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The Service Desk and Relationship Management: All You Need Is Love

By | January 20, 2015 in ITIL

The Service Desk and Relationship Management: All You Need Is Love

“Hi, just calling to say everything is working great today!” said no Service Desk caller. Ever.

Like it or not, your customers have a relationship with IT. Sometimes good; sometimes bad.  They are built over time, one interaction at a time. The truth is, every call to the Service Desk either builds it up or tears it down.

In reality, we are all Relationship Managers, and everything we do affects those relationships.

Researchers have identified universal factors that shape all relationships. Successful Service Desks apply these principles of human behavior to relationship management.

I'm No Psychiatrist, But...

Having to call the Service Desk is rarely happy times for the customer. How those 'unhappy moments' are handled has a lasting impact. If we excel at rapid service recovery and have great first call resolution, but we're not managing the whole customer experience, we're missing the single greatest opportunity to build customer relationships.

Jim Rohn wrote about  8 Traits of Healthy Relationships over at  He lists a set of  “basic elements” that can enhance all human relationships. Now, I'm no psychiatrist, but it seems to me the same elements can apply to IT Business Relationship Management, especially at the Service Desk.

Let's have a look and see how it works.


No surprise, topping the list is love. Just above air and food on Maslow's hierarchy is love (friendship and belonging).  He describes love as “...a commitment we make to people to always treat that person right and honorably.“

For the Service Desk/Help Desk, this is about taking care of the customer no matter what. Following through on what we say we'll do. To champion their issue until it's resolved. Treating them with respect and decency, even if they're frustrated, angry, and acting badly.

It's a fundamental human need, and there no better time to show it than when a person's wellbeing is threatened by forces outside their control. How we treat people in their 'hour of need' has a powerful influence on the long term relationship.

While being polite is expected, it's still shocking when we “go the extra mile” and follow up a few days later to see how things are going.

Show that you really do care about your customers' problem, not just getting them off the phone.

Serving Heart

This is the core of 'service' in Service Desk, and there's a big difference between 'fixing your problem' and being 'of service'. They can tell the difference.

Start with the right frame of mind. If you resent callers, they will know it. It comes out in the sigh when listening to their problem, and from that can-you-stop-talking-already-so-I-can-fix-your-problem tone of voice.

Choose to make every call an opportunity to be of service. If the customer or the issue is particularly difficult – take it as a challenge to turn them around. Find ways to make every caller feel like the most important one. Ever.

It's the kind of service that's not soon forgotten. Customers have a growing sense of confidence because they know you're there to help, and have their back no matter what.

Honest Communication

Everyone needs to be heard. To have a voice and be listened to. It's part of what makes us human.

The art of active listening means listening for both what's said and what's not said.

“The reason I'm so angry right now isn't because I can't print my document. I'm upset because this is an important report I need to get to my boss or I'm going to look like an idiot.”

Except they don't say it like that.

Support people often know what the problem is after just a few words. But if we rush the caller while they're telling their story, they are deprived of their need to be heard.

Obviously there's the art of balance, because we can't spend all day making them feel good. But recognizing and acknowledging there's more going on than just The Problem goes a long way to building lasting relationships.

Don't hide behind “policy”. If you can't do something, tell them. And then tell them what you can do. (“I can't bypass corporate security, but how about I set you up with single sign-on, so you only have to give your password once?”)


Friendliness is more than just being polite, though it is a great place to start. In the words of Jim Rohn “...the friendlier you are the more you are going to have people who want to pursue longer-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with you. “

Being friendly includes protecting their feelings. Not making them feel stupid. Acknowledging their frustrations and concerns.

  • Smile (they can hear it over the phone!)
  • Acknowledge their frustration
  • Be upbeat and positive
  • Protect their dignity
  • Commit to sticking with them until their problem is fixed
  • Use humor
  • Be self-deprecating


Customer support is nothing if not an opportunity to practice patience.

There's a special bond that's formed when people walk through tough times together. The foxhole friendship. Trial by fire.

If you're too quick to escalate the call to a coworker or manager because “I don't have to take this”, you are letting go of a great opportunity to build lasting relationships.  I'm not talking about taking abuse. I am talking about having the patience to see through the immediate intensity of the problem to the end goal – a satisfied customer for life.

All You Need is Love

Always remember that IT customers are first and foremost human, and humans are complex, emotional creatures.

People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.

                                                      -Maya Angelou

The greatest opportunity IT has to build customer relationships is when things go wrong. At these critical touch points, what we do and say is important, but it’s how we make them feel that they’ll remember.

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Like this article? You may also like: If We Could Just Talk to Our Customers.

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Greg Sanker

About Greg Sanker

Greg is an IT Service Management blogger, speaker, and practitioner with decades of global IT experience ranging from Fortune 10 tech giant to public sector. He lives in the Pacific Northwest (USA), where stunning natural beauty and high tech form a unique lifestyle. In his spare time, Greg hikes, bikes, and plays a bit of blues guitar. He blogs about Excellence in IT Service Management at

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