Most Important Service in ITIL? Customer Service

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As all IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) geeks know, the five ITIL books are Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement. Yet while service is obviously a consistent theme, ITIL doesn't directly address improving customer service, said Tom Pierce, an ITIL v3 expert with 23 years of IT experience who now works for AT&T.During a presentation at this week's itSM Fusion conference, Pierce said:

I'd like to see a sixth book on Service Culture. In order to make ITIL really work, you need a culture of customer service.

Many IT professionals, with their love of binary thinking, are uncomfortable with the vague nature of customer service, said Pierce. "Great customer service is difficult to quantify. It involves emotions and feelings." Yet ITIL's emphasis on definition and standardization fits nicely into a customer-service initiative.


Defining the products and services you offer is a characteristic of good customer service. Not defining and scoping IT services inevitably leads to IT saying "no" to customers, said Pierce: But if you define your services through a service catalog or other means, you shouldn't find yourself saying "no" nearly as often..


Pierce suggested gathering IT personnel, giving them Post-it notes and asking them to write down the top five services the IT department provides. Stick the notes on the wall and see how many different responses you get. If the number is a lot closer to 50 than five, IT obviously needs to better define its services before presenting them to customers.


Anticipating and forecasting customer needs is another characteristic of good customer service. Effective portfolio management can help IT do that, but Pierce stressed the importance of actually engaging customers in conversation instead of just relying on surveys and other non-personal methods of communication. Another good suggestion: Make it easy to contact IT by providing customers with a list of which personnel to contact for the various IT functions.


Many IT departments communicate most frequently with their customers in post-mortems of projects gone wrong, said Pierce. He shared a cautionary tale of a former client that efficiently delivered a new service, but because of a lack of communication ended up with unhappy customers. After dismantling its cubicles, the company gave each employee a laptop and a BlackBerry. So far, so good. But chaos resulted the first day wired phone lines were switched off, with customers expected to use softphones to place and receive calls.


As Pierce described it, the IT department sent a few e-mails with go-live dates and other basic information about the switch, but didn't provide more detailed information or training. To make matters worse, the help desk hadn't been kept in the loop and thus was ill-equipped to deal with customer questions.


IT departments shouldn't become so focused on process efficiency that they neglect customer service. Pierce offered the example of a new restaurant owner, asking, "When you open a restaurant, do you worry first about attracting customers and building relationships with them, or do you worry about creating a plan for how to replace your stove if it fails?"


A good opportunity to try out some of his advice is coming up Oct. 4-8 during Customer Service Week. A member of the audience at Pierce's presentation said her department participated last year, using some of the tips provided on the event website. Her take: Such simple suggestions as sending customers thank-you notes and a photo of the help desk team really helped improve customer relationships.