Blogs/ 28.09.2015

The customer centric conundrum

In 23 years working for the UK government, Ivor Macfarlane moved from forestry to ITSM via prisons, warehousing and training. In 1999 he became an ITSM consultant and trainer. He was an author for ITIL (versions 1, 2 & 3), ISO20000 and ITSM library and an ITIL examiner since 1991. An active contributor to social media and blogs, he is well known at ITSM events and has presented around the world (40 countries so far and on every continent except Antarctica).

Who is your customer?

We are told to become ‘customer centric’ – to see the services we provide from the customer’s perspective. I’ve been hearing – and saying – this for so many years now you might think we are all now 100 % customer-centric. But that turns out to be a lot harder than just wanting to be – especially for dyed-in-the-wool IT folks.
The term is usually spelt wrongly – as “customer’s perspective” instead of ‘customers’ perspectives”. In a company’s financial support service, the sales team enter new orders, financial support create reports, budget holders check progress and so on and we have admin staff overseeing it, archiving records and backing up data. Which is the customer to centre this service around? Beware of ‘Loudest Stakeholder Syndrome’ where the service gets centred on whoever shouts loudest if it isn’t perfect for them? Realise that if the front line sales team can’t enter orders then sales drop; if the CFO can’t see their dashboard it instantly annoys them and you will know about it. Deciding logically which matters most isn’t so hard, actually focusing the service on them might be harder, and possibly career limiting. Also, customers will change their perceptions to match current pressures. They may agree the level of cover they want to pay for, but those same people have a different perspective if the system fails at the peak of their business cycle. They are right both times of course but it’s harder to switch your perspective of their views though since they drive your procedures.

Consequences

There are two roles in making customer-centric services:

  • the service provider wanting to, taking time and effort to establish what customers think, need and want. It isn’t easy because customers thinking attitudes, experience, skills and attributes can be fundamentally different to those of IT professionals
  • Customers themselves must take the time and effort to get involved. This is potentially much harder. Without serious input from the customer side how can any service provider know what their focus should be?

Getting customer commitment of time, money and enthusiasm has a potential ‘Catch-22’ situation – either:

  • Things are OK, so why spend time and effort talking to service providers
    or
  • IT never understands so why waste effort when they ‘just don’t get it’?

If (or when) this conundrum is reached, it is inevitably going to be down to the service provider to break the impasse, even though it is – or should be – the customer who benefits. (Setting aside a cynical perspective that says more targeted delivery is efficient and brings the service provider economies and therefore increased profit.)

Making it happen

How do we convince customers to become involved and even enthusiastic? There is so much to be written on that, but the basics might be expressed as:

  • Market and promote your role in customer success. They will not put effort in unless they actually believe the service is critical to their success
  • Demonstrate how badly aligned services have damaged the business – or other similar businesses if you are lucky enough not to have damaged your own yet. This can be painful but if you have caused damage, far better to admit it and look keen to prevent recurrence than to deny it
  • Convince customers that only they can do this, it must be from the actual workplace and point of use that the intelligence comes
  • Deliver quick wins once you start. Those improvements must look like they depended on customer input.

Perhaps, in summary, we could say: care and be seen to care?