Service oriented culture. The very mention of the phrase can cause a variety of reactions in people ranging from the ambiguity of “I think I know what Service is…” to the eye-rolling “Oh, great – another buzzword that we are going to have to suffer through until the next one” mindset. Rarely does it evoke a positive response with definitive steps that can be taken to create one. I am not going to provide these steps either; however, I am going to provide some insight based on my day to day relationships with my co-workers, my customers and the layers of management I deal with amongst both.
I work in healthcare, in IT specifically, so while aspects of the industry that I choose to be employed in (ie: patient care) should be synonymous with service, it is not a given that view is taken or expected amongst the IT ranks. Even searches for a definition of a service oriented culture yield few results, most of which focus on sales – or, if done through research providers such as Gartner, focus on SOA, ERP or CRM systems. There are a lot of references from company brochures and sales pitches about having tools, systems, processes or consultants provide guidance for improving your customer service(s). If your experiences have been like mine over the years, you will find those providing these references are well-intentioned (and/or financially motivated), but generally incapable of providing a how-to that changes your culture. This roadmap we often expect, and need, generally falls outside of their capability, and on rare occasions you will even get the more frank representatives to acknowledge that it is not part of their goal to change your culture. They just want your business – the trickiest part is still up to you. And the core components of that trickiest part are often what IT needs the most help with – the soft skills, the attitude, the behavioral aspects and the business acumen to build customer relationships that benefit both the business (which is why we are here to begin with) and future customer service relationships. Here are some of the integral components I am referring to that can’t be provided by technology:
It’s thinking about how you would like to be treated:
Everyone knows when they have had a good customer service experience in their private lives. The challenge comes in remembering that when it is your turn to provide the service – put the proverbial shoe on the other foot and see how well both you and the customer react to the service you are providing.
It’s thinking about the business goals or “It’s the business, stupid.”:
One does not have to become a resident expert in business to understand what business goals are or what results your customer is expecting to achieve – one has to listen and communicate to understand. Even if the goals have no immediate technology solution, helping the customer understand this and addressing their issue is still a valuable service. IT facilitates business goals where possible; we still need to understand them in order to do so effectively. I am sure you can think of a customer service situation in your personal life that, while you may have been disappointed in the answer, you were not disappointed in the person providing the answer. There was clear value in the service they provided by understanding your needs and their ability to help.
It’s a collaborative effort:
Feeding off the previous point, customer service is never a one-way dialogue. To meet the customer’s goals or desired outcome requires good communication skills and (often) an open-minded approach to “how can we help” as opposed to “how we can’t help”. That involves building a relationship with the customer (whether a member of your department, the organization or somebody completely outside the company) to best serve their needs.
Walk the walk. Give service providers the opportunity to make decisions that help their customers and/or provide a culture in which failure to act is the real failure. This does not mean I advocate saying “yes” to everything asked by a customer; it does, however, allow IT staff to know what they can do, what they can’t and the clear means to address customer requests or concerns in a reasonable manner or amount of time without extreme bureaucracy. Think of the last time someone in a retail outlet walked you to the item you were looking for as opposed to telling you what aisle they “thought it might be in”.
Many view the use of the word “ownership” as the proverbial albatross rather than a blessing, but those trying to provide quality service and work in a service-oriented culture understand there is less risk and more reward in taking ownership of helping and providing service that goes far beyond than just the appreciation of the customer. It builds job satisfaction, positive relationships and often fosters growth in the individual and the people working around them. Ownership IS the quintessential element in the question “What can I do to help you?”
It’s not being selfish:
Many good employees will often weigh what it is they can do to help against the workload they have in front of them, even if it’s only for a moment. There is nothing inherently wrong with this (I am just as guilty as the next in doing so), but it doesn’t take much for the latter to start to outweigh the former or to have the “I don’t have time to help” seed be planted and sprout into providing less than stellar service. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are being selfish in thinking of our needs first – especially if the purpose of our role is to provide service. Each individual has a choice to arrange their priorities; in a service-oriented culture, the priorities tend to (within reason) be the customer and their needs.
I have been in IT (and healthcare) long enough to realize the cynical or sardonic responses I will probably get regarding this content – we don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough people, the customer is always interrupting me, what can I do as one person to help, if all I do is customer service I won’t get any other work done, etc. etc. – and to those responses I suggest that if more people (especially in management) made efforts to build a service-oriented culture, the less value any and all of those responses would have. It is up to each and every one of us to accept the changing face of the IT world we work in and create a service-oriented culture around those changes.
Scott Ruehle is an IT Process Manager for a healthcare IT organization. This post appeared at The SunView Software Blog.