Customer & Service Culture in IT? Not going to happen unless…!

Published on Tuesday 3 April 2012 by in Blog with 2 comments

I am always surprised…no amazed….in fact staggered. That is it. Literally staggered! At how poor we are in IT at being Customer and Service focused. I passed my ITIL V1 Service manager and seem to remember that ITIL has always!….always, ever been about Customers and Service. I remember David Wheeldon teaching me ITIL when I was a technogeek who thought that Users were something dangerous and contagious. I thought we should outsource the business as they got in the way of IT and were simply annoying. David taught me they were human after all just like us, and it was our job to provide services and value to them. I wasn’t convinced but I was willing to be open. That was about 20 years ago.

We have had ITIL in all its variants for more than 20 years and yet still we score badly on the ‘Customer focused’ side of things. Look at the spider diagram from Colin Rudd in our CxO blog. ‘Customer and Service Culture’ scores lowest along with Governance and steering (in other words Why we do ITIL).

I did a Survey on the itSMF website two years ago posting the following ABC worst practice card and stating ‘We are still not Customer focused enough in IT!’ a massive 89% agreed and was followed by 82%, 86%, 75% and 89% in 4 other ‘Leading’ ITIL countries. I hate to think what it was in those still struggling to adopt ITSM best practices.

Why is it that People like Ian Clayton and Barclay Rae (I only mention these because of recent messaging I have seen from them) are banging their heads against brick walls trying to convince us it is all about Customers? Why is this even necessary after all these years, all those conferences, all those forrests of best practices, all those millions and millions of dollars in ITIL and ISO and CobIT certificates?……How can people say, without going red in the face from embarrassment ‘ah but ITIL V2 was all about processes, version 3 is all about customers and services’, as if we will now magically become customer and service focused and then saying it was all the fault of ITIL V2!  I remember writing in the original ITIL V2 ‘Planning to implement IT Service management’ book that it was all about customers and value……So saying its new is absolute nonsense! These are all the reasons why I am staggered! so let’s not try and pass the blame onto ITIL.

So why is it taking us so long? Is it because we are perhaps genetically incapable of understanding? Are we perhaps allergic to Customers and Users? Do we have congenital short term memory loss waking up each new day wondering what a User is? Are their expectations changing all the time that we can never hope to close the gap? Are we frightened of them? Believe me Users do not glow in the dark or turn into savage creatures when made wet like Furbies or whatever they were. I met some and they were really quite pleasant and I didn’t catch anything after shaking their hands – Users that is not Furbies – Or do we simply not give a hoot!.

Why am I ranting about this now? I recently did another ABC (Attitude, behavior and Culture) workshop and Apollo ITSM simulation with 30 datacenter staff, the aim being to identify their hidden ABC Iceberg and learn HOW to apply best practices focused on achieving value. The top ABC worst practice card they thought their users would choose was ‘No respect for or understanding of users’. Exactly the one from the survey a few years ago! I asked them to discuss and record the negative impact on Value, Outcomes, Costs and Risks because of this behavior. Their findings were:

  •          ‘Damaged business reputation.’
  •          ‘Lost revenue’
  •          ‘Higher costs’
  •          ‘Dissatisfied customers’
  •          ‘Solutions don’t meet business needs’

They then unanimously, albeit begrudgingly, agreed this was ‘probably’ an unacceptable business risk, and ‘Yes Oh… alright! if we were users we wouldn’t find this terribly amusing’!. They had been ‘Doing ITIL’ for 5 years!  I asked them how many of them had actually met or talked to a User……it was quiet…..then somebody said  ‘What is a User?’.

It was at this stage I felt like I was living in the film Groundhog day. Every day waking up trying to help create a Customer and Service focus only to start all over again the next day from scratch. Never reaching the goal, continually getting the same blank stares. We then played the business simulation Apollo 13. I would play the business, I told them, and the ABC worst practices they identified were unacceptable to me. They could practice new, desirable behavior and demonstrate to me what Customer and Service focused behavior looked like, they could translate all of their ITIL theory and certificates into a working solution.

Three times throughout the simulation they forget to involve me, to ask me. Despite recognizing this deficiency during learning moments!. They certainly had consistent, repeatable processes! They consistently and repeatably ignored me. They gave me misleading incorrect information and answers they ‘thought’ I wanted to hear; ‘Yes everything is under control’, ‘We will have an answer in 1 minute’, ‘I’ll get back to you shortly with an answer’. When clearly it wasn’t under control, and inevitably nobody bothered getting back to me. ‘Three times in 4 hours?’ I said ‘If you can’t manage this in a simulation how on earth are you going to be able to go back to work on Monday and remember to be Customer and Service focused’?

‘This is great!’ whispered an IT manager, ‘this is just what they do in daily life’.

‘No it’s not great!! It’s frightening, and worrying if they do this, while IT is becoming increasingly mission critical! The alarm bells should be ringing and all managers should be on-board leading a change of attitudes and behavior!’ I am delighted that now ‘IT Leadership development’ scores number 5 in CIO priorities. It is time that anybody in IT with a title of ‘manager’ learnt to address the Attitude, Behavior and Cultural issues.

Often at the start of these sessions I ask ‘This is all part of your organization’s initiative to be customer and service focused, is that correct?’, they generally nod in dis-interested acceptance. I then ask. ‘Today I am playing the business, what will I see when I walk around in IT, what behavior will I see that makes me say that these IT professionals are Customer and Service focused?’…..I generally get blank stares and minutes of painful silence, finally somebody squirms uncomfortably and answers begin to come such as, ‘We will solve your problems’,  ‘We will deliver on time’, ‘We will tell you if we can’t do it’, ‘We will listen to you’, ‘We will treat you with respect’, ‘We will deliver what we said we would’…..I then ask the CIO and Management team ‘Is this Customer and Service focused culture’?, 95% of the time they agree they have never actually defined what the desirable behavior would actually look like. Very often it is just a set of ‘Slogans’, a new mission or vision statement with the word customer stuck in somewhere between technology and cost effective. There is no conscious, concerted effort to make it a joint reality. It is just some hope and dream that technogeeks will overnight become the champions of customer excellence. (I am entitled to use the word technogeek because I used be be one. I used to display ALL these types of behavior). And when it doesn’t happen managers blame the technoids. Any wonder ‘Not my responsibility’ consistently scores in the top 3 of ABC worst practices.

I was with another Customer, a senior IT manager who told me he had just spent a day with the users, the first time in 8 years he had actually spent time talking to, and trying to understand the users. ‘I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, it gave me such an insight’ he said.

I think it was Ian Clayton who suggested or introduced ‘hug a customer day’ (forgive me if I got that wrong). It’s actually not a bad idea, apart from the possible sexual harassment charges, but the concept of a day focused on face-to-face contact with the customers is a great idea. Once a year instead of once every 8 years is a good first step.

So What can we do to solve this problem?

Before we can turn this around let’s bust some Myths, These are myths that I think can be the only reasons we have been consistently failing, as all other Normal, logical arguments have been countered in ITIL training. Then I will suggest some actions we can ALL take as an Industry. Let’s first try and change attitude and misconceptions about Users.

Myth busted:

  • Users are not criminal types found loitering in the vicinity of a computer with malicious intent to use or abuse.
  • Users are not contagious and they are not a dangerous virus ready to infect and damage your IT.
  • I shook hands with a user and I didn’t catch anything…..really!
  • ‘The Customer is always right……unless they are IT Customers’ isn’t an ITIL mantra.
  • Customers do speak in a normal language, they eat with a knife and fork and are toilet trained (mostly).
  • An IT user is not a dangerous junkie or addict.
  • IT users do not bite, do not have to be muzzled or kept on a lead.
  • Users do not carry kryptonite in their pockets, besides which we in IT really aren’t Supermen…..honesty! Despite the fact that ‘the superiority complex’ ABC worst practice card scores high in surveys as does the ‘IT hero card’.

As we once, AS A JOKE!,  wrote in our IT Service management from hell book ‘You can fool all of the users some of the time, some of the users all of the time but our aim in IT is to fool all of the users all of the time!’ Unfortunately many seem to have taken it seriously and tried to make it true… may sneer but this is also TRUE….they didn’t want to sell ITSM from Hell in Australia when it first came out as it might confuse people!

Another JOKE we put in the book was ‘The best way to reduce the amount of Incidents and changes is to get rid of the users’. Once again this was posted on notice boards and adopted! Perhaps we are to blame.

What can we as an Industry do? Barclay Rae wrote in one of his blogs we all need to get together to change things. Here is my 10 cents worth of advice that can be thrown in the Rubbish bin and ignored.

ITIL Upgrade tips: before it’s too late

  • Put pictures of users on the front covers of the new books with the message ‘have you ever seen this person?’
  • Make it mandatory to interview a user before anybody can get an ITIL certificate, better still insist that everybody spend a day in the business.
  • Change the books to say all new staff on the help desk or service desk should first spend a day in the business.
  • Examination bodies:
  • Create an ITIL expert with distinction certificate. This can only be obtained by submitting a case study in which the Customer or user signs off on the ITSM improvement initiative agreeing that business value or outcomes were achieved.

itSMF chapters:

  • Go out and film 3 or 4 users from different industries explaining how they use IT and what they’d like to see change, ask them what ITSM is to THEM?, show these as the opening film and messages at ALL itSMF conferences worldwide.
  • Endorse a ‘hug a customer day’.
  • Put articles with interviews from Users in the itSMF magazines.
  • Start a new award ‘Save the User!’ campaign, ‘let’s take satisfied IT users off the endangered species list!’ – Have a User come on stage WITH the itSMF project of the year. (First you will have to ban booing and hissing and throwing things at the User).

If we as a supplier community did this it will probably leap forward the chance of creating customer and service focused culture by a number of years. It may also stop Ian Clayton getting a headache banging his head against a wall……but then again maybe he deserves a headache

ITSM organizations:

  • Send ALL your IT staff into the business at least once for a day, get together and actually agree what does customer focused behavior actually MEAN, what do we expect to see….then hold each other accountable for doing it.
  • Invite users to come and talk to IT.

Lets make 2011 the year of the Customer………’What’s a Customer?’

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