March 24, 2009


by Ioana Justus

I had two interesting conversations last fall that really made me start to think.  The first discussion was with Michael.  My thinking lately is that Michael’s practices (as described in Into the Breach) would apply not just to teaching end-users about data protection and information security, but to IT personnel needing to learn about customer service.  I’ve been chatting with Michael on ways to apply his ideas within my own organization with the new work I’ve been doing in the services space.

This call was followed by a lunchtime ring from my friend Trish, who just had a very unpleasant experience with a sales clerk at the mall.  She was buying sheets at JCPenney, which had a regular sale, a special Columbus Day sale, and Trish had a coupon.  So the clerk had to enter 3 discounts at the register, and that was a bit much for her.

This all made me think internally to my company’s Service Desk, and to the road that my Access Services team has taken.  The reality is that there is an enormous dichotomy in the customer services space.  Those people that ring you up at the register or who answer the phone at the call center are often the lowest paid, least trained, highest turnover employees at the company in question.  And yet they’re expected to be the most knowledgeable and serviceable of anyone.

I pointed out to Trish (a college professor) that walking in the door she’s more educated, articulate, and confident than most sales clerks she’ll meet.  That immediately puts the clerk at a disadvantage, and anything that goes wrong will make the clerk appear defensive and even less competent.  I further pointed out that it’s very likely that the clerk had little or no training or communication from her management about how to handle the multiple sales going on, so she was relying on her past knowledge to figure it out.  Of  course this creates a bad experience for the customer, who then gets grumpy with the clerk, which makes it even less likely that the clerk will be able to provide a good shopping experience for the next customer.

I’ve seen the Service Desk and my own team in the same predicament – when they are expected to support something without adequate training.  Invariably they get it wrong, the customer gets frustrated, and it gets escalated.  The end result is that the person trying to help becomes more timid and less likely to provide good service the next time around.

I feel that it’s our responsibility as managers to ensure that our teams are empowered to provide good customer service by ensuring that they have the training and support they need.  Although we all instinctively know what good customer service feels like when we’re on the receiving end, not many people instinctively know how to provide good customer service just because they were told, “you must.”

I would challenge all of my fellow managers in IT to spend some time with their team to understand:

– what are the challenges the team faces with respect to providing good service?

– does everyone on the team know what is and isn’t acceptable when dealing with the customer?

– does everyone know all of the processes of the team backward, forward and inside out?

– are your processes even usable, or are they known to be broken?

– are standard expectations set with the customer so that your team can deliver consistently?

– does your team have clear, easily-accessible and updated documentation to help them do their jobs?

We can’t expect our teams to provide good customer service if they’ve been set up to fail, and if they’re going to be afraid of their capability or the consequences of falling short.  Only when we set the groundwork of support to ensure the success of our teams can we expect them to be able to risk providing excellent service.

About the Author Ioana Bazavan Justus

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