Managing the Customer Interface with Best Practice Guidance - and not only in ITIL®!

  • By Ken Gonzalez - Programme Manager
  • 02 April 2015
  • Adopt and Adapt, Best Practice, Customer Experience, IT Services, ITIL, Practitioner, Service Management
Managing the Customer Interface with Best Practice Guidance - and not only in ITIL®!

The customer interface is the place where an organization meets its customers but in ITSM it’s something no one talks about enough, even though it adds so much value.

In today’s economy, businesses revolve around the service experience: take the upmarket coffee house concept, for example – you’re not paying for the raw materials but the exemplary service you expect from that experience.

Ken Gonzalez

So why should IT be any different? Spoiler alert: It isn’t!

The fundamental things that ITSM practitioners need to understand about the customer interface are:

  • The relationship between the customer and the service provider, internal or external, and the demands of each.
  • Traditional IT’s focus on the technical aspects of the role must, today, be replaced by a greater emphasis on the service element of IT service management and customer outcomes.

In traditional organizations, new technology is acquired and processes are improved in the name of effectiveness and efficiency, believing these to be the answer to more value for the customer. While such efforts are well intended, the resulting improvements do not always translate to visible and meaningful outcomes for the customer.

Managing the customer interface

If we are going to start managing the customer interface then we need to move away from a technical to a customer focus.

There are certain principles and ways of engaging with the customer that we must bring to the forefront and these are featured only partly in best practice frameworks such as ITIL. Frameworks tend to cover structure, roles and processes, which is all legitimate. But while ITIL recognizes the customer, it doesn’t necessarily give all the detailed guidance on what ITSM practitioners need to do at the customer interface. Integrating soft skills around the ITIL framework produces the desired outcome of structured service delivery whilst maintaining a customer focus.

Many IT organizations tend to think the customer interface is about their break-fix, service support efforts, creating self-service portals or acquiring the funding to develop a service catalogue, but there is much more to it than that. These items alone don’t guarantee engagement with customers. In fact, if their introduction isn’t carefully managed, it may do more damage to the customer relationship than not having them at all!

There are many other ways to engage.

How best practice can help manage the customer interface

The AXELOS ITIL and PPM portfolios combine well to address value realization in the customer interface in a way that is meaningful for ITSM practitioners. Bringing together ITIL and PRINCE2® in bite-sized chunks combines the best of both best practice principles to manage customer engagement effectively.

So how do we begin to break the mould? We need to consider the practices that are right for our organization and start adapting them to the job at hand, focusing on continual service improvements over time.  We must remain current and continuously review what we’re doing to ensure it is still relevant and providing value to our customers.

A cultural change is required

From a practical perspective, changing culture means we should be introducing new approaches and best practice principles. For example, PRINCE2 tackles the issue of making a business case – i.e., why are we doing this and how do we know we are getting value from it?

Realistically, this should represent a natural culture change for an organization rather than a culture shock. Intuitively, practitioners are aware there are other things that need their attention rather than just technical considerations. And they must be courageous in recognizing the contradiction that while the customer isn’t always right, understanding their inputs and needs as part of a business case is essential to configuring and providing good services.

Without this level of diligence, the provider might attempt to deliver services which are not fit for purpose or are unsustainable.

Implementing the change

Nothing in this is justification for a “rip and replace” strategy. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. Any organization considering thisneeds to stop and reconsider its options. Making changes to “look like the process in the book” (regardless of whose book is being used) is a formula for failure.

What we should be targeting is:

  1. Understanding our organization’s current challenges,
  2. As they relate to its desired goals and objectives,
  3. And then selecting the specific guidance that’s fitting to the journey there.

In this way, best practice guidance can be used in a meaningful way inside your organization and as a resource that helps people understand what actions can be taken and what outcomes should be realistically expected. Ultimately, how it maps to the business case!

I’d like practitioners to take a step back and consider what it means to “adopt and adapt” in order to get real value from the frameworks used in their organizations.

The IT provider needs to think about what services they provide; what it does for the customer and how it fits with everything else they offer. As most are not used to this kind of thinking it will require some effort and experimentation, but it’s work worth doing in order to better serve customers, enabling people to work smarter, not harder.

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