Voice of the User –Players Not Pawns

“We’re born to be players not pawns” (Daniel Pink in his book: Drive).  I’m sure that this statement resonates with you as an employee of an organization whether that is dealing with your line manager, your HR or senior management team. You want engagement, and the ability to act autonomously, right?

So it should not be a huge leap to think that users of IT have a similar outlook of the organization including their relationship with IT. But hold on you say, we regularly send out surveys to our customers of IT and that’s great for some employees. But think about how your users have changed over time, think about your sons and daughters who will be the next generation. How many of you have watched a group teenagers together recently, they are texting and creating “selfie” photos, more often than not to send to the person standing two foot a way. They are the Millennials or the digital natives who are accustomed to immediacy. They are the “here and now” generation where communication through social platforms, chat or texting is the norm and surveys would be considered by this group as static and un-engaging so just may not  cut it.

Further to this did you know that employee engagement is becoming a hot topic in enterprise organizations for HR teams.  It’s been widely demonstrated that there is direct correlation between engagement and satisfaction as well as employee retention and increased company profitability. Take a look at this Gallup survey “The State of the American Workplace”


These lessons can be equally applied to IT. It’s always interesting listening and comparing service desk user stories. Why is one service desk more successful than another in satisfying their end user customers? It seems that those that are finding success are taking that next step and actively engaging with their customers.

Voice of the Customer is something that is becoming main stream for outbound marketing to ensure they understand the customers they service but Voice of the User is something you and your IT organizations should consider to understand the new needs and environment of your users. However one caveat to this is that rather than thinking about it as a phase or project in your ITSM journey, it needs to be incorporated as part of the natural way of working so that it doesn’t become a done once and forgotten initiative which really does not build true engagement.

Now engagement is more than just executing procedures and standards to get improve first contact resolution for an individual. Engagement is about stepping outside of the normal command and control mentality.  Walking the organizational floor with a tablet device connected to the service desk and asking who has an IT issue, setting up a walk up IT support bar, allowing employees to chat online with IT staff perhaps sending in “selfie” pictures of their IT screens or collaborate online with peers to fix their issues, having IT staff regularly sitting and working amongst their end user customers to engage first hand and see how they operate and at the same time logging issues back to the service desk from where they are sitting. All of these types of engagement are activities that I’ve heard some service desks starting to turn to or have even implemented to aid their drive for end user satisfaction.

So why not think about how you could engage and incorporate voice of the user strategies to aid customer satisfaction. Who knows once you are up and running you might even be able to advise your Senior Management team on how to employ a voice of the employee strategy for HR and improve the organizations bottom line.

It’s time to see your world from a different perspective –that of the user.

KCS in Action

KCS is more about having the right people than it is about having the right processes. That starts with employing people who care about not just solving the customer’s issue but taking the time to capture it.

I have worked within support teams for half my life, and I’ve experienced many changes over the years.  In essence support remains the same: helping someone who needs technical assistance. However, the way we go about it has become both easier and more challenging in equal measures.  Expectations have gone up, (unfortunately I no longer receive a bunch of flowers just for helping someone to clear up their hard disk!), but technology improvements have also enabled us to use our time much more efficiently.

In the past, I have worked for support organizations where it has felt so busy that we had no time for anything other than working through “the backlog.”  I now realize that we were so focused on reactive support that we didn’t realize quite how much we could benefit from stepping away from this to put some of our efforts into proactively creating a knowledge repository.

At LANDesk, we make sure that our support organization looks at success as being not just fixing issues or answering questions once, but also effectively making use of what we’ve learned during that process.  We do this by working closely with the Development teams to highlight areas where we feel we should focus on improving product quality and the user experience.  Another area in which we put extra emphasis is on creating and improving knowledge content which enables our customers, partners, and support teams to find their own solutions.  This is where my role comes in.

The knowledge sharing methodology which we have invested in is called Knowledge Centered Support (KCS).  It made sense to us that every problem we solve is potentially some new information that should be easily captured so that it can be reused again.  Over the years I have seen first-hand that the shift has gone from being asked the same questions repeatedly to receiving less volume but each question of a greater complexity.  This brings its own challenges, but I feel a sense of relief that the experience I had when starting in support of picking up the phone to repeat the same set of steps multiple times a day has now gone.

With KCS it has been a learning process about what works and what doesn’t.  Most of all what we have learned is that KCS isn’t something you can implement and then leave alone.  It’s something which needs constantly tweaking, emphasizing, and learning from.

We’ve also learned that KCS is more about having the right people than it is about having the right processes.  That starts with employing people who care about not just solving the customer’s issue but taking the time to capture it.  It also extends right up to the management team knowing that who they should value within their organization are not just the heroes who can rescue a bad situation but those who can explain the steps that they took so that they can be understood and followed again.

Here are tips of things that have worked for us:

  • Be as transparent as you dare.  If people know who wrote a piece of knowledge content they can thank them or ask them to clarify something.  The author can also feel some pride in what they’ve written.  People love seeing that an article they’ve written has helped someone else to be successful.  It spurs them on to write some more.
  • Team-based targets rather than individual targets.  At LANDesk Support we can all see what individual contribution our colleagues have made and this helps to encourage some competitive streaks.  However the targets we set are all team-based.  This means that close colleagues will all work to improve the content together rather than trying to keep the best information for themselves.
  • Some knowledge is better than no knowledge.  Yes, you should set some guidelines and you should have some processes to maintain the quality level.  Ensure that you don’t have too many rules and they aren’t too strict.  If it’s an unpleasant or lengthy experience for the knowledge author they won’t want to go through it again, and there’s always plenty of other things they could be doing instead.
  • Make recognition both fun and official.  By following KCS, we recognize only when a piece of knowledge has been successfully used to solve a problem, not just that it was created.  Fun bobble-head trophies, competitions, and scoreboards all work well to give recognition to people who have made extra efforts with knowledge sharing.  What works even better is if top knowledge contributors are also more likely candidates for official employee recognition and are often the first to be considered for promotion.
  • Keep training and coaching.  Don’t just send an email or update a document when your processes change, people don’t always read them or remember what they’ve read.  Invest some time in meeting with individuals as often as you can to talk about how things work, how they are working, and what steps can be taken to be even better.  Meet with new starters as a part of their induction process but don’t forget the people who have been in the team a long time who may need to rethink the way they work.
  • Mindset is important.  People need to understand that in order to write a great knowledge article you don’t need to be an expert.  You just need to identify a knowledge gap and know enough to be able to fill it.  A well-written knowledge article from a new member of staff can sometimes be of equal value as a whitepaper written by an expert on that topic.

We are still learning and can identify many places where we still want to improve.  What we do feel now is that we truly have the commitment and recognition for knowledge sharing as an important part of what we do as a department.  We believe that with this in place the rest will come one step at a time.

The Billy Haters

Billy expects the world and leaves nothing for IT except contempt. His voice volume averages 105 decibels when he’s “talking” on the phone with IT, and he probably doesn’t have a mother who taught him any manners.

Yesterday I was reading through the “Tales from Tech Support” subreddit and was floored by the things I was reading about. From the most unpleasant help desk calls to the frustratingly low amount of resources that IT was given, I walked away from that learning experience with a brand new perspective on the challenges that IT faces day in and day out. One challenge seemed to rise to the top over and over again and has proven to be true in a multitude of customer visits that we’ve made: It was the challenge of dealing with Billy.

Billy has many different faces depending on where you work, but the personality behind the face is always the same. He’s pompous and arrogant, knows little and cares even less about what IT does, and every time his name is mentioned your teeth clench together and your eyes dilate slightly. He expects the world and leaves nothing for IT except contempt. His voice volume averages 105 decibels when he’s “talking” on the phone with IT, and he probably doesn’t have a mother who taught him any manners. (This article is meant in no way to reflect poorly on the name Billy or any derivative, it was just the first name that was rattled off when I asked my coworkers for a random name).

In interviewing customers and reading through forums, Billy seemed to come up again and again. Some organizations had many Billys while others only had one or two. Yet Billy seemed to be taking up 90-95% of all discussion topics a lion’s share of IT’s time and energy. What jumped out to me was how stark the difference was between how IT organizations approached dealing with Billy. I learned that there were two types of organizations, (1) those who allowed Billy to affect how they did their job, and (2) those who saw Billy as an opportunity to be more effective in their job.

The Billy Haters
Many IT organizations were consumed by Billy; they threw darts at his picture in the IT break room and made memes that were circulated internally defacing Billy’s already stained reputation. Billy ruled their every thought and added unnecessary stress to their life outside of work. They would think about how depressing and emotionally taxing their job was because of Billy. In other words, Billy had accomplished exactly what he wanted to accomplish. He was the center of IT’s attention.

What is interesting about Billy Haters is that they tended to separate themselves from end users in general. They approached IT with the “us v. them” mentality. Billy Haters tended to demand more control over all users, and saw themselves as the policemen over the company. Users working with Billy Haters were treated with more disdain by IT, and they were usually less likely to ask for help from them. Users were also less likely to follow IT policies and IT was less aware of user activity. Billy Haters were being circumvented by the good users, and being inundated by the Billys.

The Billy Opportunists
The second group of IT organizations saw Billy as an opportunity. These organizations thought of Billy as a customer who was keeping IT in business. While still bothered by Billy, they treated him with respect and never reacted to his rants. Billy never got under their skin, and he rarely entered the minds of IT outside of his requests for help. Sometimes Billy would pass by in the hall and IT would smile and say hello. Billy was an opportunity to stretch the limits of IT.

The Billy Opportunists had a very strategic role inside of the organization. They were very often contributing to top line revenue growth by improving company production. Billy Opportunists worked  collaboratively with users to define security policies and management practices that met corporate requirements while still helping the company be productive. Users embraced IT as a source of knowledge and expertise, and Billys left IT alone.

While not every organization fits perfectly into one of these two camps of customers, I’ve found that it’s a good way to think about IT. More importantly, by illustrating these two types of organizations, it becomes quite clear who the superior organization is. Billy Opportunists understand the meaning of user-oriented IT. In fact, they are the ones who invented user-oriented IT. Billy Opportunists see end users in a different way than Billy Haters, and by treating them like a customer, they effectively became an integral part of the business. The business saw the Billy Opportunists as a money maker, and the Billy Haters as a black hole of cost.

Have a good story about Billy in your organization? Thoughts around Billy Haters and Billy Opportunists? I’d love to hear your comments.

Gartner CEO Survey 2012: Customer Experience

Last week, I did not write a blog article as I took a much needed vacation and spent it with my family swimming in the freezing cold waters of Bear Lake here in Utah and riding in a 60K mountain bike race in Cedar City, Utah. (My legs are still feeling the results of that). So after getting exhausted and needing a vacation from my vacation, it’s time to talk about customer experience.

A customer experience is an interaction between an organization and a customer as perceived through a customer’s conscious and subconscious mind. It is a blend of an organization’s rational performance, the senses stimulated and the emotions evoked and intuitively measured against customer expectations across all moments of contact. Many companies have lost that magic customer touch, and need to find ways to get back to focusing on their customers. According to the survey, CEOs are concerned about whether or not their customers are getting a good experience.

When IT organizations focus on more customer centric activities, you are ultimately creating a better customer experience for the customer.

When it comes to improving the overall customer experience, IT can play a pivotal role. For example, a call center for an online commerce company, such as EBay, Overstock, or Backcountry needs to ensure that their call center agents are available 24/7/365. If an IT organization cannot complete software migrations, patch updates and other systems management tasks quickly and efficiently, it will restrict their ability to provide the right tools to their agents and increases the vulnerabilities to each of the agents’ endpoints such as mobile devices, desktops, thin clients or virtual desktops. When IT organizations focus on more customer centric activities (such as a new call system, or web-help portal, online chat, etc), you are ultimately creating a better customer experience for the customer.  In addition, IT organizations can also look at the experience they create for their own internal customers.

Whether you’re looking to improve an internal or external customer experience, here are four things to keep in mind:

  • A customer experience is not just about a rational experience
  • More than 50 percent of a customer experience is subconscious, or how a customer feels.
  • A customer experience is not just about the ‘what,’ but also about the ‘how.’
  • A customer experience is about how a customer consciously and subconsciously sees his or her experience

The benefit of a company the size of LANDesk is that we are smaller enough to focus on our customers ‘experience, yet large enough to add innovation to our products. You will see over the next 6-8 months several new innovations that will help IT organization present the value of system management to their executive team, while implementing ways to allow your organization to focus your organizations customer experience.

Stay tuned for more updates.