How to create a service-based culture
- 31 August, 2003 22:00
In a recent Meta Group global survey, the majority of business units say they perceive their IT departments as “high cost, low quality”. “The reason they say that, is because most of the time they find it too difficult to do business with IT. They always tell us they cannot have customer service, they have limited capability,” says Dr Wissam Raffoul, Meta vice president and managing consultant, outsourcing and service providers strategies.
The Sydney-based analyst says this is just a perception. But if these results came from the service industry, “it would be treated like a reality”.
To overcome this perception, IT organisations must change their image to become “value added”, states Raffoul. This shift, however, requires a culture of change for the staff.
“Usually, they have technical skills based on their IT background. But they do not have these consulting skills: How to set customer expectations, how to find customer requirements and how to meet their expectations.”
Kevin McCaffrey, partner, IBM Business Consulting Services, says this focus on IS teams is timely. “There is definitely a trend for organisations looking to get more from what they have got, not only in technology, but also in business processes. IT is right in that spot. ‘We’ve got a lot of investment in IT, get me a lot out of it.’”
For this special report, MIS interviewed the above analysts and the following IT directors for their insights on creating a service-based culture in your IT shop:
Cathy Budd, director information technology services, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW);
Glenn Patrick, general manager, business and technology solutions and services, Westpac Bank;
Mike Purchase, IT manager, Chubb New Zealand;
Damian Swaffield, general manager information services, Sky City Entertainment Group.
1. Define the operating model
The process involves working with colleagues across the business.
“The first thing is to have a clear picture of where the business wants to go and what role IT plays in that. And then you actually convert that into an operating model,” says Kevin McCaffrey, partner, IBM Business Consulting Services.
Increasingly, he says, large government agencies and publicly listed corporations he has worked with approach this situation “pragmatically”. Their reviews focus not on the structure of IT, but the “structure between business and IT”, he says. “No motivational team-building, ‘happy clappy’ approach where everybody gets in the room to sort out their differences. It just doesn’t work.”
He says a lot of the work is in building the right foundation. “If the foundation is set up right, the relationship between IT and business has got the right start. If that’s wrong, it will be wrong.”
Glenn Patrick, general manager, business and technology solutions and services, Westpac Bank, says the reality is IT teams are charged with enabling business outcomes, and thus need to work across the enterprise. “You actually must have a strong partnership both at strategic and operational levels with business partners and customers. Without that, it is very hard for any IT operations to deliver outcomes to their business partners. Fundamentally you have to understand the business you are delivering to. You have to be part-and-parcel of that team.”
McCaffrey says the business units need a five-year plan, divided into one to three-year chunks. “Define the operating model with competencies in the right place – who is good at what, not who has the God-given right.”
The operating model, he says, should cover breaks and escalation, to avoid issues and finger pointing. “An example: Do all calls have to go at one point? Do some people have an option not to? The reality is, the chairman is not going to dial 0800 and get some teenager on the line, in an Australian voice, saying you have to reboot.”
2. Set clear performance standards
Avoid ‘over spec’ and unrealistic goals.
The first rule of consulting, IBM’s McCaffrey points out, is managing client’s expectations. “IT has to come to an agreement as to what is a reasonable expectation level that makes the business happy and can be delivered at a reasonable rate. If you tend to go ‘over spec’, it leads to under-delivery and argument.”
For instance, business may demand a response time 365 days a year and 24 hours a day, when very few businesses in New Zealand operate 24 hours – more like 20 hours, says McCaffrey.
On the other hand, there are dangers if IT and business units go straight to a service level agreement (SLA) without a consultation process and think it will fix everything. The result would be debates on the standards of service and about expectations. “You must have an agreement on your foundations, which are the strategy operating plan and performance standards. And have the business develop them with you.”
Chubb is in the process of setting up individual SLAs for each business unit. “This process is consultative and tailored to the unique requirements of each unit,” says Mike Purchase, IT manager.
Damian Swaffield, general manager information services, Sky City, has a staff of 80 assigned to gaming and entertainment businesses in New Zealand and Australia. “Everyone has a role to play, wherever they’re located. We’ve got a strong leadership ethic to support that process out of the group function.”
3. Enforce a strong communications program
Users across the enterprise should be aware of what IT does and doesn’t do.
It is vital for general users to be aware of the rules and strategies for the working relationship between business units and the IT team. These could be made known through orientation for new staff, training involving different units, and the intranet. “IT has to be the guardian of standards, but being the guardian of standards doesn’t mean having to say no all the time,” says IBM’s McCaffrey. “Tension in any relationship can be relieved by information.”
At Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), Cathy Budd, director information technology services, says, “Our services are documented so, at the end of the consultation period, our customers will have a clear understanding of the services we deliver ‘for free’ and the additional services they can have for a fee.” At Chubb, meanwhile, the help desk and escalation processes are made available to staff. All the units understand the help desk is their first point of contact in the event of a problem, says Purchase.
IBM’s McCaffrey says the area exemplifying the need for a clear communications program is data capacity and storage management. Both sides have to agree on the operating model; otherwise, the enterprise would have escalating storage costs. In one organisation, a user is reminded he or she has reached the email storage limit. After two warnings, the user continues to receive email but cannot transmit it. McCaffrey says this approach will work only if business and IT agree about this strategy and communicate it to users. “This way, IT sets up the architecture, but business manages the capacity.”
4. Address technical staff challenges
There is an increasing need to supplement a technical background with consulting skills.
The operational model is in place and is communicated to the general users. But what if, as Meta’s Raffoul suggests, there is a perception of a paucity of service-oriented skills among the IT staff users have to deal with? Raffoul suggests the IT team in this case may need to supplement their technical background with ‘soft skills’.
“Management must acknowledge there is a skills gap – and train people,” Raffoul says. Staff should be involved in the planning of the implementation program.
At this level, he says, there is a need to find “organisational champions” among the staff. Based on Meta’s research, he says, “The good ones become excited about it.” This builds trust among the managers of the other business units. “They feel comfortable they have staff who are helping them implement.”
Before that, says Raffoul, management saw IT as “answering machines”. That is, questions are thrown at IT and they must answer.
“When you have champions, you find the champions volunteer to answer the managers.” IT staff who do not believe in this customer-facing approach may leave, or may not want to be part of the change. But the good ones adopt it, says Raffoul. “They believe in it and they make it happen. It becomes part of the culture.”
5. Develop the team’s ‘soft skills’
Choose staff with the right attitude.
For Meta’s Raffoul, being able to combine technical skills with soft skills, such as being able to deal with customers – both internal and external – is crucial in developing good relationships across the business. He calls this a “bilingual approach” in dealing with the other units.
But, as Purchase of Chubb observes, technical staff can be challenging to manage, especially when it comes to their people skills. “The first step to a motivated team is to select staff with the right attitude in the first instance.
“I’m not convinced it’s necessarily possible to instil people skills into someone who obviously lacks them. I do believe technical material can be taught to someone with the right attitude, however.”
He recruits frontline support roles based on a mix of people and technical skills. “If I’ve ever leaned one way rather than the other, then I’ve leaned towards recruiting the person with the right people skills with a view to ‘upskilling’ their technical knowledge.”
There is a huge need for highly technical people within the IT industry but, where those individuals lack the ‘soft’ skills, they are perhaps better suited to second tier support roles, where particularly complex issues are escalated to them.
“More often than not, this is where they prefer to be anyway,” says Purchase. “As with any industry or profession there are ‘horses for courses’ – some staff are better suited to frontline roles than others.”
Budd of VUW looks at the applicants’ background when recruiting customer-facing staff. “The key attributes we look for are great people skills and the ability to learn. A number of our client support, student computing services, and teaching services staff have come from the retail industry, and we have provided training to use the technologies we support.”
Getting the right people is a start, agrees Swaffield of Sky City. “We work with a recruitment partner who understands the sort of people we are looking for and what the culture of the team is – and that is an internalised services culture.”
6. Encourage staff to provide customer service
Point out the need to be in the customer’s shoes.
Westpac’s Patrick encourages his team members to attend the customer service-related programs offered across all business units. “We always encourage our people to think, if you like, from a position of wearing the customer’s shoes. For every one of our transactions there is a real customer behind that transaction.”
Budd of VUW says her staff members are encouraged to do university courses. “There is nothing like being a customer,” she says.
Swaffield of Sky City says understanding service delivery is an important component of the IT team’s overall delivery model. The Sky City team is further enhancing its service delivery using an ITIL [IT Infrastructure Library] basis, a UK service delivery standard that is part of Sky City’s “good to great” campaign. “Rather than simply having people focus on service delivery, we’re taking a best practice model approach.”
Sky City is a service-based organisation, he explains. “It is all about the customer experience. In the service model, the IS team needs to be aligned culturally to assist our peers in the business in delivering the overall customer experience. We do that through exemplary service and giving our internal customers a great experience, as well.”
7. Get IT staff to meet with business units
This will increase their understanding of the business and its demands.
Patrick says the Westpac IT team holds quarterly forums with the other business units, where the latter are encouraged to talk about their experiences with IT. “They’ll say, ‘Look, this is what’s working, this is what we need from you, this is what we’re doing.’”
The bank’s outsourcing partners also attend these forums. This united front is important, because the in-house IT team and outsourcing partners have to deliver to an agreed SLA. “We run as a one-team brand – you need to be one team to deliver.”
Patrick adds one way of motivating people is to assign the IT account manager or service function manager to sit with other business partners during strategic decision-making.
“So they actually understand the business and can contribute to the business, then explain that strategic plan to the IT organisation so the IT organisation is clear on what they have to deliver.”
These meetings, Patrick says, also help build a partnership among the different units, and provide a vital learning forum for the IT team. “I guess it’s far better to hear directly from the customer, because then you know it’s not stilted or biased in any way.”
Budd of VUW says arranging social gatherings with the customers is one way to motivate IT staff to be more customer-oriented. The IT team likewise attends meetings in other business units.
“The most important thing is to provide exposure for technical staff to the realities of the customer experience,” she says. “It can be highly motivating when a technical staff member sees what really happens at a customer’s desk – including whether they have made a positive difference or inadvertently added difficulties.”
8. Collect feedback from users
Both formal and informal mechanisms are useful.
Over the last three years, ITS managers and staff at VUW have received an increasing amount of customer email and comment stating how helpful and efficient team members have been. But despite the positive response, ITS director Budd points out the importance of getting a range of feedback. “We encourage our customers to tell us what we need to improve.”
Budd says the ITS staff often go beyond the call of duty to meet customer needs. “We have ‘moments’ where we have to manage competing customer needs, or where we have not supported every customer as well as we would have liked.
These times are managed by going back to the customer to explain the situation and, where necessary, to gain a better understanding of the requirements and to consider options for improvement in the future.”
Sky City’s human resources department conducts customer satisfaction surveys throughout the business units. Swaffield says the IS staff has been garnering “more than satisfactory” ratings from the users. He says the department also measures its service delivery in different areas, such as call resolution.
“This allows me to get a snapshot of service delivery from call handling, to turnaround, to closure rates.” He encourages the IT staff to have informal meetings with their peers in other business units. “With the other GMs, I talk to them and just get feedback regarding how we’re doing.”
9. Be accessible to your users
Build a responsive help desk.
“I personally believe the key to attaining and keeping a good relationship with our internal customers is simply a combination of accessibility, expectation management and, of course, competency,” says Purchase of Chubb.
“If your support staff are accessible, of the right calibre and can solve a good number of issues at first contact, then half the battle is won. When someone has a support issue, all they want is to make contact with someone who can assist in resolving it and know that their problem is being taken seriously.”
The Chubb help desk, for instance, has skilled engineers who always offer an approximate resolution timeframe if the issue cannot be resolved over the phone. Automation tools like IBM director allow the staff them to take control of a PC in Napier, for instance, and lead the PC user through the issue.
“The last thing our internal customers want is help desk ‘hold’ messages before finally getting through to a body, who then offers them only a service request number and ‘someone will call you soon’ advice.”
Westpac has a central help desk and is developing a guide for the intranet that will help users find the right person to approach for different IT-related concerns. Business partners want “single accountability”, says Patrick. “As a business partner, they should be able to go to someone in IT and say, ‘This is what we’re about to enable – you make it happen for us.’”
10. Make simple rewards count
Plan activities for ‘upskilling’ and ‘cross-skilling’.
Chubb’s Purchase sees to it the staff get a mix of project-based work and support work. This way, they are constantly ‘upskilling’ and ‘cross-skilling’, as well as getting a vital sense of actually creating something. “It’s about giving them the opportunity to feel proactive, rather than constantly reactive. I think that keeps them fresh when it comes to being service-orientated in their support work. I’m also a strong believer in recognising and highlighting work that has been done well.
“I’ve seen too many managers who only offer feedback to their staff when something has gone horribly wrong. The process of saying ‘thank you’ can be simple as an email or as personal as paying for the person and their partner to go out for an expensive meal. It’s my view that most people genuinely want to do the right thing and want to do their best work. All we have to do is provide the best environment for that to happen naturally.”
Sky City is aggressively expanding the business and the evolving tasks and challenges motivate the team, which has an ongoing retention rate of 93 per cent. “The diversity and challenge means we can attract and retain good people,” says Swaffield. “The stability of the team is paramount. It gives you the ability to take that team and grow all the time.”
Building a service-oriented team does not require huge capital outlay – just a commitment to be an effective IT team able to work with the host of business units across the enterprise, says Chubb’s Purchase. “We by no means have the luxury of huge staff numbers and resources. We just choose to put a priority on our support services within our tight budget constraints.”
Patrick of Westpac says IT managers who do not encourage their members to be more service-oriented will just “disenfranchise” their customers. “In this day and age, where every service is contestable, if we don’t deliver internally to our business partners and customers, then they have choices and options to go elsewhere.”
The ultimate goal should be to create a trusted business partner and deliver time and time again on their needs.