Putting the ‘Service’ Back Into IT Service Management

IT is all about people and, therefore, by default, so is ITIL and ITSM

There is an interesting book called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. In a nutshell, the author makes a case that if society followed the basics we learned in kindergarten — share, play fair, put things back where you found them, clean up your mess — the world would be a much better place.

Well, I think the same holds true for IT service management (ITSM). It all boils down to the basics. Whether it was my first paper route, my part-time job in retail or working in the college library, everything I needed to know about service I learned as a kid.

What I learned boils down to three things: expectations, consistency, and empathy.

Take the paper route for example. The client’s expectation is that the paper will be there before they leave for work. Consistency meant that I strived to deliver on that expectation every day. Having empathy meant that I really cared about meeting my customers’ clients’ needs. Let me tell you, having empathy really paid off when it came to getting tips.

The other point I want to make is that each of us is on the receiving end of customer service every day. Because of that, we all inherently know the difference between good customer service and bad customer service. That is an important point. There is no fooling anyone. Your customer knows when he or she is receiving good service and they surely know when they are receiving bad service.

Take your Internet service provider (ISP) as an example:

–Have they adequately set your expectations for service? Have they published a service level? Do they let you know how long you will be on hold? Do they provide you with clear options for obtaining service? Are they consistent in the delivery of that service? Does every agent seem equally knowledgeable and capable? How do you feel when you call your provider? Do you have an expectation of good service or are you dreading having to make that call? –Once you get them on the line, do they show empathy for your situation or do you feel like they just want to hand your issue off to someone else?

Personally, I dread calling my ISP. Every call is an adventure. They are always asking me questions that they should know the answer to like, “What model of router do you have?”. Hey, they are the ones who provisioned it. They ask for things using their internal business acronyms like, “What’s your CCC routing identifier?” — as if I am supposed to know that. I always seem to be transferred to another queue with another waiting period and have to answer the same questions all over again — some of which they had me enter on my touch-tone phone. Why ask me to enter my phone number just to be asked for it again by the agent?

Okay … deep breath.

So my question to you is this: How do your IT customers — i.e., the business — view the services you offer? Do they dread calling you?

I am going to take another trip down memory lane, back to my first job in IT as a mainframe field engineer. The company was Amdahl (some of you may even remember it). They had a very simple motto to express their position on service. It went like this: “A customer problem is an Amdahl problem.” You ITIL fans in the audience will have to forgive them. This was pre-ITIL when the vendors didn’t distinguish between incidents and problems.

Anyway, all kidding aside, I can truly say that Amdahl embraced the motto in everything it did. In essence, it didn’t matter what problem the customer called in with. The Amdahl team took ownership. They were totally empathic to the customer’s situation and reassured the customer that they would stay engaged till the situation was rectified.

Amdahl tried not to point fingers or “pass the buck” to other vendors or departments. They set clear expectations with their clients. They consistently delivered with competent, well-trained individuals, and above all else, they were empathic to the client’s needs. Alas, Amdahl is no longer with us, a victim of the declining role of the mainframe, however, their spirit of service lives on in the many alumni that passed through their ranks.

So ask yourself: “Is your customer’s problem your problem”?

Okay, so how does this all tie back to ITSM? ITSM was created to better align IT to the business. It recommends a thorough approach that strives to understand the information technology needs of the business and to satisfy those needs in a timely and cost effective manner. In the context of ITSM, service means a few things:

  • It is a term used to describe a vital business function, such as the Order Entry System or the ECommerce website. In that context, IT needs to design, build, deploy, operate, support and continually improve the delivery of that service.
  • Service can also describe how we interact with the business. One example is a service request for access to an application, to bring a new-hire on board or to provision a piece of equipment. Another example is an incident and the service provided to resolve it.
  • Service can also be used to describe the interaction between internal IT suppliers and customers. This can include services that affect the infrastructure such Change Management or service asset and Configuration Management.

When it comes to ITSM, it is extremely important that you understand who your customers and suppliers are. It is equally important that you understand that in your daily job, you can be both a supplier and customer.

Every interaction between a customer and a supplier is a “Moment of Truth”. In that moment, you have the opportunity to alter your customer’s entire perception of you, your company and the service you provide. So it’s important that expectations are properly set, service is delivered in a consistent manner, and that you demonstrate empathy for the client.

IT is also critical that every stakeholder in the ITSM program understands that he or she has customers and suppliers, and that every interaction ultimately affects the end user, which is the business. Inefficiency and bad service between the various departments within IT is every bit as bad as delivering bad service directly to your company’s paying customers.

So let’s summarize: everyone in IT is a provider or recipient of service; ultimately, everyone within IT is there to support the business and their paying customers; and we all know the difference between good service and bad so there is no fooling your customer

“Putting the service back into service management” is all about defining expectations for every transaction between supplier and customer, ensuring those interactions are performed in a consistent fashion, and having empathy for your client. In other words, it means putting yourself in your clients’ shoes.

Processes and tools can help streamline the delivery of service but ITSM starts with each and everyone within the service delivery organization.

In other words, service starts and ends with people.

Getting IT on board

How you get the folks in your ITSM program to focus more on service? Any change in behavior, be it personal or organizational, requires three things: awareness, will and action.

Going back to my example with my ISP I honestly believe that very few people (from front line support to executive management) in that company was aware of how their service was perceived. I am sure they got many complaints but there was no fundamental awareness that they were at fault. Every time I requested an opportunity to discuss my issues with management, I was ignored.

I don’t believe they have any willingness to change because they have done nothing to demonstrate it. I can assure you they have taken no steps to improve service because every call to them is still an adventure and I still dread calling them.

Guess what? When the contract is up they will no longer be my ISP provider. Shocking, I know.

When it comes to your ITSM program, you need to ensure that everyone involved in IT is aware of the role they play in the delivery of service. This can be fostered through such things as education, effective communication or even special events like ITSM simulations.

The willingness to change comes from within, yet is galvanized through leadership. Make sure your senior management team places adequate focus on service. If they ask why, remind them who their customer is. Remember, we live in a world of outsourcing and cloud-based IT services. If your client, the business, doesn’t believe they are getting good service, they can always change suppliers. Don’t fool yourself – changing IT suppliers is easier than ever before in IT history.

Lastly, take action.

I highly suggest that you make service the core focus of your ITSM program. Take every opportunity to develop the awareness, will and action around superior customer service. Review your processes. Get input from your stakeholders and close those gaps. Automate where you can. Most importantly, govern your processes. Make people accountable by rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. An ungoverned process will always decay.

Putting the service back into service management starts with each of you. Go back to the basics, to what you learned in kindergarten. Understand that every interaction is a “moment of truth” and that you and your company will be judged by how you respond.

David Mainville

David Mainville


David Mainville, CEO and co-founder of Navvia, is a passionate advocate of Service Management and a frequent presenter, blogger and well known member of the ITSM community. With over 35 years of experience, David has held progressively senior technical and management roles allowing him to "connect the dots" between the Business and IT. At Navvia, David leads the charge to bring innovative ITSM solutions to market focusing on Product Development, Marketing and Operations.


• Posted by David Mainville on Nov 07, 2012
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