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EDUCAUSE Enterprise 2006. Summary: IT Providers and Customers: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

IT Providers and Customers:  Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit
David Ernst
Enterprise 2006,
May 25, 2006
Chicago, Illinois
This session will engage participants in a dialogue about how we are doing in our efforts to improve customer service from the IT department. We've had at least 15 years of trying to improve service to the end users, but have we really made much improvement? Attitudes about technology and those who provide it, as well as the view IT professionals have about their customers, may not have changed significantly. The discussion will focus on looking through the other end of the telescope to see where areas for improvement of service and satisfaction exist.
David Ernst began the session by asking “What is service?”
There are many types of service from the “service is in the eye of the beholder” philosophy to the general expectation that things will work the way we want them to do so.  From background services like security that the client doesn’t necessarily see to the issue of user interfaces that we face such as understanding that a business office drives a project but students are the end-users.
Within the organization we look to provide service at all levels - up, out, down, and internal.  Most of us have become savvy about managing up but we have to work continuously at managing and meeting the customers’ expectations at all levels.  The complexity of this continues to grow as our customers’ expectations continue to rise.  We must be active/proactive instead of reactive in today’s environment.
Does it matter?
At our institutions we need ‘cash paying’ customers so it matters to our institutions.
At the departmental level we need support all of the other departments.  They expect certain things but especially high productivity among faculty and staff.  Therefore it matters to our departments.
It matters to us because we want it to be good.
In higher education there are two key reasons to provide good service: competition and personal satisfaction.
  • Shrinking government funding for our institutions
  • Students paying higher fees and charges
  • Increasing focus on responsiveness, accountability and quality
  • Educational outcomes are a critical goal
  • Good service will help me “get ahead”
Ernst discussed the following service inhibitors
  • Complex organizational structures
  • Attitudes – it’s not my job, the customer is stupid, etc.
  • Lack of trained and empowered staff (We aren’t Nordstrom)
  • Failure to understand customer needs.  Often we want to do a good job but we don’t understand that we don’t need “perfection.” We need to set expectations for what is the level of quality required.
  • Difficult customers
  • Poor communication
We need to be clear about who are customers are.  Students and functional administrative departments that serve students are our key customers.  We need to understand that our administrative departments are working more with less as we provide tools to help them do their jobs.  Others include faculty, staff, tax payers, legislators, governing bodies (trustees), and alumni.
We also need to be clear about what services we provide to our customers and clear about their expectations.  We also need to be clear about we can provide with the resources we have.  And, we need to set expectations of our own.
We have many customers that we can identify by their role in the institution: faculty, staff, student, alumni, general public, boss, peer, subordinate, etc.  We also need to know the generations we serve.
  • Traditionalists – born per 1946 (patriotic, loyal, fiscally conservative, faith in institutions
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964 – idealistic competitive, questions authority, desire to put own stamp on things, sandwiched, challenge institutions.
  • Generation X born 1965 – 1981 – eclectic, resourceful, self-reliant, distrust institutions, highly adaptive to both change nad technology
  • Millennials 1982- 2000 – globally etc
Service issues with Gen Xers and Millennials include:
  • They are unforgiving about poor customer service
  • They expect 7X24 service
  • They are prepared to negotiate service relationships
  • Quality is very important to them but can’t identify what that means to them
  • They prefer online or phone business over face-to-face
  • They know that if you don’t ask, you don’t get
  • They know how to work the system to obtain what they need/desire
  • They are careful observers of policy versus practice differences
  • Because they are in constant communication with others, they have high consumer awareness
Generational differences affect our service delivery.
Our multi-cultural and worldly customers are very knowledgeable of the wider world and their attitudes are broader.  It is a major challenge to serve the multiple generations and multi-cultural groups all at the same time.  Ernst noted both push and pull is increasing in our service to students and this is threatening to some. These differences can affect our customer satisfaction ratings.
Ernst looked at generational expectations as impact on service criteria.
  • Accessibility – 7X24, someone always answers the phone, minimal hold times
  • Meeting technology expectations in today’s environment means we must have systems that are menu driven with helpful links to products and services where they can get answers without speaking to someone.
  • We need to anticipate customer needs, for example, we need to think about what can go wrong and have solutions in place.
  • Systems must be simple to use as many do not have long attention spans and don’t want multiple steps to go through to reach help.
Things to check for:
Staff are empathetic and friendly and provide user-friendly service whether online or in person.
Does the provider understand the needs and problems?
Does customer feel as though they are being handled?
Does the provider deliver the desired outcome?
Ernst described the four measures of success from The Balanced Scorecard by Kaplan and Norton  (see  We should collect metrics on these and analyze them to see how we are doing.  The four perspectives are
  • Financial
  • Internal business process
  • Learning and growth
  • Clients/Customers
ITIL (IT infrastructure library) is a service level management approach to guide us in maintaining and improving IT service quality.  (see )  Elements include
  • Service catalog
  • SLA for each service
  • Key performance indicators
  • Ongoing review (and negotiation ) to improve
  • IT effort is aimed at those areas the institution believes are most important
Ernst asked what participants were using today?  ITIL, Balanced Scorecard, Service Level Agreements (SLAs)?  Responses included:
  • Moving towards ITIL – decision was based on experience and reviews
  • SLAs that were too specific were outdated quickly.  Accountability can be an issue. 
  • Vendor product – maintenance agreement – first contract had tight SLA and the vendor had trouble meeting its requirements.  Since we want a good vendor relationship rather than the penalties – this had to be reworked.  It is important to define service and quality for each project. 
In some cases, especially when things are internal, SLAs are best because we are not dealing with a “contract.”
Surveys and focus groups –
Ernst described a survey done last year where campuses were asked to rate services of the Chancellor’s Office System-wide IT services.
The results were:
Part of business and finance performance measurement/quality improvement
76% satisfied / very satisfied
12% not satisfied
Support of academic tech / learning process
48% satisfied / very satisfied
13% not satisfied
Stewardship & management
59% satisfied / very satisfied
12% not satisfied
Develop appropriate IT policies and procedures
59% satisfied / very satisfied
13% not satisfied
Assist with developing IT
56% satisfied / very satisfied
18% not satisfied
Support for ERP
52% satisfied / very satisfied
21% not satisfied
What can we do to improve?  We need to especially look at those “not satisfied” and explore the issues there.  Some ideas to respond to those issues are:
  • Training
  • Constant communication
  • Setting customer expectations
  • Performance measurement – scorecard, surveys etc
Ernst related that Clarke Sanford from CSU Bakersfield suggests a help desk software communication metaphor:
·         Ticket opened – client notified
·         Statement of problem – client notified
·         If wrong problem – provider notified
·         Progress made – client notified
·         Ticket closed - client notified
·         Problem not solved – provider notified
Simple rules for good customer service include:
  1. Minimize hand-offs.  Clients hate being shuffled around. Don’t hand client off to someone else unless it is absolutely necessary.  If you must hand-off a client, make sure the new provider is fully briefed.  Follow up with provider and then client.
  2. Own the customer’s problem.  Good service is essentially a one on one proposition – you and the customer. Make the customers believe their problems are now your problems.  Make customer follow-up a way of life.
  3. Tracking problems.  On going tracking is a must and it is essential to letting customers know the status of their problem ‘fix’ and who is working on it.  Stay on top of problems that are taking a long time to resolve.
  4. On going assessment.  Make ongoing assessment a part of your service culture.  This is not a tool for staff discipline – but one for service improvement.  A good tool for this is the balanced scorecard process.
  5. Respect your clients.  Don’t make fun of clients.  Avoid telling the horror stories about problem clients.  Discourage this among staff and set the right example.  Joking about certain clients undercuts a service culture.
  6. Communications planning is critical
    1. Define key messages
    2. Assess external and internal information needs
    3. Identify short and long term needs
    4. Assign responsibilities for communications and approval processes
    5. Add communications into project plans and schedules
    6. Identify one spokesperson for projects
  7. The big picture is important
  • You must led the way for your staff if you want them to walk the walk
  • Reward good service & good communication
  • Implement good systems and processes
  • Support front line staff. – they will make or break you –
Key issues to take away
  • Appreciate the needs of different groups of customers – do client analysis
  • Plan and implement the communications
  • Imbed customer service in a framework and build on it – don’t let it stagnate
  • Lead by example
  • Make everyone your customer.
Our biggest critics of the 80s and 90s thought:
IT is too secretive
IT is too technology focused  (propeller heads reign)
IT has a black box mentality
IT “knows what’s good for the client”
Are we still looking through the wrong end of the telescope?  Most IT departments talk the talk (customer service) but still optimize on their own point of view. This is the wrong end of the telescope
Other thoughts –
  • Meet with secretaries not with the bosses as they really know what is going on.
  • Get everyone on the same page regarding services so we can all talk about them because everyone knows something and it helps to manage expectations.
  • Internally you much change attitudes of front line service providers.
  • There can be financial limitations on what you do.
  • User interface, performance, functionality – think about who will address these, the help desk or others.
  • You must address pain first and then follow-up.  And don’t say you’ll follow-up unless you will.
  • Part of the answer  is to go sit in some new places in order to get new understandings