The cult of the customer

Examine your assumptions around "customer first". Often but not always. There is such a thing as over-servicing the customer. Who is paying and what do THEY want?

HBR says stop trying to delight your customers

loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises than on how dazzling the service experience might be. Yet most companies have failed to realize this and pay dearly in terms of wasted investments and lost customers.

HBR also says Bad Service Can Be Good Business

There are, I suppose, a few situations where bad service and good business go hand-in-hand. The first is when companies are explicit with customers that service is not part of what they're signing up for [e.g. RyanAir]...
There's a second category of companies for whom lousy service may be good business — companies whose offerings are so compelling, and whose reach is so vast, that making the investments required to deliver high-touch service would be making a big strategic mistake. [e.g. LinkedIn, twitter]

...to which I would add a certain vendor of PC operating systems and productivity tools (with aspirations to sell other stuff too) whose total monopoly of the desktop and office means they don't give a flying fox what their customers think.

Taylor in HBR goes on to say

in rare circumstances, bad service can be good business. But most of the time, companies that aspire to be great at selling must first be great at service

...which is true of most companies. And it is the Harvard Business Review.

But that doesn't mean "most of the time" is true for all readers of this blog.

What many ITSM pundits forget is that there is a wide range of IT organisations. For many of them, there are not customers in the open-market, consumer sense of the word. We're not Apple. Our "customers" are often very captive. We are a third case to the two above: customers who don't have a choice. The public sector, for instance.

I can hear Jim and the other outsourcers going all fizzy already about how everybody has a choice so internal IT better deliver stellar service before they are jobless. But that simply isn't a real risk in many organisations, because there's a fourth case: the governors of the organisation want the service to be crappy. The dial is set to crappy as a result of a conscious decision to put it there. Wonderful IT service simply isn't part of the business strategy. The organisation doesn't need it. Not-for-profits for example, who'd rather spend the money on changing the world.

So there's four scenarios where total focus on the customer is misplaced, where a relentless drive for service improvement is money mis-spent. Right now I feel like IT has a Cult Of The Customer, a politically correct holy-of-holies, an IT sacred cow. Like all sacred cows, its actually a stupid and smelly animal that shits everywhere.

Yes a lot of the time the customer is really important. This blog talks about that often enough. But "customer first" isn't a given. Examine your assumptions in the light of organisational strategy.

Do you really need a dazzling self-service request catalogue? Is that the best possible use of scarce funds, or is it just "ooh shiny"?
Do you have to implement every new technology the business units get peddled? or is it OK to say no?
What is the right SLA for the long-term viability of the organisation? Who says what the availability should be? Does the service desk really need to be 24x7? (I've seen public hospitals with emergency departments, which didn't have a 24x7 IT service desk so don't be talking to me about what is "essential")
The Customer isn't a trump card in all situations.

[From comments below:
Sometimes we serve the wrong customer. There's a simple principle: who's making the money decisions?

External customers almost always do control the money. Internal customers often don't.
Sometimes the decision on paying for IT is made higher up, and those we treat as customers are in fact not: they get the service they/re told to take by our mutual superiors, not what they want. Because they don't hold the purse strings that pay for IT

What we deliver must be fit for purpose as defined by those paying for it.
]


We also suffer from the Cult Of The User, but that's another post....

A while ago I wrote about the Cult Of Innovation. IT is prone to cults - it's a sign of immaturity.

See also
Customer-centric
Customer value

Comments

IT and Government, Some Similarities?

Perhaps another way to look at this…

I agree with distinguishing between the internal vs. external customers. The “internal customers” we commonly referred to in IT often do not make the budgetary decisions, and they are merely “consumers” of the IT services. The real “customer” of the corporate IT, whatever the corporate committee that makes the budget decisions, allocates (or pays) the money.

I think, to some degree, the relationship between IT and its corporate consumers is analogous to a government and its constituents. Most of us don’t get to choose which government entities we want to work with, that was determined by our residence and other legal means. In parallel, most of us don’t get to choose which IT organization we want to work with -- the corporate governance determines that. Just like government, IT exists to serve its constituents but pleasing everyone is not its primary goal. That does not mean a government organization cannot or should not do its best to ensure its interactions with the constituents are as positive as possible. An IT organization should also do its best to have positive interactions with the corporate constituents it serves, and good implementation of ITSM can only help.

Don't underestimate users

Years ago I did customer satisfaction measurement for a group of IT units. Respondents were end users. Some years later I checked to see did those measurements have any predictive power. They did, the bottom third had all been outsourced or bought.

End users can definitely influence

That makes sense to me. Although it is the corporate steering committee who allocate the IT budget, most of those "IT consumers" work, directly or indirectly, for someone on the steering committee. The steering committee people hear the good and bad of working with IT from the users and make their decisions based on some of those input.

Let's take the risks!

I might be missing the point, but your statement that a great IT service may not be part of the business strategy strikes me as humorous, especially in situations where the service being offered has the opportunity to impact billions of dollars across world markets (Knight Capital, okay - half a billion)... or in other industries, the lives of people, the environment, etc.

Those are the risks that organisations (and perhaps some cowboys) take when considering what to invest in. Perhaps those are also the risks we take when we choose to be the customer and glaze over the strategic interests of these companies.

This is what sparked me coming back to your post:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/software-runs-the-world-how-scared-should-we-be-that-so-much-is-bad/260846/

I think we are talking at

I think we are talking at cross purposes here.

The Cult of the Customer would say if the customer wants it quickly we deliver quickly despite any safety misgivings we in IT might have.
The Cult of the Customer would say we take on the 45th new IT project even though it will collapse our processes with its workload, even though the only way we can get it done is to cut the testing and training budgets.
The Cult of the Customer would say that the currency traders can deploy the app on their iPads even though we can't secure it yet.

It's worship of the customer that gets us into these messes

Fit for purpose

So does it just come down to delivering fit for purpose services, which actually demands being very close to your customer.

The reasons for the situations you describe, and trust me I recognize them, aren't that simple, and most IT managers know that thuggery are undesirable but feel powerless to act otherwise

who's making the money decisions?

yeah i think "fit for purpose" is getting very close.

David Cannon and I had a conversation about this on twitter

Image

Internal/external is getting close too.

I think this is on the button: Sometimes we serve the wrong customer. There's a simple principle: who's making the money decisions?

Sometimes the decision on paying for IT is made higher up, and those we treat as customers are in fact not: they get the service they/re told to take by our mutual superiors, not what they want. Because they don't hold the purse strings that pay for IT

External customers almost always do control the money. Internal customers often don't.
What we deliver must be fit for purpose as defined by those paying for it.

You get what you pay for...

People tend to focus on the need to create a sense of urgency. Sometimes, the reason you can't create urgency is because there is NO urgency. Your org has survived this long, hasn't it?

Well, yes.

Rob,

Yes, some of that is true.

We don't need to make customers go all woozy with joy. I find that "delight" is not a word I often use, and not a response I expect in others. I would rather do business with a company that sells good products at a reasonable price than run like mad to the latest Wowza outlet. On the other hand, I will desert a company tha gives me bad service faster than you can say TIPU.

However, I do have a few other comments.
"... the governors of the organisation want the service to be crappy. The dial is set to crappy as a result of a conscious decision to put it there"

Well, that indicates that they are dedicated to lowering productivity and morale. That's a business strategy I would not want to espouse. "Crappy" service has consequences... maybe like people setting up shadow IT.

Your quote from HBR:
"There are, I suppose, a few situations where bad service and good business go hand-in-hand. The first is when companies are explicit with customers that service is not part of what they're signing up for"

OK, a *few* situations. I used to, for example, get heating fuel from a company called No Frills Oil. My expectations were met. (In fact, without any fluff, their actual delivery of service was flawless.)

Expectations are what really matter. As an employee, I expect that IT will do certain things for me, like keep my email flowing and fix it when it breaks. If they are not delivering on those expectations, "captive" or not, I simply will stop using the service. (Again, let's think about why many "customers" are running screaming away from internal IT services and why BYOD is growing.)

But there's the nasty little bits of intellectual property being scattered all over consumer-level cloud services, and the use of poorly conceived and executed services from providers who are looking at the next round of funding and have no intention of looking beyond that.

I've been doing and talking about customer service for my entire life. It does matter, even to those who don't have a choice--or maybe especially to them.

Amazing how you can hype the heck out of something's opposite, isn't it?

If you expect "crappy" service, either your expectations will be exceeded, or met. If that's all you expect, too bad for you.

Fizzy

Since we are going through a period of clarifying what we mean by certain terms I would humbly suggest the customer is the person making the choice to have a low cost low value IT service. In fact we poor outsourcers are often constrained by the customer to offer a service that is less perfect than it could be. I'm not convinced that is because they want a crappy service so much as the compromises they are willing to make are irrational. The active involvement of "the governors" remains the rare exception

The misconception is that fit for purpose has to mean state of the art expensive solutions. Often it means stopping doing the things that don't add value - making the user jump through unnecessary hoops for instance.

Would we rather have"great service" delivered with a false smile and an inner sneer or flawed service delivered with q genuine smile and apology? The rational Jim Bofin says the former, the emotional Jimbo Fin the latter.

having the customer by the balls

Yes the customer sometimes chooses lower service quality: that's scenario number one. And yes that is often part of an outsourcing deal. Actually it is part of an outsourcing deal more often than the customers realise :) but that';s another discussion.

But scenarios 2,3, and4 are NOT about customer choice. They are about having the customer by the balls, frankly.

Service This

So it's trendy to love the customer. It's trendy to be for Paul Wilkinson ideas or Ian Clayton’s books. These guys blazed these trails a decade ago.

I find it disgusting that people are suddenly provoked into radical customer-centric thinking.

You can't use customer-think to punish ITIL, any more than you can use ITIL to punish the metric system.

This movement is no different than getting the latest iPhone, for the sake of owning the iPhone.

That being said, lip service around "customers" is often left to professionals.

To be clear, the idea of "customer" is a function of entitlement and separation.

There are no customers, WE are customers.

Social media has taken this disgusting display of entitlement and raised it to fever pitch.

When JOE-CUSTOMER can demand "SERVICE" on twitter for a failed internet connection at a hotel costing 99.00 US a night we have a problem.

Folks, if you actually believe you deserve that level of "SERVICE" at the pricing your paying, you're not empowered, you're delusional.

Every time you scream about CUSTOMER service and your paying 2.00 for coffee shipped to you from Columbia, picked by homeless people, you are only setting into motion, your eventual demise.

Really, look at the service YOU provide, trust me, it's worth complaining about. So don't cry wolf, until you are ready to have lunch with Red Riding Hood.

and...

Please remember that not everyone does what you do. Not everyone is a "knowledge worker" with the freedom to choose tools, locations and hours. Just as there are low-wage coffee pickers, there are minimum wage warehouse workers who are obligated to use the company computer system to log hours, access benefits pages, read documentation, and receive email, even if they only do it once a month. So, when you're riffing on how IT doesn't need to think so much about customers, think about who it is, exactly, that will enable their access, talk them through setting up their accounts, give them password advice, and bail them out when something doesn't work right.

Those folks have at least as much knowledge as any one of us, it's just of a different sort. If you'd like to experience what they do, pop the hood on a truck and fix the diesel engine without help. Yeah, not so much.

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