By Russell Whitehouse, Kepner-Tregoe

In the world of ITIL and IT service management, there tends to be a lot of talk about IT services and businesses services – the things that an organization provides to customers and internal users.  Unfortunately, these discussions are missing the point about what service management and achieving service excellence is all about.  It’s not about the products and things that you offer, it’s about your customers and how you make their lives better. 

Service excellence discussions often center around mechanics and the configuration of internal operations that a company uses to provide services to their customers.  Change initiatives as a result frequently center around lowering costs, improving productivity and increasing capacity and rarely focus on improving the quality of services provided to end users and, the value that customers receive from them. 

A common example of this is the affinity of companies to pursue self-service support initiatives. Before we discuss the current situation around self-service, it is important to note that the trend towards self-service that began in the late 1990s did not originally seek to lower costs but rather to make support experiences easier for customers by removing some inefficiencies of interacting with customer support representatives. This included waiting in queues on the phone or being constrained to physical locations and "business hours".  A set of provided capabilities allowed customers to perform simple tasks more quickly and at times that were more convenient to them.  The original self-service initiatives were more costly than the human processes that had traditionally been offered, but the customer satisfaction benefits were found to be worth the investments.

Over time, as companies became more comfortable with technology-enabled self-service, they began to realize that they could use the approach to cut operational costs – effectively outsourcing customer service activities to the customers themselves.  Consider this for a minute. Service levels decreased, costs to companies decreased and in some cases, customers were willing to pay extra for a “perceived sense of convenience”.  This has been a great deal for businesses over the past decade, however, indications are that the pendulum has swung too far with customers now realizing they’ve been duped and are now seeking a return to the levels of customer service that they once received (and now appreciate).

What does this mean for companies?  It means that the time has come for companies to re-think their strategy towards customer service, service management and the pursuit of service excellence – shifting focus from internal operations towards the quality and value provided to customers.  This does not mean that operational efficiency initiatives should be abandoned, but it does mean that companies should look to share at least some of the benefits with customers and end users. 

The good news for companies is that present-day customers are so starved for true quality and service that even small improvements are likely to generate significant appreciation and improvements in customer satisfaction.  Making the shift to customer-centric service excellence initiatives is relatively simple and starts with the cost-benefit evaluations that you use to select individual projects.  When considering potential benefits, business leaders should look beyond the benefits themselves and consider the beneficiaries as well.  Customer impacts may be more difficult to quantify, but factoring them into the decision can lead to significant and lasting impacts.

After all, “customer service” begins with the “customer”.

For over 60 years, Kepner-Tregoe has been the industry thought leader in problem-solving, service excellence and operational decision making – helping organizations across industries and geographies improve operational performance and better serve their customers and communities.  Through this experience, our experts have learned that true competitive advantage starts with putting customers first and continuously seeking out ways to provide better quality and value through your products and services.  To learn more about how KT can help your organization, visit www.kepner-tregoe.com

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