Innovation is relevant only when it creates value to the customer, hence the importance of customer insights as input to the innovation process. Another common misconception about innovation is that it means new things – new platform, new functionally, etc. Not all the time. Innovation can be about new business value, not necessarily new things. Hence, it is the important for BRMs to understand the business to which they provide services. BRMs are key facilitators of technology innovation and they fuel faster innovation cycles and better business outcomes.
I am delighted to share this article I co-authored with Ibrahim Jackson about the Art of Business Relationship Management. This was published today in the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network Website.
Here is an excerpt of the article:
For many years, IT organizations responsible for deploying technology systems to enable enterprise processes have had one goal in mind – namely, to assure business-IT alignment. Today, however, as IT capabilities become more and more embedded in business capabilities, and given the pace of technological change and the pervasive nature of IT, alignment is no longer sufficient. The goal today, therefore, is “convergence”. This has given momentum to the growing emergence of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role, which, according to the Business Relationship Management Institute (BRMI), is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”
Let’s examine Business Relationship Management from two perspectives: the functional and the organizational role. The BRM function provides the framework for how the IT organization interacts with peer business functions and departments. The BRM role is made up of an elite leader or group of technology managers that assume accountability for all technology solutions and services end-to-end – whether for a business area, brand, region, channel or division, depending on organizational design and technology capabilities. This role can be facilitated by an existing Chief Information Officer (CIO) in smaller, less complex organizations. For large enterprises, you may see multiple levels of BRM — BRM Lead, BRM Manager or BRM Analyst. Each role may vary in responsibility and all are accountable for the strategic alignment with the enterprise or organization.
BRMs, on a day-to-day basis, deal with technology, people and relationships. As such, Business Relationship Management is more an art than a science, expressing the “art” via application of knowledge, interpersonal skills and creativity. How a BRM best connects to his or her business partners varies, based on the BRM, their client, the business scenario, level of previous engagement and the rapport established with each relationship. Trust through confidence is the secret to success.
BRM Processes and Frameworks should be characterized by flexibility and a high variability of actions performed within the underlying processes. Within the BRM function, there is an inherent value to that variability. The nature of relationship management is fluid, dynamic, genuine and human.
Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk, Co-Founder of the BRM Institute, sums it up: “No one has ever defined a process framework that assures success in relationships. Think of marriage.”
You can read the full article by following this link: http://www.ssonetwork.com/business-partnering-customer-service/articles/the-art-of-business-relationship-management-shapin/
Have you considered the impact your IT helpdesk has on the business you support? Think about your company’s reliance on technology and IT applications— when service interruptions happen, they impact processes and cause business disruption. The IT Helpdesk is much more than answering the phone and helping users solve their IT problems. Helpdesk has a direct impact on running the business, providing quality customer services and ensuring business profitability. If you are implementing an IT helpdesk in your company or in the process of improving your existing one, this article is for you. First, let’s discuss the IT Helpdesk Model. The diagram model shows the eight components of the IT Helpdesk Model. Each is briefly described below.
Eight Components of the IT Helpdesk Model
- IT Helpdesk Organization – This component represents the managers, staff, functions and supporting groups that comprise the IT helpdesk organization.
- Enablers – Enablers are tangible and intangible components needed to operate the IT helpdesk. This includes technology, tools, communication channels and analytics. Other important enablers are the required competencies of the individual staff working at the helpdesk and the group’s combined capabilities.
- Service Review Board – The Service Review Board is the steering committee or sponsor of the IT helpdesk organization. The group is composed of key IT managers, business/customer representatives and (if necessary) external consultants. They are responsible for providing strategic guidance, support, resources, and feedback to the group.
- Business / Customers – This represents the customers that receive the IT helpdesk services. Your customers are everyone in the company; not just everyone who has computers, but everyone who has access to one that uses it as part of his / her function. It is important for IT helpdesk to know its customers and be able to identify and segment them.
- Mission – The mission statement is the declaration of purpose, values, direction and tactics. It governs how the IT helpdesk will run its service delivery to its customers and guide every interaction it has with the users.
- Service Offer – Your service offer represents the scope of your services to your customers. The services that your IT helpdesk provide are determined by business or customer needs. A good service offer is composed of service elements that are manageable and provide the best value to the business.
- Performance – It is critical for part of the IT helpdesk function to be tied up with performance measures. Performance should be measured periodically if the service offers are attained in a satisfactory manner. This component represents performance indicators that have to be defined and tracked. Performance also includes how the IT Helpdesk receives and handles feedback from surveys and customer focus groups.
- Continuous Improvement – This component is tied up with performance measures. Your IT helpdesk will have to adjust services regularly — as business changes and as your customers demand more. Continuous improvement includes working on actionable items from performance monitoring or data analysis.
Five Ways to Improve Your IT Helpdesk
1. Understand your Purpose, Involve your Customers and Set the Right Expectations – Understand what senior management and your internal customers expect. Have focus group discussions with business leaders and key customers. Listen to feedback—positive and negative. Understand their concerns and identify opportunities. Invite your key customers to join and participate in your Service Review Board. When you and your customers communicate and understand what your service offers are, it easier for you to keep them satisfied because you have set the right expectations for your services.
2. Establish a Clear Mission Statement – Your mission statement is your declaration of purpose and values. This will set the direction of the group on how to interact with customers. It governs every interaction that deals with a call, request or problem. Putting together a mission statement must be a collaborative process. Let key members of the helpdesk and internal stakeholders participate in putting together a mission statement. A sample mission statement could read, “Focus on the needs of the business and support the customer in making the best use of technology in business.” A sample value statement would read, “We aim to minimize downtime by restoring service as fast as we can. We solve problems, not symptoms, and work to resolve the root causes.”
3. Develop Needed Competencies and Roles. – To have an effective helpdesk organization, there needs to be clearly defined roles and an effective way of performing them. The major competencies and roles within helpdesk are: stakeholders, problem solver or experts, data analyst, communicator, and the customer service liaison. Stakeholders are represented in the IT Helpdesk Model as the Service Review Board. This group is established to provide sponsorship, guidance and support to the IT helpdesk organization. Problem solver and experts are senior members (level two or higher) of the helpdesk whose task is to solve escalated problems and find solutions to recurring incidents. Data analysts consistently mine helpdesk databases for trend analysis. The Communicator is responsible for the continuous improvement of helpdesk communication and customer service competencies. They are also responsible for call quality assurance. Customer Service Liaisons are members of the helpdesk who manage customer relationship and gather feedback from the customer through surveys and focus group discussions.
4. Develop Your Service Offer – Your service offer should be tied up with your mission, customer need, budget and internal capabilities. Focus on providing services that give the best value to the business. Eliminate non-value creating services from your portfolio. If you provide too many services on a broad range of domains, you are setting your helpdesk group up for failure. Avoid situations where your resources are thinly spread and customers with important needs are forced to wait while you attend to a service that does not create value. Services are manageable, supportive of the business needs, well defined and well understood. After defining your service offer, communicate and market services to your customers. Remember that the service offer needs to be adjusted on a regular basis in order cope with changes in business needs, budget and customer expectations. An example of service offers are: “Provide support between 6am to 7pm daily. Allow customer channels such as email, call, voice mail, chat, and intranet site. Provide consulting on software recommendations. Broadcast information about system availability and planned maintenance. etc.”
5.Have a Culture of Continuous Improvement – Most existing IT Helpdesks have massive amounts of data at their disposal—yet fail to utilize it in any meaningful way. Running an IT Helpdesk means gathering a lot of data for the purpose of evaluating service performance and resolving problems. Use data effectively to discover valuable insights and evaluate performance versus set target and objectives. Use data to conduct trend analysis on recurring issues so as to implement proactive measures in reducing the number of calls and incidents. Have a culture of continuous improvement. Don’t settle for mediocre performance. Always challenge your IT Helpdesk to continuous improvement in every aspect of the service it provides.
Please share with us your experiences in implementing and managing your IT Helpdesk. What were the challenges and key learnings? You can also post your questions about the topic so that I and readers can respond to them. Thank you.
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.
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Imagine crashing your PC after having a virus issue. You need to call the IT helpdesk. You pick up the phone and call the 1-800 hotline number. Your expectations of the quality of IT’s response time is so low that you’ll settle for a day or two without a workstation. You imagine that perhaps you lost all your files and important documents in your computer. Service? Forget it. Your previous experiences with the IT helpdesk were terrible, if a service agent answers your call after 5 minutes waiting on call queue, it would be a small miracle.
Instead— you must be dreaming— your call gets picked up after two rings and a friendly service agent greets you with, “Good morning ,sir. My name is Kyra, how are you? How can I be of service to you today?” You are surprised but refreshed with the friendliness of the agent’s greeting. It’s unusual and has never been the case before — even during the last time you called them a month ago. You reply, “I’m good, thank you. I have a problem with my desktop. When I started it this morning, I got a blue screen after a couple of minutes. I don’t know what’s wrong. I think it might be a virus or something. It was working last Friday when I left.” The agent quickly and confidently replies, “Actually sir, we have a virus alert this morning that affected several users. We already sent a notice by email, and of course you didn’t receive it. We were about to call you but you beat us to that. We know the root cause of the problem for certain because of the new proactive monitoring tool that we recently implemented. Your desktop is one of those affected because you run one of our old desktop models with an older OS version on it. That made your computer more vulnerable to this new virus attack.” You are astonished with the level of information the service agent has already but still you have reservations as to whether this will impact the resolution time. Sure, she is friendly and she knows what’s going on but can she solve it?
Then you ask, “Then what should we do? It sounds like I won’t be able to use my computer today or for a couple of days perhaps?” Kyra replies confidently, “No sir, definitely not. We won’t allow that. As a matter of fact, our field-support team members are on their way to the offices of the users affected. They are making rounds as we speak. The person assigned to assist you is scheduled to arrive at 10:00 am. I think he’ll be there in minutes.”
Communication of the Service Deal
Kyra continues, “In the meantime, if you have a minute of your time to spare, I would be glad to tell you our new service mission statement. Do you have some time, sir?” You don’t have a workstation anyway so surely you have time and this wonderful service agent deserves a few extra minutes. You reply willingly, “Yes of course. I noticed a big difference in your over-all service today so far and I am pleasantly surprised. I’d be glad to hear about your new mission statement.” Kyra continued, “Thank you, sir. I am proud to say that our management and the whole IT organization came up with a common objective of improving our overall service delivery. Particularly, our technical support department which includes first level support agents, field-support service personnel and second level specialists, have the objective of providing our customers the fastest, high quality, friendly and effective IT support.”
“Sir, do you have any questions about our new mission?” You decide that it is good for IT to communicate its service offer and you feel special to be treated an important customer. You say, “No questions, Kyra, and congratulations. I’m really happy about your service. This is not what I expected. You guys really improved your service in such a short time. I’m impressed. Oh wait, I think the field support is here already. I have to go.” Kyra concludes, “Okay, sir, I will call you back after the service call to check if everything is fine. I know JB will take good care of you. Thank you and please don’t hesitate to call us again if you need anything.”
IT Field Support
Then as the field support agent comes into you office, he greets you warmly, “Good morning, sir. My name is John Bryan but you can call me JB. I am here to help you with your Desktop and I want to tell you about the two choices.” “Choices?”, you wonder incredulously. Now he is going to tell you the bad news that he needs to pull out your desktop for one day. Or maybe you get a loaner — something you’ve experienced before. At that time, you were given an incredibly old PC that was so slow you couldn’t even use it. You brace yourself for the bad news but instead he says.” I brought you a new computer. It’s a laptop. I need two hours to set it up fully with all your programs and files in it, or I can try fixing your virus problem for 30 minutes so you can work and then I can set up your new laptop for delivery next week. What do you think? ” Already impressed with the customer experience so far, you think that two hours doesn’t seem so bad. Plus, you are getting a new laptop when you were expecting at least a day of no computer. You reply, “OK, get on with the setup of the new one. I’ll wait here.” John Bryan says, “Good choice, sir. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with this new one. And finally sir, I can give you a general overview of the many capabilities of your new laptop and programs while we wait for the installations and file transfer to finish, or I could keep my mouth shut. What would you prefer?”
After everything was done, you realize that not only has the IT support services improved but you also just had a transforming experience. Talk about exceeding expectations!
I believe IT leaders have the power to embed a strong customer service culture through their influence…but culture embedding is not easy…organizations don’t create culture, it is an outcome of consistent behavior (demanded or influenced by leadership). If you provide the best customer service always, it becomes your culture. We try to make positive stories like these everyday… not always the case of course, what I am painting is the perfect world of IT support services, but this is what we aspire for.
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
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