Sunday, October 24, 2010

Do we correctly explain IT to our customers?

Ever since the discussion that appeared on LinkedIn “What Are The Things We Hate About IT?” following a book by Susan Cramm.I have been thinking about one of the items brought forward: Do we hate other departments just as much? For example, would many of the “hate” things not apply to the Finance department as well?

I recently needed to undergo a knee reconstruction because I tore my ACL. Before I decided to get the operation done, I wanted to know more about it. Initially you have your appointments with the doctor and he explains a lot and gives you also some brochures. But I still had many questions. I did research as much as I could on the Internet but the exact details cannot always easily be found. Much medical information is locked behind sites for which you have to pay, besides the fact that it pretty much becomes very technical in medical terms.

However, once I had this information processed and had thought about it, I came up with many more questions. And these can of course only be answered through another appointment for which you have to pay good money again.

And then there is the general customer service. The assistant on the phone, just for making an appointment, did not come across too friendly either. As if it was all too much. You probably know these type of people – everything comes with a big sigh.

And then the costs. Yes they explained the costs for the surgeon, but I still had to chase up the costs for the hospital and the anaesthetist.

Now you could say, “Why don’t you go to another surgeon?”. Good point, but this one had a good reputation and you then need to ask yourself the question whether you want a surgeon who will technically do a good job or that you want better customer service but with more risk on the technical outcome.  I think you can guess, what I chose.

I think the issue for IT or for the Finance departments is the same. Good customer service is hard to find - anywhere. I have always found in any organisation that for example the Finance department is not too forthcoming with information. They have in general (also) an arrogant attitude. They set the rules and the rest has to follow.

The biggest issue here is that people hate the uncertainty and the lack of insight. My problem with the knee operation was not much different than the “IT is too expensive” complaint. I simply don’t understand why it all has to be so expensive and then the problem identifying all the associated cost. And then the risks. There were so many different aspects and risks around it that it simply took quite a bit of time to understand it all.

Just as I still have a lot of uncertainty around my knee of what I can do and what I can’t do, people hate the uncertainty when they are confronted with a (new) system. Understanding the complete behaviour and working of a system is too often too far away for the end users and they get by with a superficial understanding. And then there is the lack of insight in all the processes and components that all make up the story of higher costs, more time and more practical issues that the business user does not expect to be involved.

The contradiction in all this is that our business colleagues don’t have the time and the background to understand all the intricacies around IT. The same problem as I had. Though I could find medical information, it was too much abracadabra. But on the other hand you want to have just that right level of insight and confidence on how it goes. As service provider it becomes very difficult to explain why things need to happen a certain way while not going into the details. It is difficult for a doctor and it is difficult for an engineer (or CIO for that matter).

Coming to a conclusion, I think that it will always be difficult to make our IT customers understand all aspects associated with IT and therefore they will remain “uncomfortable” with it. This “uncomfortable” feeling is not much different than what we experience with a doctor or dentist or the rules and laws of the Finance department. To what level do you need to explain things? Some people will never get certain intricacies and others simply don’t have the time.

And in relation to customer service, to give another example outside IT - what about the banks? When I came to Australia I was confronted with bank fees. I did not have that in the Netherlands and it took a lot of time and effort before I found someone who was willing to explain it.

Yes, we should continue to improve our services and explain IT within the organisation, but I don’t think that we’ll ever achieve a Walhalla. At some moment in time, you just simply need to focus on results. Do we really need to be so much better than everyone else? Or in other words, is it really that bad?

At the moment it seems that the doctor did a great job on my knee. If you would ask me whether I was satisfied with the service, I say yes. He did a great job. Do I have general issues and could the service have been better? I definitely say yes, accepting the grumpy assistant as long as the result is good. The same applies to IT. If we deliver systems, isn’t it firstly about whether the business can achieve their objectives? Ok, the problem is why it takes so long. But my knee has a fixed 6 months healing process and there is nothing that I can do to make it go faster.

(As you can see on the photo above, my knee looks perfect again.)

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