All of the big IT industry disruptions – cloud computing, BYOD, the revolution of wireless access capabilities through LTE networks, — represent the same net benefit to enterprise clients. That benefit is “service ubiquity” – the ability to replicate a user experience at any time, with ease and without constraint. As liberating as this is for technology users, however, it has created a unique challenge for IT leaders who are charged to deliver and maintain the service experiences that are made possible through an emerging infrastructure that is ever-changing.
IT departments and CIOs are evolving from managers of infrastructure to managers of client experiences. A big part of being customer-centric is empathizing with the user experience, and that extends to all entities, suppliers included. In other words, CIOs who are leading the transformation of their organization to be customer-centric are going to need to evaluate the capacity and wherewithal of their suppliers to deliver their services with the user experience in mind. Here’s how I see it:
- Good customer service begins with engagement at all levels. It should feel like a two-way conversation where both parties are listening with the intention of reaching an understanding. Anticipation, proactive action, follow-up, and common sense courtesy are also traits of what good customer service feels like.
- Service ubiquity has also created a more intensive personal service experience for clients of the enterprise, one that they can customize to suit their own needs and preferences. This ability to personalize the way technology is used creates a heightened expectation for support and engagement in the client. They are more engaged, more articulate, sometimes more demanding with their needs and expectations for personalized service.
- Although they provide a valuable articulation of what can be expected in a supplier relationship and are an important element in the mitigation of business risk, service level agreements (SLAs) can be restrictive. They define boundaries around performance levels that can be two-dimensional in their application. At their worst, they are a defense mechanism of last resort that are only referenced in times when there are issues – by that time it is too late to affect the customer experience.
Making the commitment to place customer service as a top priority adds another dimension to the dynamics of any operating unit. It can be isolated within an IT department, or driven across an entire organization; the size is not important. The commitment adds an opportunity for constructive dialogue to happen within a team and allows for increased creativity and exploration of new ideas. This creation of a shared purpose can be extraordinarily unifying, and catalytic in its potential to add energy, collaboration, and problem solving to the team’s performance. If becoming a more customer-centric organization not a foundational goal of your IT strategy in 2012 and beyond, it should be.
I agree with Scott regarding his customer-centric approach and have always strived to provide the same level of support that provides results and satisfaction whether I was consulting or as IT Director.
Over the years, I have found that SLA’s have become convoluted legalease documents, that like Scott said, are designed to give the provider an out. Truly, the SLA’s wouldn’t need to be so detailed and defensive if the customers best interests are always taken into consideration. After all, isn’t that what the vendors’ sales people are selling?
Darren – I appreciate your comments about “customers best interests”. This is the common ground that forms the foundation for collaborative practices across supplier relationships. With these practices in place, the SLA becomes a secondary article that may describe the relationship, but does not wholly define it. A subtle, but important distinction.