Ten ways to improve client service

If client satisfaction is one of the primary measurements that determines whether we are a successful IT organization (and it certainly is), then it makes sense for us to develop strong client service attributes in our IT organization. IT organizations do not develop strong client service skills on their own; they require leadership, guidance, and coaching to get there.

Client service must become a culture within your organization where your staff knows what to do to improve client satisfaction as well as reinforce the appropriate behavior within the organization.

Excellent IT service organizations exhibit high levels of client service in everything they do. It’s a habit, something that takes place automatically, and ultimately requires less energy. The result – you guessed it – very high level of client satisfaction.

Supporting clients is difficult, sometimes downright hard. It is much easier when our clients like what we do and respect what we are doing. Strong client service skills develop true “partners” with clients.

One of the things I share with managers who attend my IT Manager Institute is that when I was an IBM SE in the late 70’s (wow, what a long time ago), I had an excellent track record of taking care of my client. It certainly wasn’t because I was the best technical resource in the organization. My technical skills were decent enough, but the difference maker was some of the traits I list in this article.

I did things that contributed to excellent client satisfaction and incorporated these traits in my management role later in life. When you find things that work well, incorporate them into your management style. It will pay huge dividends and make you a better manager.

Here is a list of ten key items to help improve client service:

1.  Provide value
“Value” is in the eyes of the beholder, or the customer. If we are to be construed as a strong client service organization, our team’s focus and priority must be targeted to what the client truly needs. I use the phrase, “the client is always right” a lot. As a CIO, I certainly need to influence what we work on but the real foundation of what needs to direct my strategy lies within senior management and our users (my client). My job is to translate their real issues and needs into aspects of technology that make the most cost effective sense in addressing these issues and needs. The bottom line here is that if our IT focus does not create a feeling of providing real value in addressing the client’s needs, we aren’t going to be considered to be an organization that provides value.

2.  Keep the client “out of the dark”
Nothing aggravates us more than when we have a problem and don’t know what the status of the issue is or how to solve the problem. Our clients are the same as we are. They have a job to do and they need systems and technology to get their job completed. When they have a problem, we need to make every effort to “keep them in the light” so they know what’s going on. It makes a big difference in improving client satisfaction.

3.  Display a high sense of urgency
Clients do not want to have to push their IT support organization to resolve their technology problems. It’s actually stressful for them to complain and to “nag” us. On the other hand, they have a problem and need it resolved to get their work done. As such, they have a very high sense of urgency in getting “back to normal”. As we respond to day to day issues, we need to exhibit a high sense of urgency in addressing the client’s problem. It may be a small issue but to that particular client, it is the most important issue on our “IT plate” at the time. Develop operating procedures and service level agreements that help you manage client expectations and that allow your IT organization to succeed. When we deliver what and when we say we will deliver, the world seems to spin on its axis much more smoothly.

4.  Be courteous and friendly
Clients want to work with people who are friendly and nice to work with. Our desktop support technicians and Help Desk Coordinators are often have more contact with our client than many of our higher paid employees. Inspecting how these employees are interfacing with your client is very important and developing a mindset that “our business is to support the client” is critical. Teach your staff that every support call is an opportunity in disguise.

5.  Follow-up
This is probably the biggest item on the list and it is a trait that is so important to instill in each of our employees. Clients need to be able to count on their IT organization. The thing that will cause us to lose credibility quicker than anything is when we have employees who commit to do something and do not follow-up. Remember my comment about my IBM SE days mentioned above? Well, the real difference maker was that I had excellent follow-up skills. When I made a commitment, I wrote it down and even when I did not have the answer to an issue, I always contacted my client to give them an update of where we were. They knew they could count on me to resolve the issue or to get back to them. This is a BIG DEAL !!

6.  Over communicate
When a client has a problem, especially if it involves system downtime or something that stops work, we can’t communicate too much. In a bad situation, I will often put a resource on “point” and instruct him/her to contact the client every half hour to give them a status of where we are in resolving the situation. Not only will this extra communication be appreciated, it will go a long way in building the type of relationship you want to have with your client.

7.  Learn to prevent problems
Our IT organization has to be able to “put out the fire” when it occurs, but we need to be in the business of fire prevention. The Help Desk is an excellent source of information to tell us where the problems are, what type of problems we are having, and where to focus fire prevention efforts. When we do things that starts reducing the number of problems, it is important to share these positive results with our clients. After all, we are reducing their headaches and no one is going to discuss the positive steps we are taking if we don’t let people know about it. Organizations that show they are preventing problems exhibit traits of an organization that understands the needs of the business.

8.  Anticipate client needs
We need to anticipate client needs as much as possible rather than wait for the “last minute” call to action. For us to be successful, we have to get the IT organization out of a reactive mode of operation as much as possible. Putting in procedures and processes that helps your organization “be more responsive” gives you an advantage and in an IT management position, we need every advantage possible.

9.  Implement escalation procedures
When problems happen, you want your organization to escalate quickly and automatically as necessary to address the issue as effectively as possible. The client wants to see that we have a high sense of urgency and appropriate escalation of issues within the IT organization and to senior management as necessary shows that you are organized to be responsive.

10.  Use a simple change management process
A certain amount of structure is necessary to allow your IT organization to support the business. Change management processes are critical components to help facilitate the business of supporting client needs. Once change management processes are adopted, the activities related to supporting clients is automatic and much easier to follow. We need change management processes for supporting equipment change requests and for handling programming changes.

Developing a track record of great client service requires discipline and attention to detail. It also requires your IT organization to communicate proactively and responsibly. Implement these ten traits within your IT service delivery approach and you will see a dramatic improvement in your relationships with your clients. It takes everyone on the team delivering support in this manner. One “loose cannon” can undermine a lot of positive progress so inspect your employees and coach them as necessary to reinforce what you expect in supporting your client.

4 responses to “Ten ways to improve client service

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Posts of 2010 | ITLever™

  2. Mike this is awesome, it opened my mind to a principle of client first, a slogan with one of the company i worked for in the past.Your article are full of wealth of Knowledge.

  3. Tip number 11. Smile when you are on the phone with a client. They will hear it in your voice and respond accordingly. When an irate client calls and you answer your phone with a smile in your voice s/he will calm down a notch or two in most instances.

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