To Serve Clients Better, Learn Their Perspective
An IT organization I once visited was several months into an initiative to deliver better service to its customers. Management had named the initiative Voice of the Customer, a name that appeared in charts, slides, and status reports. Yet, despite this name, no customers had been invited to participate in the effort.
When I questioned the CIO about this, he said, “Oh, we hadn’t planned on involving them.” Voice of the customer?
Fortunately, most IT organizations appreciate the importance of customer input in efforts designed to improve service delivery to those very customers. In one such case, the IT staff first did some brainstorming on their own about how to better serve and support their customers. Then they invited customers from each of several business units to join them. A lively exchange took place as the customers vented their frustrations as service recipients.
One such frustration was, “If you can’t get the job done when you said you would, please let us know before the time is up.” Indeed, the majority of grievances their customers cited concerned not the work being done, but the way the IT staff communicated (or failed to communicate) with them.
In debriefing the session afterwards, one IT participant commented, “I now see there are things that are important to customers that we never considered before.” The customers similarly gained awareness and appreciation of aspects of IT’s priorities that they’d been unaware of previously.
The manager of an IT team in another company, disturbed by an increasingly adversarial relationship with its customers, arranged a “talk-it-out” meeting with a selection of local and faraway customers. In short order, they learned of several instances in which they had each misunderstood the others’ intentions and perceived ill intent where there was none. One result of the meeting was the decision to hold quarterly sessions that would focus on anything that baffled, confused, or troubled either party about the other. Interestingly, the very decision to hold these sessions led to more amicable and timely conflict resolution.
In a third example, the manager of an IT department wanted to gain some understanding of a business unit that had become its customer as the result of a reorganization. Through discussions and activities, the IT staff and the customers came to know each others’ personalities, priorities, and pressures in a way they wouldn’t have if IT had immediately plunged into addressing the customers’ systems needs.
It’s amazing what can be learned about the customer perspective if you’re willing to listen to the voice of the customer.