Linda Davidson highlighted in her presentation at UCISA14 that IT continues to have a very negative image. There are many reasons for this but we have all had the “The computer says no” experience where IT is blamed for a lack of information or for the inability to respond to a question. It is a response borne of poor processes and is symptomatic of an uninterested and disengaged support service. The impact of the negative image is such that the services’ customers are also disengaged – they don’t even bother to ask the question as they expect a negative answer – but also it is often applied to all IT services.
Confidence in the reliability of the service underpins any efforts to build good customer relations. It is vital, therefore, to get the core services right to ensure that the service is regarded as a trusted partner and in order to be in a position of influence with key stakeholders and decision makers. All members of staff have a role to play – it is important for staff to be consistent in delivering the services message, becoming respected within their spheres of influence and to engage with the department’s customers.
The Service Desk is often the first port of call. It was encouraging, therefore, to hear Sally Bogg quote from the HE Service Desk Benchmarking report that professional standards are being adopted widely for service desk operation. As one delegate pointed out, “Service operation where is users get value from IT – get it wrong, people will think IT is rubbish”. However, many institutions are at the start of the journey; the absence of formal service catalogues and service level agreements are key indicators that the processes that underpin those standards are some way from maturity. Continued investment and continual improvement is needed to ensure that the people and processes continue to deliver quality service.
It isn’t just about changing one aspect of a service – the whole department needs to reflect the service and have a strong customer ethos. This may require a shift in attitude amongst some staff who may be set in their ways and views. Changing culture, as Chris Day observed, is never an easy journey but is necessarily the first step to improving customer service. All members of the department need to be able to engage with your customers – particularly as they may offer less formal routes to key stakeholders.
Where there is more formal contact, it is important to ensure that the individuals involved understand the needs of the customers they are talking to. That way, trust and credibility will be built. This was seen as a particular issue when talking to researchers and some have sought to address this by employing staff with a research background specifically to talk to researchers. There were, however, few examples of such a specialist role – in many instances account management is tacked on to some jobs as an afterthought or in some cases is not acknowledged at all.
It is important to remember that all staff in IT service departments are essentially account managers. They each have their own sphere of influence, through formal and informal contacts and so all have the potential to influence customers and key stakeholders in the university. They need to deliver the services message and there needs to be consistency across the piece. The difficult part is getting them all to recognise their account management role and so play their part in IT services being a valued and trusted partner so that the computer says “yes”.