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I Can Help! May 29, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: , ,

My mother tells the story of a friend who was caught in a power outage.  The line for her house was down,keeping her from getting power even as other parts of town were being restored.  Repeated calls to the power company had no effect as they busied themselves with other, more important areas.

Finally, in frustration, she called the power company and asked them to cancel the service call. “Why?” they asked.  She explained that she knew they were very busy, dealing with all those other customers.  Her husband, she said, was very handy, and was headed outside with a ladder to reconnect the drop line himself.  They were aghast.  “Don’t let you husband touch those lines!”  “Oh, no,” she assured them. “It’s OK.  We just want to help out, and this way you can send your people to fix other houses instead.”

A truck roared up in five minutes, and her power was restored.

At some point, every organization is a service organization, focused on internal or external customers.  As we try to provide “fair” service, it can be easy to lose sight of one or two customers who warrant our attention even though they may not be as big or as important as other customers.  What seems fair to us can seem completely unjust to those who are on the wrong side of the decision.  That leads to frustration that forces customers to threaten unusual behavior to get our attention.

As we manage with limited resources, we need to keep in mind that every customer is equally important.  While it may impossible to serve everyone at once, we need to find creative ways to serve everyone a little bit.  The vast majority of customers are fair-minded; when they see that everyone is getting some measure of service, they tend to recognize that we’re doing the best we can in a tough situation.

This goes beyond IT issues like fixing PCs and resolving system errors.  Some of us may be faced with allocating scarce products among competing customers.  Others may have legal work or audits to be done under tight deadlines with limited personnel.  It’s easy to tell everyone to just wait their turn as we honestly work to get to each customer as quickly as we can.  In these days of instant gratification and rapid responses to everything, we need to find ways to provide a little bit of service to everyone, just so they know we understand their needs and are working to meet them.

This kind of incremental service isn’t easy and sometimes requires a complete rethinking of how we tackle problems.  It may not always be necessary; sometimes we’re blessed with enough resources to take care of everyone at once.  But we all need these skills when times get tight.  If not, we’ll have customers reaching for live wires, and that causes problems that are a lot harder to solve.


1. Lynn M - May 29, 2009

Your focus on end-users as customers is a good one. Just like a salesperson needs to manage their client base and keep them happy, an IT worker can do so in a similar way. Often just communicating with the customer, letting him/her know you haven’t forgotten them and giving them updates as to when their issue might be resolved will keep them as satisfied as they can be when they are facing problems and will help them to see that you are working to the maximum with the resources you have.

2. Chuck Musciano - May 29, 2009

You are exactly right, Lynn. Communication is the key: keep the customer in the loop, let them know what you are doing, and that you haven’t forgotten them. Another old adage applies: “People don’t care what you know; they want to know that you care.”

3. Allen falcon - May 29, 2009

To often, IT groups confuse referrals to escalation. Escalation is not forward a ticket to Level 2 support, that is a referral. Escalation is raising the priority of an issue due to extraordinary circumstances — Escalation is all about customer service.

We often recommend that service desks review lower priority tickets that seem to remain open, and escalate those that can be closed with a little time and attention. A few extra hours of work, can change the perception of service quality across an entire organization.

4. mikeb - May 29, 2009

Interestingly, I just had a conversation with and organization who’s IT support center is constantly overwhelmed like the power company in your story. The good news is that as an IT organization, there are ways to significantly improve customer service though proven processes and technology. This is especially beneficial when people resources are limited. I agree that every customer is equally important. The issues they are facing however, may not be. A situation where someone is about to mess with a live wire can have disasterous results. Contrast this with a customer wanting to know how to access email via VPN. Both customers are equally important, but they can be helped differently. In the latter case, access to a well implemented “knowledge base” can provide a step by step “how to” guild on accessing email via a VPN, allowing that customer a safe self-service option to resolve the problem. In addition, this also reduces the burden on the limited support resources so they can focus their time averting problems that have a more significiant impact on the business — the “live wires”.

5. Chuck Musciano - May 31, 2009

@Allen and @Mikeb: You both raise important points in managing IT service groups. We need to find and use every available tool at our disposal in the hopes of reaching the maximum number of people. Good service is as much art as science; the key is to watch and learn from other, more successful organizations. We are never finished with customer support; there is always some way to improve.

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