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Customer Service in the Information Technology (IT) Industry – a Primer

May 24, 2021
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Customer Service
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7 min read
customer-service-it-information-technology

No one can deny the fact that IT (Information Technology) is the backbone of almost every 21st-century business. And this widespread use of IT wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of the IT service industry.

Before we look at customer service in the IT industry, let’s take a look at the definition of IT services.

Table of Contents

What are IT Services?

According to Gartner, IT services refer to the application of business and technical expertise to enable organizations to create, manage, and optimize or access information and business processes.

Some of the types of IT services that a business can provide are:

  • Managed IT service
  • On-demand IT
  • Network setup
  • Network security
  • Database management
  • Cloud computing
  • Software support
  • Data storage
  • Telephony
  • Hardware services

Customer Service in the IT industry

As with any business service, at the heart of IT services is the actual service you deliver to the customer. This service should provide value to the customer and help them accomplish a specific objective.

However, unlike other business services, there is one key element that differentiates customer service in IT services—alignment. And this is because:

  • IT service companies typically view the service in terms of applications and infrastructure.
  • Customers, on the other hand, view the service in terms of outcomes and usage.

 Thus, for an IT company to service its customers well, there must be a clear alignment from both parties on the goals and the exact nature of the services provided.

ITIL4 provides a more inclusive definition of IT Services (one that is inclusive of the customer service point of view). As per their definition, a service is any means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve without the customer managing specific costs and risks.

Let’s unpack this definition with the help of an example.

Let’s take the example of a hospital. Hospitals often invest in patient management systems to help them effectively manage their patients throughout the lifecycle, i.e., arriving at the hospital, seeing a nurse/doctor, receiving treatment, medicines, and prescriptions, booking follow-up appointments, and finally being discharged.

Hospitals would typically leverage technology to serve their patients better—the main outcome.

Hospitals aren’t necessarily keen on understanding APIs, code, or other technical components. They want to understand relevant data of particular patient situations—these are costs and risks.

By understanding this data better, they get to serve their patients better. And this, in turn, leads to more improved customer experience, more engaged employees, better financials, etc. This is the value that is being created.

This value, however, can only be realized if both the IT service provider and the hospital work together to recognize their goals and minimize their problems. This is co-creation.

customer-service-it-information-technology
The four component model for IT customer service

This four-component model forms the basis for customer service in the IT services industry.

The cost of poor customer service in the IT service industry

The impact of poor customer service in the IT service industry is far-reaching. It not only affects your business, but also your customers and, in turn, their customers.

Some of the impacts of poor customer service include:

Missed opportunities for follow-up business

Customers don’t owe you their loyalty—you have to earn it. Satisfied customers are more likely to give your company repeat business because they feel a strong connection with you. And in the IT industry, where almost every service is delivered on a contract basis, renewals become your bread and butter. Poor customer service will ensure that your customers do not renew their contracts and take their business elsewhere.

Poor experience for the end-user

As we saw in the hospital example discussed above, some components of an IT service might not be used at all by the hospital. For instance, the appointment booking interface or the patient-doctor interaction feedback forms are components that the patient only ever sees. Poor quality of service from your end could lead to scores of unhappy, frustrated, and anxious patients (i.e., the end-users). Thus you can see the domino effect of customer service both on your customers and their end-users.

Potential legal/financial troubles and perception issues

Take the classic case of IT services giant Wipro and their famous $900 million blunder. Wipro counts Citibank as one of its top clients and offers them a range of services, including IT, infrastructure management, and business processing services. This partnership gives them about $250 million in revenue annually.

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The infamous screenshot from Wipro – the precursor to the $900 million blunder | The Ken

Now here’s what happened – In August 2020, Citibank was all set to transfer $8 million to lenders of global cosmetics giant Revlon. An oversight on Wipro’s part instead led to transferring a whopping $900 million to Revlon’s lenders! This incident has been billed as one of the biggest disasters in modern banking history. Instead of the Citi Group, attention has swiftly turned to Wipro’s damaging role in the incident.

This has led to a significant dent in its reputation, not to mention putting it in the eye of the storm of legal and financial battles.

Now that we’ve seen some of the rather high costs of poor customer service in the IT industry let’s look at some of the best practices to deliver stellar customer service as an IT service provider.

Best practices to provide customer service in the IT industry

Yes, keeping your customers might seem like a bit of a tall order. Implementing some of these best practices might go a long way.

Provide an option for self-service

While good customer service is all about providing the human touch, it can be highly time-intensive.In an industry where time is of the essence and a customer wants an answer quickly and with minimal hassle, self-service is key. By giving your customer the option to solve common problems on their own, you are indirectly telling them that you respect their time.

Provide your customers with multiple channels and modes of support

Your customers might not always work in an office and have a computer available readily at hand to log a support request. Given that IT services are now the backbone of almost every industry, for all that you know, your customer might be on a remote oil rig with only their tablet as a communication device. Or they may be out on the road with only their mobile phones handy.

So you must provide your customers with the facility to reach out to your staff anytime, anywhere, and through a device/channel of their choice for faster resolution times and business continuity.

Leverage automation

Automated responses, in most customer service situations, might come across as impersonal, but when it comes to the IT industry, automated responses can be very helpful in mitigating frustrating situations. Whenever your customer submits a service request, an automated responder can come across as a sign of assurance that their request has been received. It can also be used to set expectations on a realistic timeline to get an actual response.

Provide customers with the ability to track their service request’s progress

Transparency is the name of the game in the IT service industry. Providing customers with a portal to follow up on service requests and track their progress can go a long way in building trust.

Provide customers with an SLA policy

The IT industry is known to be built on the foundations of processes. An extension of this is the setting up and adhering to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to process customer requests.

A service-level agreement (SLA) is a policy that defines the level of service that you provide your customers. It lays out the metrics by which service is measured, and remedies or penalties should agreed-on service levels not be achieved.

Putting in place an agreeable SLA policy helps both you and your customers set expectations fairly and transparently.

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Configuring an SLA policy using a help desk tool

In addition to this, you should also provide customers with an escalation matrix. An escalation matrix helps your customers understand who they should notify on a management level for various types of issues — resource shortages, technical issues, delivery problems, etc. Defining an escalation path takes away the uncertainty about who to contact when customers face an obstacle that management can potentially help them with.

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An example of an escalation matrix | Tactical Project Manager

Take a data-driven approach to customer service

You can only improve what you can measure. Taking a metrics-driven approach to customer service can help you get a clear understanding of where you excel and where you don’t.

Take the case of Sydney-based IT services consulting firm, itGenius. itGenius provides IT services to several businesses in Australia, including Canva, HubSpot, and Anytime Fitness, and several departments of the Australian Government.

itGenius chose Hiver to help them manage customer communication and track customer service metrics. With the help of analytics in Hiver, the team can know how well they respond to customers. They have accurate information about how quickly they are replying to customers and how much time they are taking to resolve issues.

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Conversation Reports in Hiver

Scott Gellatly, the General Manager at itGenius, believes in running a tight ship. Here’s what he had to say about Hiver:

“As the General Manager, Analytics is where I spend my time and love that part of the platform. The average time to respond to emails and CSAT are critical reports for us, and Hiver presents them beautifully. I love how these metrics are tracked over time so that I can align drops in either of them.”

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The itGenius team | SmartCompany Australia

Always ask for feedback

Always ask your customers for feedback after every interaction. This way, you’ll be updated in real-time about how happy your customers are with your services. You can also identify lapses, rework your processes and quickly nip them in the bud before they snowball. And even if some of your feedback surveys go unanswered, it still shows your customers that you care for them.

Wrapping up

As with customer service in almost every industry, having an intention is good, but follow-through is equally important. More so in the IT service industry because revenue here largely depends on repeat customers. Because of the nature of the industry, it is important always to anticipate customer needs correctly, align with the customers, constantly collect feedback, and take a data-driven approach to funnel their feedback into continuous improvement.

Hiver HQ
Tejas Kinger is a Product Marketing Manager at Hiver. Passionate about tech, startups, and all things SaaS. Say hello on Twitter (@TejasKinger).
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