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5 strategies to deliver customer service in information technology

Organizations undergo digital initiatives with the customer in mind, but to deliver outstanding CX, CIOs and their teams must provide the same service and UX to employees.

Digital transformation put the need for outstanding customer experience at the top of the IT agenda. In fact, CIOs listed customer experience as the top priority for their transformation initiatives, according to the 2020 CIO Priorities Report from software maker Flexera.

But many CIOs are putting that same energy into delivering a great experience to another critical constituency -- the employees within their organization -- explaining that the tumultuous events of 2020 reinforced the need for IT to provide the same outstanding service and exceptional experiences to workers that they seek to give to external customers.

"It's about providing what users need, when they need it [and] in the way they need it as best you can," said Mike Bourque, vice president of information technology services and CIO at Boston College.

However, achieving that objective is no easy feat. Here, several experts offer five strategies for delivering outstanding customer service in information technology.

1. Be a consultant and trusted advisor

CIOs must deliver the "right service to the right stakeholders at the right time," said Dan Roberts, CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting Inc.

To do that, CIOs must first understand the business objectives that their colleagues and the organization as a whole are trying to achieve and then devise a plan that can deliver those outcomes, according to Roberts.

He explained the dynamic position CIOs are now in, serving as consultants and trusted advisors, as opposed to order-takers who deliver what's requested by the business, regardless of whether the requested solutions are capable of fully delivering the needed outcomes.

That's the approach Bourque takes by building a holistic strategy in which he considers organizational priorities, as well as user needs, to determine which IT services and offerings satisfy both elements and fit within the IT governance framework, budget and infrastructure constraints.

"The objective," he added, "is to help the university achieve its goals."

2. Equip workers to provide excellent service

CIOs can't provide exceptional customer service in information technology on their own; they must have staffers equally capable of delivering on that objective. According to Roberts, CIOs should cultivate and support a culture with a customer-centric mindset.

"When you look at companies who are really driving digital transformation, they start with the customer," Roberts said, adding that CIOs should encourage their IT teams to spend time with their business-side colleagues to better understand how processes and operations flow and where there are bottlenecks.

That way, the IT team, like the CIO, can be more consultative with their colleagues on solving those problems, delivering offerings that fix pain points and effectively steering them away from ideas that won't produce the results the business seeks.

Scott Cann, technology director for support services within Boston College's information technology services group, oversees a relationship management strategy for the IT department and manages a group of workers who act as liaisons with other employees throughout the enterprise. He said each liaison provides a single point of contact for the various stakeholders, making it easier to interact with IT and get the services they need, while the liaisons help IT cultivate relationships across the organization to better understand user needs.

3. Put the user front and center in planning and execution

As a managing director in the CIO organization at Accenture, Tony Leraris is part of the leadership team delivering IT services to roughly 500,000 employees.

The goal, Leraris said, is to create digital experiences for all of them "so they like working here and can serve their clients."

"We used to think about IT as being invisible -- everything just works -- but now we're talking about experience," he said, adding that IT today must deliver UX in the office that parallels the seamless digital experiences that workers have in their personal lives.

To do that, Leraris said the IT department focuses first on what the user wants to achieve and the outcomes they want to accomplish and then works to deploy offerings that deliver to those user objectives.

One example is IT's development of a system to simplify and streamline how employees submit various workplace employment forms, such as time-off requests. Prior to the initiative, employees had to contend with different processes, forms and departments for various requests. The new system, designed with the user in mind, makes it easier by taking employee requests electronically and automatically routing them to the right place.

"It's really thinking about it from the lens of the Accenture worker and how we make it easier for them to do all the things they need to do as an employee," Leraris said. "It's putting us in the mind of the user and providing [offerings] that they're going to want to use and that are easy to use."

4. Use automation to be even more responsive

"Internally, I've always believed that IT teams should be enablers and take themselves out of the equation as much as possible," said Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO at Adobe, explaining that automation is a strategic priority as she and her team work to drive efficiencies and scale.

"This means we're [using AI], machine learning and robotic process automation in our business processes -- enabling self-service for employees and taking the human element out of repetitive IT tasks and shifting our employees to higher-value work," she said. "We aim to effectively [use] these progressive, digital-first capabilities and inject them into what we do in IT to make us easy to work with, reliable and resilient."

Stoddard cited one particular initiative undertaken in 2020, where AI bots utilizing deep learning and natural language processing were deployed to automatically route emails for the help desk to the correct support queue. This ultimately reduced the average time taken to route email tickets, thereby enabling the IT team to more quickly support employees and resolve their issues even in a remote work environment.

5. Evaluate service delivery with updated metrics

Many CIOs continue to use well-established metrics, such as server uptime and availability, to determine how well IT teams are delivering technology services.

While IT must continue to provide reliable and secure technology that operates efficiently and effectively, it's only a starting point and not the end goal of great IT service delivery today.

To deliver outstanding customer service in information technology, CIOs must aim toward different targets by updating the metrics they use to evaluate whether they're meeting user expectations.

"If you're measuring the wrong things [or] if you're trying to hit the wrong bull's-eye, that's not good," Roberts said, adding that he advises CIOs to use a collection of metrics that determine IT responsiveness, empathy and other such qualities to better determine whether the technology department is delivering the "prompt, frictionless services" that workers expect.

Accenture is taking a lead in that work. For example, the IT team has employees rate their experience using a business communication platform by taking a quick survey at the end of their conference calls.

Leraris said the IT team then uses the workers' feedback, along with other data points, such as workers' locations and the types of devices they're using, to evaluate how well IT is meeting their needs and expectations based on three criteria: quality, adoption of available tools and user satisfaction.

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