What do capability, motivation, and expectations have in common? All three are essential for a successful service organization, whether that organization is in Information Technology or in any other field.
Let’s use a help desk as an example. For such a service organization, capability includes the basic skills necessary to be able to answer questions and help customers. Some of these capabilities are technical, and employees have to constantly update their skills through training and self-study. Other capabilities are more intangible but just as important: things like “people skills” and the ability to deal with an irate customer.
For other types of service organizations, the capabilities can vary. But in most cases, the capabilities still focus on two major areas: knowledge of the “what” in order to answer questions, solve problems, and offer advice; and knowledge of the “how” in order to convey the relevant information, problem-solving and advice in a way that is appreciated by the customer.
The second key to service success is motivation. People who have the capabilities but not the motivation will ultimately hurt your organization. Even with the right people skills, unmotivated employees will still reveal their lack of motivation in other ways. Maybe the service rep won’t go the extra mile to please the customer or to truly solve a problem instead of a symptom. Perhaps the unmotivated manager will tolerate inadequate work performance. Sooner or later that lack of motivation will become known to the customer, and the customer will switch to a different, more highly motivated service provider. Customers have human needs; we all prefer to work with someone who cares about us and wants to take care of our needs.
So far we have capability and motivation. And interestingly enough, many service organizations can do just fine on just these two keys. If an organization has enough resource to exceed customer expectations, then those expectations are never an issue. But when cut-backs take place in a service organization, and the organization is forced to try to provide the same service with fewer and fewer people, the third key becomes more and more important.
There are multiple dimensions of the word “expectations.” First, there’s the need for a service organization to understand the expectations that already exist within their customer base. This usually requires some sort of measurement: maybe a survey, or possibly something less formal, like interviews with selected customers.
Second, there’s the need to “set expectations for the customer.” That’s a common phrase, but it’s not so easily achieved. Setting expectations can be explicit, with a published list of what you’ll do and how long it will take, or it can be implicit in situations where you consistently deliver the same result in the same way, and so the customer knows from experience what to expect. The implicit approach works well with simple, short-duration transactions, like a telephone directory assistance service in which expectations are set by how long it takes to answer the phone, and then how quickly a number can be provided. For more complicated, longer-duration services, a more explicit approach is usually preferred.
However, “setting expectations” is only successful when the expectations you set come close to meeting the expectations of the customers. For example, if you want to provide four-week turnaround on fixing a user’s PC, then you’ll find yourself in direct conflict with customers who think (quite rightly) that they can’t do their jobs without a working computer. Thus you’ll have to look for other alternatives, like providing a loaner PC, or swapping out the user’s PC for another PC immediately.
If you’re providing a service internally within a company, and you’re working on a budget that doesn’t allow you to meet reasonable customer expectations, then you’re looking at guaranteed failure. The customers can’t go elsewhere to meet their needs, and you don’t have enough resource to keep your customers satisfied. There’s only one way out of this dilemma: work with the customers to financially justify an investment to increase the service levels. If your internal customers are unproductive as a result of your not having the resources to meet their needs, then that lack of productivity has a cost to the business, and that cost can usually be translated into a financial justification. If you can’t make this approach work, then I suggest you start looking for another job in another company, because you’re not going to survive long where you are. It’s not fair for you to be asked to meet reasonable customer expectations with unreasonably low levels of resource, and you’re certainly not going to enjoy your work.
Capability, motivation, and expectations are the three keys to success in a service organization. Ignore them at your own peril!
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