Today, more than ever before, an organization’s or individual’s level of success often depends on how well they deliver customer service. However, what does delivering customer service mean? Many people would quickly respond by saying, “Giving the customer what they want,” while others may say, “Giving the customer what they want and when they want it.” I would like to suggest that neither of the above represents the most appropriate response. The purpose of this topic is to explore one of the greatest challenges my teams face in delivering world-class, high-quality technology solutions to our customers fast and on time. Three customer service core elements will be discussed: customer wants, customer needs, and understanding related business processes.
The first element, customer wants, is often the easiest to identify and comes in large quantities. However, customer needs are often the hardest to clearly define, can only be expressed in generalities, and are further compounded by customer emotions. We’ve all been with customers who are so excited to tell us everything they want. We often find ourselves responding by feverishly documenting every want and considering each item as a critical requirement to the success of the project. Of course, the customer picks up on this fact and instantly we have set the customer’s expectation that we are going to deliver every single want. Bang! We have just been ensnared in the customer’s want trap. Without exception, it is never appropriate to deliver customer wants. Why? Because customer wants are not real deliverables until they can be defined as customer needs.
The second element, customer needs, is what I refer to as the meat and potatoes of customer service. This is the IT professional’s chance to either establish a solid foundation for customer service or begin building the house on sand. Defining customer needs begins with helping the customer appreciate each individual need as an actual need and not just a want. However, there is a trap here too. Customers may prefer not to make the need- versus-want decision, instead offering that decision to the IT professional. We must do whatever it takes to help the customer understand that is their decision. If we get caught in the trap and define their needs, we are almost certain to pay a negative price because when we’re wrong, the customer will say they were only responding to our recommendation. However, a solid delivery of this element of customer service often results in the significant strengthening of the customer’s trust and confidence in our ability to deliver what they need. Having a solid understanding of the customer’s needs is enough, right? The simple answer is no. Defining and understanding customer needs has to be matched with understanding the business processes that they will support.
The final element, understanding related business processes, is the crown jewel of customer service. Why? Because if we understand the underlying business processes that our technology solutions support, we can understand how best to develop the technology solutions to support both current and future business needs. However, there is a trap with this element too: understanding business processes is not a single event in time. Business processes continue to evolve to support the ever-changing business environment. Therefore, IT professionals must continue to be aware of current and future changes to business processes by maintaining solid communication with the customer long after the initial solution has been delivered. The perception by the customer is that they have formed such a strong relationship with IT that IT delivers solutions that will meet their current and future needs.
The core elements discussed above, if well understood, can provide the IT professional with a solid approach to creating and maintaining effective customer service. However, they should never be applied alone but should be applied with honesty, integrity, and sincerity as we work together with our customers to make our organization stronger for the future.
Rick Velasquez is a lead project manager for the Church.