While I have been both a professor of finance and entrepreneurship for the last 35 years at Florida State University, I have, more importantly, directly assisted more than 3,000 businesses through the university's Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship. While I clearly enjoy technology, this is not my real area of expertise. Rather, I specialize in helping managers and entrepreneurs use technology in ways that produce the highest returns possible within a well run organization.

One of the biggest complaints I hear over and over again from entrepreneurs and managers is the lack of customer service by IT staff. So many times, IT staff will say they will be there within two hours only to show up the next day with no sign of remorse or guilt for being late. They were doing the best they could to get to the department that needed them but they had to deal with another critical crisis and did not notify anyone of their delays.

In so many ways, I think that IT departments do not think that they need to give exceptional customer service as their services are so needed. Yes, we all need IT support, but with any staff department, it must serve the entire organization with outstanding customer service.

In my opinion, IT problems are so rampant because the hiring decisions are all wrong. Most IT managers hire people that are technically competent rather than being people competent first and technically competent second. All IT technicians have to interact with staff but oftentimes trying to get a "geek" personality to interact or even understand the dynamics of a marketing department just is not going to happen.

If you are going to have a great IT department or any department you must have great staff. Great staffs in my mind are made up of employees who have character, people skills, and are highly motivated. Why these three attributes? Simply, I cannot train people to have character, people skills, or be highly motivated. I must hire for these qualities.

Sure we need IT staffs that have certain technical proficiencies but more important we need IT staffs that have both these technical skills but have, also, core values of character, people skills, and high motivation. If we tend to overlook or ignore any of these core values in our staff, then our ability to render outstanding customer services is almost impossible.

IT staff cannot have the luxury of operating like plumbers who sometimes show up at a customer's house a week after they said they would be there. Rather, IT staff must never blind side a customer by failing to meet the customer's expectations. It is no crime -- and it's often quite understandable -- if IT staff are running late. But they must call or e-mail the client about this in advance and let them know when they expect to be there to fix the problem. Simply stated, the customers of IT services can never be blindsided by IT staff either intentionally or unintentionally.

I think too often, the objectives of IT departments are not communicated in terms of customer service. Rather, the objectives are normally set up in terms of technical accomplishments. For example, one IT department that we are dealing with wants to upgrade all of the computers to Windows 7 next year, put in the necessary new servers, and help produce a new website. Never once do they mention meeting customer service goals because they are focusing on the technology and not the process in which they deliver the technology.

Over the years, the one thing I know about management, for certain, is that if you do not highlight an activity frequently, it gets dropped off of the radar screen. You just cannot let customer service be relegated to a low priority because it just does not get enough awareness.

My suggestions for improving customer service of IT staffs include discussing customer service goals at  the beginning of every staff meeting. As part of that discussion, you need to find some empirical way to measure how effective the customer service is – help desk response times would be one measure and another might be to chart how many requests for help are initiated and what is the IT department's average time to resolution.  We call these survey instruments, benchmarks, and in some cases they may involve administering customer satisfaction surveys. Additionally, like most other departments in the business world, someone needs to take ownership of the customer service that is being given to your IT clients. This would be an admirable goal for any IT manager going into the New Year.

Jerry Osteryoung has been both a Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship at Florida State University for over 35 years. While at FSU he headed up the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship where he directly assisted over 3,000 businesses.  You can read his blog at http://jerryosteryoung.blogspot.com or you can write him at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

Published on: Dec 1, 2009