The summer was a wonderful time to reflect on where the ‘IT Service World’ is – and where it is going. I’ve researched and read a significant amount on what the ‘experts’ believe, and unusually, they appear to agree on a number of points:

1. Business/Service integration is essential
2. The definition of ‘IT Service’ is changing in response
3. Service providers, whether in or out-sourced, must be switched on to company values
4. Service quality and performance may be a key management measure, but can only have one true ‘barometer’ – the Service Desk
5. ‘Anytime, anywhere’ support is increasingly testing budget and customer satisfaction levels

In the IT service and support industry, we’ve been talking about these issues extensively and analyst houses such as Forrester and Ovum have proffered definitions and research to try and guide the debate.

Additionally, national IT and skills bodies like NASSCOM in India, MDEC in Malaysia and E-skills here in the UK all emphasise a need for IT professionals of the future to learn business and ‘soft’ skills to augment their technology knowledge.

But what exactly does this mean the true definition of ‘service’? Simply put, it means that all of the basic service messages that many of us have subscribed to for years have eventually caught the attention of the ‘experts’ and ‘service’ now means what it should in IT – where customers realise a true set of benefits from an accountable service provider.

However, when the debate around service is widened to include consumer and customer service, a trend starts to emerge. This trend is a simple realisation that whatever IT does in the delivery of technology, it cannot succeed unless it meets business need and gets the customer interaction right - regardless of whether it is process-orientated (in terms of establishing IT service management disciplines), using service-orientated architecture (SOA), or software as a service (SAAS).

Contact centres and retailers, where customer service is crucial to brand reputation, are still grappling with this concept, and only the very best are getting it right on a consistent basis.

If we return to the five ‘expert’ points at the start of this piece we can probably agree with these in a wider context. However, the one missing element is, as ever, the intangible and even emotional factor that can only be delivered at the customer interface. This is the attitude and approach that truly supports the brand by saying ‘we know what you want, we understand you, and we’ll do everything possible to meet your need’. Oh, and we’ll be accountable, communicate with you reliably and constantly seek to improve…

There is no doubt that service is very much seen from both the ‘actual’ and ‘perceived’ views and needs of the customer. Unless the service delivery meets both of these viewpoints, then the company is unlikely to satisfy or retain customers in the long term.

Businesses cannot be complacent - investing in frontline service and developing the customer relationship will significantly contribute toward the long term success of any business. No matter what the economic climate, can businesses really not afford to focus on investing in service improvement?

About the author

Howard Kendall is the founding director of the Service Desk Institute (SDI). Howard was in the technology arena as a computer operator at 3M, followed by positions in IT support management at Citibank and the Prudential. During his career, Howard recognised that there was a need to boost the service desk and IT support professionals’ ‘image’ within business and help shape industry best practice. In 1988 he established the Service Desk User Group (now HDI) to meet this requirement.

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