Walk the walk with your customers

Customer with head in the cloudsTNT won the main award at the SDI Conference in June – i.e. for Large Service Desks.

A major component that led to this award was the fact that TNT have developed a programme whereby their IT staff spend time working in depots and actually out with delivery drivers. This clearly gives all IT staff an experiential understanding of the day-to-day business requirements that they are supporting – and of course of the subsequent impact when things go wrong. It’s a great initiative and TNT thoroughly deserve the acclaim and recognition that this has received. It’s a great success story and I pass on my congratulations to all involved – IT and beyond – at TNT.

But wait a minute, why have we all got so excited about this? Isn’t this the way it should be for all IT organisations? Going out and working with its customers, living the daily routine and appreciating how IT serves this and where the key priorities are? For me the real message here is not so much that TNT have done something truly extraordinary and revolutionary, but that it begs the question: what is everyone else doing? Why does this seem such a standout success and shouldn’t we all be connecting more closely with the businesses and customers that we support?

As a backdrop to this we see the continuing debates around ITIL adoption and best practice tools and processes: is the 3.1 version of ITIL going to be fit for purpose? what’s the next stage of CMDB/CMS evolution?; should we start with Service Catalogue or Service Portfolio management?; how do we manage Cloud environments? What value will social media bring to ITSM?; etc.. All of these are interesting and relevant topics in their own right, but for me, in terms of priority and urgency, they just don’t figure compared to the need to deliver service and value to customers. The SDI conference was filled with people who deliver service and value on a daily basis and who frankly don’t know or care about ITIL version 3, 4 or 99, or what a CMS is called. I am still frequently amazed by the amount of inward-looking, navel-gazing that goes on in our industry, often about topics that really don’t make much of a difference to anyone but a tiny few.

So, you might say, am I simply adding to the navel-gazing here? To some extent yes, but my concern is that we in the industry give out so many messages and so much ‘expert’ guidance that seems to miss the point entirely – i.e. the point about starting with customers and building your services, organisation and processes around their needs. To me what we should be doing in IT and ITSM is quite simple, yet we seem to overcomplicate it with quasi-academic overblown and over-engineered approaches, most of which is self-serving rather than customer-serving.

In my opinion what we simply need to do is:

  •  Talk to our customers – businesses, users, organisations
  •  Ask them what they need – let them have their say
  •  Organise ourselves to deliver services to meet their needs – negotiate on the possible and realistic
  •  Manage and monitor how we are doing
  •  Tell and keep telling our customers how we’re doing – show how we add value to their work
  •  Keep fine tuning what we’re doing to improve quality and efficiency

We can use the individual areas of knowledge and expertise that are contained within ITSM, such as the ITIL oeuvre, to help us to achieve the above, but we mustn’t lose sight of the first 2 points in the list in particular – namely starting with our customers and basing what we are doing around what they need, rather than what we in IT think is important. I recently worked with an organisation where this threw up a few surprises for the IT guys; the key areas that were identified within one business were: MS Word and email + print + file. This was to ensure that (in a recruitment business) CVs could be updated and sent out within minutes of jobs being advertised, otherwise business could be lost. Before, when we had sat down with the customers and then tried to build up a priority-based list of services, none of these areas were seen as particularly important, but in reality they were the highest priority areas in the business.

So while we might have then spent time re-designing Incident and Change management processes, we would still have missed the point about how to best prioritise our activity. We must talk to our customers and look at what we are doing from the customer’s viewpoint. The thing is, we all know this and are constantly saying ‘ITSM is about business and business integrated services’ etc. We need to walk the walk – or, like TNT, deliver the packages – as well as talking the talk.

So, are you talking enough to your customers? Are you ‘walking the walk’ in terms of how you understand and support them? Take a leaf out of TNT’s book – better late than never.

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