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Who Is Your Customer?

By | February 24, 2016 in Service Desk

Customer service

Great IT services create value for customers, with a focus on customer experience and customer satisfaction. Organizations that deliver IT services must manage a balance of people, processes, and technology. When it comes to people you need to consider the skills and behavior of IT staff, but it is even more important to focus on the most important people, your customers. This is not a new message, but it bears repeating because far too often the main focus of the people delivering IT services continues to be on the technology and the processes.

A Team with No Customers!

I was teaching an IT service management (ITSM) training course recently, and some of the students worked in a group that managed infrastructure. They delivered storage, servers, and networking to application teams, who used these as building blocks to create IT services for the business. I asked some of these students who their customers were, and they said that they didn’t have any customers. Really?!

This reminded me of another organization where I worked some years ago, where there was a team who configured and deployed monitoring software to thousands of servers. People on the operations bridge told me that the monitoring software generated thousands of red alerts every day, and they picked out the really critical ones, ignoring the others. This was obviously a very risky way to detect events so I asked the team responsible for the monitoring software who their customer was. “We don’t have customers,” I was told, “we just configure and install the software.” This team had all the skills needed to configure the software correctly, but they had completely failed to consider the needs of their customers – because they didn’t’ think they had customers!

My students eventually recognized that they did have customers – the application teams who built services using the infrastructure that they provided. This was a definite improvement, but it didn’t go nearly far enough.

If teams within an organization see each other as customers, then they tend to focus on internal issues, and lose sight of the real customers, the ones that actually fund everything they do. The key thing to remember is that the external customers of the business provide the money that enables all of the business activities to take place. Activities that help to create value for the paying customers are worthwhile; and anything that doesn’t, is wasted effort.

Service cycle

As I worked with the students from the infrastructure team we established that they provide services to the application team, who in turn provide services to a business unit, who create value for the paying customer. Although it is very difficult for the infrastructure team to consider the needs, and experiences, of the paying customer at the end of this chain, it is essential that they keep this paying customer in mind when they are working if they are to provide that paying customer with great service.

Customer Focus

Like every other part of the organization, the infrastructure teams need to focus on customer value creation, customer experience, and customer satisfaction.

  • Customer value creation. I once had a really wise manager who said to me “At least once a day, you should stop whatever you’re doing and ask yourself ‘If the paying customers knew their money was being used to fund what you are doing right now, how would they feel?’. If you aren’t 100% sure that they would be happy then you should stop doing it.” I have followed this advice ever since, and it has been of huge value to me. Everybody in the entire value chain should be focused on creation of value for the paying customer.
  • Customer experience. Every interaction with the customer contributes to their overall experience. If you are designing a process, or a web form, or any other potential interaction with a customer, then you should base your design on an understanding of their needs. Ideally you should include customers into the design of everything that might potentially impact them. In the case of the infrastructure team, they should definitely consider the needs of their internal customers, the application team, but they should also think about how anything they do might impact the experience of the business units and of the real paying customers.
  • Customer satisfaction. Everyone contributes to customer satisfaction. Sometimes by positive acts that delight customers, and other times by failing to notice the impact of actions on the customer. Customer satisfaction comes from their entire “customer journey” – every interaction with the customer makes a contribution. We need to set their expectations correctly and then reliably deliver what they are expecting in a way that creates positive experiences. If you aren’t dealing directly with paying customers that doesn’t mean that you have no impact on their satisfaction, it just means that you have to work really hard to understand your impact.

The key thing to understand from all this is that all the different parts of an organization need to collaborate to ensure they delight their customers. If all the teams in the organization treat each other as suppliers and customers then they may manage to cooperate, but this just isn’t enough. Everyone must collaborate to achieve a common goal of delighting the paying customers. That way the business will grow and everyone will succeed.

Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

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