Welcome to our second post in the Sensible Service Management Series.
In the last post, Rob England (a.k.a. the IT Skeptic) explained how better process builds a better business and how important the customer is. In this post, Rob introduces us to the concept of service improvement the basic service management framework – no matter what kind of business you run.
The crucial focus: service to customers
The most important thing you do is delivering services to your customers. That’s the IT Service Management (SM) perspective. In fact, everything you do should be considered in terms of those services you provide to your customers.
Whether you are in manufacturing, trades, retail, IT, not-for-profit; whether you provide service internally to your organization or externally to paying customers; whether you work anywhere from a small business to a government department; you do service management.
In this century, if you run a business it is most likely a service business whether you know it or not. Customers no longer want to buy something. They don’t simply want something done. They want to have a nice easy experience with added value – to be served.
Whether you build roads or map them, operate ports or use them, build houses or sell them, plan weddings or sing at them, care for kids or clothe them, sell PCs or scrap them, you are in a service business, even if you may not be in a “service industry.”
We’re not talking about over-the-counter “may I help you?” service, the focus of numerous books. Those manuals tell you how to develop the customer service interface, the experience of contact. Instead, service management is about the end-to-end process of providing services.
The customer-centric view
Adopting a service management approach can have a profound effect on the way your business works and your staff think.
It takes us away from that introverted, bottom-up thinking that begins with what we have and what we do and eventually works its way up and out to what we deliver to the customer. Instead, with service management we focus on what “comes out of the pipe” – what we provide to the customer or end user. We take an “outside-in” view. Starting from this external perspective, we then work our way top-down into the service organization to derive what we need and what we have to do in order to provide that service.
Service management isn’t one subset of the business; it is not one activity at the end of the main supply chain. It’s an entirely different way of seeing the whole supply chain, the whole business that produces the services, by seeing it initially from the outside, from the customer’s point of view. Therefore our blog posts may stray into general business management topics.
Seeing our business in terms of the services it provides can’t help but make us better at providing them.
To a customer, “better” means more useful and more reliable, i.e. more valuable and better quality. From the service-provider’s point of view, “better” means more effective and more efficient, i.e. better results and cheaper.
Why service improvement?
Improving services gives you an opportunity to increase revenues and profitability, and it brings increased efficiency and effectiveness. That means increased returns for much less investment than from improving your products or equipment.
Service improvement keeps your organization competitive. In our service-oriented century, competitors are differentiating themselves on service, and customers are choosing (and staying) based on service.
Service improvement drives service culture. It gets your whole organization working “outside-in”: talking to customers, understanding customers, thinking about yourselves in customer terms, seeing yourselves as customers see you, giving customers service that they want.
Transforming existing service management
You don’t “do” or implement” or “create” service management, even though we use phrases like these all the time. You transform or improve it. Service management is already there in your organization. Perhaps it’s done badly or so little it is undetectable, but it’s there. Your goal should be to build on what is already there, improving and increasing capability.
This brings us to an important point: don’t structure what you improve around service management theory. For example, don’t start a “change” project to implement change control; create a “reliability” project to improve availability of services by screwing them up less often. Include some “change” theory as needed. Shape the project around the outcome not the theory. Mix bits of theory where you need them to get to the outcome.
To continue our example, “change” is a broad topic: if you try to “do change,” you will add work that is not directly contributing to the business outcome of reliability. It is better to take bits of change theory and bits from other theoretical areas too and put them together into a solution for what you need right now. If services are unreliable you might also improve tracking and fixing problems, and improve availability planning, none of which are Change activities.
Another example: if customers are unhappy with the support they are getting, you might act in several different areas:
- Tighten up response. Look for the worst metrics: maximum wait time to answer phone calls, percentage of requests resolved in first contact, average lifetime of responses…
- Improve reporting of service levels: replace perception with reality (good or bad) then show real improvement over time
- Reset expectations. Confirm agreed service levels with the customer then communicate to all consumers.
Even though I will describe the key service management processes in future posts, that doesn’t mean you need to adopt all of them right away.
Plan an approach to the transformation. Include steps to address people, practices and things. If the planned cost and effort is not spread equally across each of those three aspects that would be a cause for concern.
Don’t let management design improvements alone. Senior leaders bring context, strategy, and customer needs. Frontline workers bring their knowledge of how to improve operational processes and procedures. And external consultants bring experience, expertise, ideas from outside and theoretical best practices.
Service management practices
There are several sources of service management theory. They all structure service management – slice it up – in different ways.
We’ll divide service management practices into seven necessary areas of activity:
- Plan how you will run things and what you need to do
- Solve your customers’ need: create a service
- Evolve the way things work in your business in a controlled way
- Provide the services to customers
- Assure the services meet goals, requirements and regulations and are safe for you and your customers
- Respond when things happen, especially when your customers ask for advice or assistance
- Govern the system to ensure it meets objectives and stays within the bounds that have been set
The Plan and Assure domains are managing, Govern is …well… governing, and the other four are doing. These are my seven names for these key areas – other theoretical frameworks use different names and/or slice it differently. I’ve tried to keep the model generic. It leads into all the other bodies of SM knowledge: it is compatible; it won’t lead you in the wrong direction if you want to get into something deeper.
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