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Barry CorlessIt all started with a tweet and now I find myself debating Customer Experience (CX) on the AXELOS blog.

My tweet posed something of a challenge to AXELOS: “Right AXELOS, I’ve decided here starts the campaign to replace ITIL® Business Relationship Management (BRM) and Service Level Management (SLM) with CX management – more joined up, more sense.”

The root of my proposition is in the self-imposed isolation of many IT departments, which are good at creating virtual walls between themselves and the rest of an organization.

Before throwing out the IT Service Management (ITSM) baby with the bath water, it’s worth acknowledging that ITIL’s BRM, BLM and CX are each trying to get the right service in the right place, at the right time and cost for the customer.

It has been variously successful over the years but with one constant:  as technology progresses the customer has become more demanding and savvy about what they should expect from IT services. Organizations that have buried their head in the sand about this are not around anymore and customer experience is now defined by companies such as Waitrose and John Lewis.

The principles of excellent CX are the same in ITSM; it’s only the application that’s different.

So what about ITIL’s BRM and SLM?

The detail of BRM and SLM remains valid but – for me – their success depends on being joined effectively with the service desk and operations. Together they can be a powerful force, but tend not to work together as closely as they should.

In my view, the real problem is distinguishing between “users” and “customers” and – if I might be so bold – ITIL would benefit from removing the distinction at the next revision.

Going down the path of “customer” rather than “user” has a direct effect on customer experience: it changes the attitude of ITSM people when treating people as customers, not users.

How does CX differ in its approach?

CX is, principally, two things:

  1. It is all-encompassing: an end-to-end journey of customer experience. From discovery of you and your service to advocacy
  2. Leadership and CX: with the importance placed on customer experience, it needs C-level interest and the same rigour applied to internal as to external customers.

CX considers the bigger picture – delivering improvements at all levels whether this is around interaction, the way you do business or using services at the right time. It’s also about improving the cultivation of the customer into new areas and becoming advocates for you.

For example, in work I’m doing with a major UK organization, it involves trying to drive a customer culture through the business; looking at staff attitudes, modifying behaviour and getting them closer to the goals of the organization.

The same principles also extend to managing suppliers’ approaches to customer experience. This involves an internal team integrating the services of key suppliers and implementing initiatives to drive a customer culture that involves them as well.

Many people may see customer culture as simply saying “have a nice day”; but with the coming of social media and the ability to manage customer experience and communication though a range of new channels it’s all good news for customer experience. And this has the by-products of customer awareness and advocacy. See the online work of Virgin Trains as an example, providing helpful, informative communications that are both proactive and reactive to the customer.

Thinking back to ITSM, IT organizations need to ask themselves a number of questions: what does IT do? How do people interact with us? How easy are we to do business with? Do we provide the right services at the right quality?

Other tips to create sound CX management:

  1. Ask yourself – how well do you know your customer?
  2. Do you have a central repository for that knowledge that everyone can access?
  3. Do a gap analysis comparing what you need to know with what you do– the gap might be bigger than you realize!
  4. Bring from ITSM what is needed to manage the customer experience.

Whatever you do, you must ensure that – metaphorically – the blood running through your veins is the same as your customers’ – and the CX approach you take is joined up.

Current rating: 4 (4 ratings)


17 May 2015 Brian McKenna
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Barry's main proposal is that we should combine BRM and SLM into something he calls CX. This is something I have spent recent years trying to discourage. In my part of the world we still create a position called "Service Delivery Manager" (SDM). This position generally combines what ITIL differentiates as two roles, Business Relationship Manager and Service Level Manager, each with a separate process defined.

The two roles and processes must work closely together, and unfortunately we often have to combine these roles in one position where there is not the critical mass to justify two separate people. However, I still urge management to remain conscious of the risk of such a merger.

Consider the different focus described in ITIL's Service Strategy book (SS Table 4.10). BRM is strategic and tactical, SLM is Tactical and operational. Combine the roles and where do you think the focus really goes? I can tell you from bitter experience - operations. At one time I had 14 SDMs reporting to me and they were continually being dragged into operational issues, sometimes even acting as major incident managers. They had no time to think about the future, or whether the service they were providing was what the customer (let alone the users) actually needed.

And to throw away the distinction between customer and user is not a good idea. ITIL's distinction is that customers are those who actually buy goods or services, and users don't have any choice but to use the goods or services somebody else decided upon. It further makes the observation that customers often don't actually use the services they inflict upon others (my words - not quite ITIL!).

How often do we see that in IT, where an IT department has got together with a bunch of business managers and decided on what should be provided, without involving the poor mugs who have to use it? Or the external IT Service Provider who has negotiated a contract with an IT Department where there has been no involvement with the business, let alone users?

So the distinction is important, not so we can focus on the customer, but rather so we don't forget the user. Sometimes customers are users, and users are customers, but not always, and the bigger the organisation the less this is likely.

So please maintain the distinction between Customer and User, and between BRM and SLM. Combine them where appropriate, but don't forget about the inherent differences.
19 May 2015 Public Anonymous User
I fully agree with Brian. BRM and SLM are basically two separate processes and roles and by keeping them separate more justice can be done. Where BRM is focusing on the customers and business users SLM is focusing on the operations and service providers. There is indeed a connection between SLM and BRM and that is when we are designing the service levels which has to be with an outside in perspective from the customers and the users. Service level agreements are basically decided keeping in mind the customer satisfaction factor. All SLAs and OLAs are means to achieve that customer satisfaction through paying attention to the requirements and defining them in order to help operations to deliver against.

There is a need for synergy in these two processes but when executing them the focus would get magnified on different audiences. SLM has two responsibilities - defining the SLRs and SLAs which is much less frequent than the other responsibility of monitoring SLAs and managing service providers to ensure SLA targets are met. This second responsibility of SLM is so operational it would mostly overshadow the first responsibility in most of the time in practicality. In case of a BRM the focus is entirely on the customers and users and making sure requirements are captured and understood with an outside in perspective. What are the key criteria for satisfaction or quality (CTQs - critical to quality)? Once requirements are captured SLM will connect with BRM to design the service level requirements and agreements that will help service providers to deliver against. By keeping these two roles and processes separate more justice can be done by allowing adequate focus on core essence of these two processes and thereby creating synergy that leads to achieving the end objective of customer satisfaction.
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