One of the great revolutions in American business that began in the 1980s (and is still underway) is the ascendancy of the customer. It's now much more than a cliché that the customer is king. And today this is as true for internal customers as for external customers. The rise of packaged enterprise systems and the rapid growth of outsourcing mean that IT customers have more choices than ever, and our experience is that they'll exercise those options if they're dissatisfied. Yet I still find many IT departments that don't focus on customer satisfaction and instead use their institutional position to control their customers. But over time, by not satisfying their customers they put their budget—and continued employment—at risk. This article discusses some of the principles of customer satisfaction and offers suggestions for getting and staying in tune with your customers.
Why You Should Care About Customer Satisfaction
Satisfaction is important because it's an indicator of service quality. If customers are dissatisfied, it's probably because their needs have not been met for some time. When customers become vocally dissatisfied about IT performance, it suggests a systemic failure to communicate and properly set expectations with the customers.
Watch for telltale signs of dissatisfied customers. Here's a brief customer-satisfaction quiz:
What's the size of your service request backlog in number and in time to complete?
Do customers resist serving on your review boards and committees?
Do customers control their share of your IT budget, or does IT dictate priorities and project funding?
Do customers have a choice of service levels, and are there auditable metrics on the quality of service?
Are customers going around IT departments by setting up local mini-IT functions?
Are you having trouble getting support for your initiatives and budget requests?
When you implement a new system, does the complaining die away in days, weeks, months, or never?
Do you have major system outages of multiple hours or even days in duration?
If you're like most of the companies I've visited, you have many of these symptoms, and I can guarantee you have dissatisfied customers, even if they're not complaining to you directly. In fact, if they're not communicating, you're in big trouble. In my experience, when customers stop publicly griping, it may be the calm before the storm.