CSI puts the ‘taste’ back in Service Management

Francois
Francois Biccard

This article has been contributed by Francois Biccard, Support Manager.

We have all probably heard the slogan ”Common sense is like deodorant, the people who need it most never use it”. In my observation that probably rings true for many organisations when it relates to a Continual Service Improvement (CSI) plan or strategy.

The more an organisation grows, the more it becomes an essential requirement to its success.

We can all bang the drum of “the customer is king”, “the customer is central”, “the customer is <fill in the blank>”, or whatever slogan the next pundit tries to sell us. If I were to put myself in the customer’s shoes, I would have to fill in the blank with: the customer is well and truly over it. Over the lip service.

You can only have so many mantras, visions, slogans, goals, values – whatever. When all the customer get sold is all the marketing guff but no substance, it is like going to your favourite restaurant, ordering the t-bone steak, and getting one of those fragrance pull-outs from a magazine with a note from the chef saying that he can sell you the smell, but the fusion of smell and taste is just an illusion. Would you accept that? Should your customer accept the same from you?

CSI is the substance – it’s what happens in the background that the customer cannot see – but can taste. It provides substance to your mantra, vision, goals – for your staff, and for your customers.

What is more, it forms the backbone of your strategic plan, and feeds your operational plan.

Without it you are lost  – like a boat without a rudder. You will still go ‘somewhere’, if only by the effort of competent staff tirelessly rowing and steering the organisation through their own little ‘swim lane’ as part of the broader process. However, you won’t have much control – not enough to make sure you set your own destination. Yes, by chance you might end up on a beautiful island, but there are a lot of icebergs and reefs out there as well, and Murphy will probably have the last say.

Misconceptions

There are other misconceptions that may get you stranded too,

“…but all our staff do Continual Improvement every day”.

The problem with this statement is, that if you don’t provide them with a framework and a channel or register where they can document current, or propose new improvement strategies, you are:

  1. Not creating awareness or fostering a culture that is all about continual improvement.
  2. You are not leveraging the power of collective thought – which is extremely important in continual improvement, especially since they are probably the foot soldiers who are most aware of the customers’ most intense frustrations and struggles.

You might not act on every suggestion added to a register, but at the very least it will provide you greater insight – whether that is to be used in planning, resourcing etc.

Another example: “…but we just don’t have the resources or time to act on these suggested improvements”.

Not all improvements will require the same level of resourcing.

Order ideas by least effort and maximum value – then pick one you can afford. Even if you start with the smallest, it’s not always about what is being done, but actually starting somewhere and creating the culture first.

Remember, Continual Improvement is more about creating the culture first. Create the culture and the rest will be much easier.

Golden Rule: Start Now!

So, you haven’t done anything and you now feel like you’re four again, and the plate of vegetables placed in front of you has a mountain of peas, each the size of a small boulder (insert your own nightmarish vegetable of choice).

All is not lost though – you can turn things around, but there’s one golden rule: There is no better time to start than right now! Every moment you delay, opportunities for improvement are lost.

  • Go forth and research!
  • Provide a register where others can contribute ideas or suggestions.
  • Review and decide, as a group, what you can afford that will provide most benefit.
  • Ask some practical questions to get the thinking started:
  1. Where are you now?
  2. Where do you want to be?
  3. How you will get there – what would you have to do?
  4. Where do you need to mature?
  5. What do you have to do to achieve that maturity?
  6. Where are the gaps in your services, organisational skills/training etc.?
  7. What would you have to do to fill or complete those gaps?

If you want to be passionate about Service Management, you have to be passionate about constantly improving and evolving. The nature of Service Management is evolution – if you stop you’ll stagnate.

About Francois:

Francois specialises in continual improvement and applying practical ITSM solutions and strategies in the real world. His career started in Systems Management and IT Operations, and for the last 6 years have been focused in implementing and improving Service Management principles in the Application/Product Development industry. He is passionate about practical ITSM and how to leverage real value for the Customer and Business alike.

How to Provide Support for VIPs

One of the outcomes of IT Service Management is the regulation, consistency and predictability in the delivery of services.

I remember working in IT before Service Management was adopted by our organisation and realising that we would over-service some customers and under-service others. Not intentionally but we didn’t have a way of regulating our work and making our output predicatable.

Our method of work delivery seemed to be somewhere between “First come first served” and “She who shouts loudest shall get the best service”. Not the best way to manage service delivery.

Chris York tweeted an interesting message recently;

It’s a great topic to talk about and one that I remember having to deal with personally in previous jobs.

I have two different views on VIP treatment – I think it’s a complex subject and I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

if your names not down you're not getting support
if your names not down you're not getting support

The Purist

Firstly IT Service Management is supposed to define exactly how services will be delivered to an organisation. The service definition includes the cost, warranty and utility that is to be provided.

Secondly, there is a difference between the Customer of the service and the User of the service. The Customer is characterised as the people that pay for the service. They also define and agree the service levels.

Users are characterised as individuals that use the service.

There are loads of great analogys to reinforce this point – from local government services that are outsourced (The local Government is the customer, the local resident is the user), to restaurants and airports. The IT Skeptic has a good discussion on the subject

It’s also true to say that the Customer might not also be a user of the service, although in organisations I’ve worked in it is usually so.

This presents an interesting dilemma for both the Provider and the Customer. Should the Customer expect more from the service than they originally negotiated with the Provider? I think the most common example that this dilemma occurs is end-user services – desktop support.

The people that would “sign on the dotted line”for the IT Services we used to provide would be Finance Directors, IT Directors, CFOs or CIOs. Very senior people with responsibility for the cost of their services and making sure the company gets a good deal.

Should we be surprised when senior people that ultimately pay for the service expect preferential treatment? No – but we should remind them of the service warranty that they agreed would be supplied.

Over-servicing VIPs has to be at the cost of someone else – and by artificially raising the quality of service for a few people we risk degrading the service for everyone.

The Pragmatist

The reality is that IT Service Management is a people business and a perception business, especially end-user services.

People call the Service desk when they want something (a Request) or they need help (an Incident). Both of these are quite emotional human states.

The performance and usability of someones IT equipment is fundamental to their own productivity and their own success. It feels very personal when your equipment that you rely on stops functioning.

Although we can gather SLA and performance statistics for our stakeholder meetings we have the problem that we are often seen as being as good as our last experience with that individual person. It shouldn’t be this way – but it is.

I’ve been to meetings full of good news about the previous months service only to be ripped to pieces for a request submitted by the CEO that wasn’t actioned. I’ve been to meetings after a period of general poor service and had good reviews because the Customer had a (luckily) excellent experience with the Service desk.

Much as we don’t like it prioritising VIP support it has an overall positive effect when we do.

The middle ground (or “How I’ve seen it done before”)

If you don’t like the Pragmatist view above there are ways to come to a compromise. Stephen Mann touched on an idea I have seen before:

Deciding business criticality is obviously a challenge.

In my previous role, in the advertising world, the most important people in an agency are the Creatives.

These guys churn out graphical and video content and work on billable hours. When their equipment fails the clock is ticking to get them back up and running again.

So calculating the financial cost of individuals downtime and assigning a role is a method of designating those that can expect prioritised support.

As a Service Provider in that last role our customer base grew and our list of VIPs got longer. We eventually allocated 5% of each companies headcount to have “VIP” status in our ITSM tool.

I think there are ways to write VIP support into an IT Services contract that allows the provider to plan and scale their support to cater for it.

Lastly, we should talk about escalated Incidents. This is a more “formal” approach to Service Management (the Purist would be happy) where a higher level of service is allocated to resolving an Incident if it meets the criteria for being escalated.

When dealing with Users it is worth having a view of that persons overall experience with the Service Provider. If a user already has one escalated Incident should she expect a better service when she calls with another? Perhaps so – the Pragmatist would see that although we file each Incident separately her perception of the service is based on the overall experience. With our ITSM suite we use informational messages to guide engineers as to the overall status of a User.

Simon Morris
Simon Morris

In summary…

I think everyone would agree that VIP support is a pain.

The Purist will have to deal with the fact that although he kept his service consistent regardless of the seniority of the caller he might have to do some unnecessary justification at the next review meeting.

The Pragmatist will have to suffer unexpected drain on her resources when the CEOs laptop breaks and everything must be focussed on restoring that one users service.

Those occupying the middle ground will be controlling the number of VIPs by defining a percentage of headcount for the Customer to allocate. Hopefully the Customer will understand the business well enough to allocate them to the correct roles (and probably herself).

The Middle Ground will also be looking at a users overall experience and adjusting service to make sure that escalated issues are dealt with quickly.

No-one said IT Service Management was going to be easy!