Not Just a User, a Customer! - Page 2

 By Beth Cohen
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How can I learn to be customer focused?

It sounds complicated, but fortunately -- unlike the latest version of Cisco IOS -- there are just a few simple rules to learn that will help you get started in delivering better services to your users so that you too can be winning friends and influencing people -- even your company executives.

  • Understand the problem from the user's perspective

    While you might think the problem is a bad routing table, the CFO is thinking that she will not be able to deliver the annual SEC filing on time because the network is down. She is worried about losing valuable time, not the technical details of rebuilding the ACL list. She may fear that you will make it worse and not fix the problem. When you communicate with her, skip all the technical details and instead just tell her that there are some problems with the network, and that if they are not resolved in time, you will arrange for alternative means to deliver the files. She will be relieved that you understand her concerns and are working for her best interests.

  • Set proper expectations

    Setting the expectations of what service you are providing is the key to winning users to your side. For example, let's say you have been working on replacing a bad hard disk in your marketing VP's system. He is anxious because he has a big presentation to a major client coming up. So what do you do? You could just immediately start working on it in an attempt to get it fixed as quickly as possible. That sounds like the logical way of approaching it; after all, you are maximizing your efficiency, right? Wrong!

    You need to first communicate to the VP that you are replacing his hard disk and while you expect that it will be done by the end of the day, if there is a problem, he will have some alternatives that will allow him to deliver his presentations, provided he has copies of the files. Again, you have addressed your customer's concerns and set the expectation that there are alternatives if copies of his files are available.

  • Provide timely and useful status updates

    As Bailey puts it, "You've promised your customer a status call, but don't have an answer yet; well, call them anyway -- they are expecting you to." If the status changes for either good or bad, by all means tell your customer. They will appreciate your concern for them, and they will have a better understanding of what you are doing for them "behind the scenes." If these anxious executives understand that you are working hard to resolve their problems, they are going to be much more sympathetic when you run into the inevitable difficulty.

  • Learn from your experience

    After you have resolved the issue, resist the urge to simply sit back and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. While it's still fresh on your mind, review what happened from both the IT and the users' perspectives. You should look not only for what went wrong, but what you did right and what you would do differently next time. Ask your users the same questions. You will learn valuable lessons for improving your IT infrastructure and your customer service skills.

Keys to creating great IT customer relations:

  • Understand the problem from the user's perspective
  • Set user expectations properly
  • Get the user on your side
  • Set up regular channels of communication
    • Provide regular updates of the status even if nothing has changed
    • If things change -- good or bad -- communicate this without delay
  • Celebrate the wins and understand how you can improve the next time

Now that you have a better understanding of how developing your customer communication skills can help you deliver better IT services, you can see that it is a win-win situation that will make your customers happier and your IT job more secure. What more can you ask for? OK, that sweet laptop with the cool new 16" flat screen would be really nice...

» See All Articles by Columnist Beth Cohen

This article was originally published on Mar 28, 2003
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