“During the past several years the State of Wisconsin has made significant strides in advancing an enterprise vision for IT–we’ve consolidated state agency data centers and virtualized servers, saving $5 to $6 million per year. We implemented an enterprise resource planning system, which replaced 140-plus legacy systems with one comprehensive system for managing procurement, finance, and human capital. Teams of state and local government officials, along with private-sector infrastructure operators, worked together to develop the Wisconsin Cyber Disruption Response Strategy. We have greatly expanded broadband connectivity throughout the state, while our e-government program has resulted in agencies launching more than 70 new services in the past three years.
IT professionals throughout state government, and particularly within my Division of Enterprise Technology (DET), are justifiably proud of these accomplishments. But I don’t think any would have been possible, or have come to fruition, without a more fundamental effort that supported our technology initiatives–namely, a systematic, ongoing program for enhancing DET’s customer service expertise. Without that corresponding effort, it is doubtful we could have generated the agency buy-in necessary to implement a vision for collaboratively designed, enterprise-focused services. And when agency customers see we are willing to let them be the ones who assess our customer service capabilities, and we publish the results for all to see, they know we are serious about our mission statement: to be the IT service provider of choice, exceeding customers’ expectations and allowing state agencies to focus on their core business.
"We view effective customer service and communication as ongoing guiding principles, not finished products"
Our experience has taught that a customer service program has its best chance for success when four key components are incorporated: Staff have to understand and believe in the program; staff have to play an essential role in designing the day-to-day elements of the program; results have to be measured; and employee engagement must be assessed and nurtured along with customer satisfaction. Let’s look at each of these components in more detail.
When I first introduced the program in early 2015, I couldn’t say these words enough to staff: “We are already good at customer service. But we can be even better.” This was absolutely true on both counts. I have never doubted that that vast majority of DET professionals care deeply about the customer experience, and always have. They wouldn’t be here in the first place if that weren’t true. I had to reinforce that this program was not being instituted as a punitive or corrective measure, but to introduce some proven techniques for articulating specific customer service challenges in particular work areas, and then designing collaborative solutions for addressing those challenges. The program was meant to make their work days more productive and satisfying, not more hectic. They eventually understood this, but it took more than a few meetings with staff to allay their concerns. Don’t underestimate the importance of framing the effort constructively.
That brings us to the next component: Employees have to own the outcomes. We accomplished this through a series of increasingly specific workshops with staff, which progressed from more general concepts to developing standards and objectives at the team level. So, for instance, some of our Business Applications Services staff established the standard of having 60-minute quarterly meetings to review service request metrics with specific customers, and producing a dashboard for other customers in order to monitor the status of their service requests and Incidents. I didn’t impose those directives on them, nor did a consultant–staff crafted them in consultation with supervisors. These workshops take valuable time, no doubt. But the ownership employees take away from the process is what generates follow through and success.
How will you know if you are succeeding? You have to decide on a mechanism for measurement. Ours involves two annual surveys, one provided to managers at customer agencies and another to organizations whose IT services are completely supported by DET. The survey questions address aspects of DET service provision for which, whatever the responses, we believe we will have an actionable set of options to address potential customer concerns. We conducted the first round of surveys in 2015, and in some areas, the collective responses from customers were sobering, to say the least. But it’s the trend lines over time that matter most, and when we administered the same surveys in 2016, we saw our scores increase on every survey item. We are conducting our third round of surveys in spring 2017.
The fourth component is one I believe can be too easily overlooked. I’m certainly not the first manager to stress this, but it’s worth repeating: If your staff is engaged and satisfied, almost certainly your customers will be, too. But again, employee engagement has to be measured, not just hoped for or taken for granted. We followed up our customer service surveys with an employee engagement survey, whose questions were designed to gauge whether DET is providing staff with the tools, support, and positive work environment necessary to deliver excellent customer service. The overall responses were actually very encouraging, but at the same time they highlighted areas the management team needed to address (for example, additional flexibility in training options), and my experience is that these are sometimes not the concerns you might expect going in.
Finally, we view effective customer service and communication as ongoing guiding principles, not finished products. Therefore DET teams regularly review the standards and goals they arrived at in earlier workshops. And now this exercise is more of a refresh than a start-from-scratch process, so it is not difficult to integrate the activity into already existing team meetings.
There is no shortage of enterprise challenges on the horizon–cyber security, document management, cloud adoption, recruitment and retention, just to name a few. But the foundation of customer service we’ve built gives us continued confidence to engage agency partners, trust our staff, and implement genuinely collaborative solutions. The resulting progress is real, and the enterprise services sustainable. Being a service provider of choice requires this systematic, measurable approach to customer service.