Portals: Opening the lines of communication

This post is the fourth in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

At this point you’ve got a website up, and your communicating to your customers, which is adding value and improving their experience.

Now they want more – what’s next?

Again “it depends” and I certainly have my opinions, but consider your users first and ask questions (as noted in the second post in this series).

Let’s tell a story.

You’re a customer of a company. They missed your garbage pick up this week. You go to their website. On said website there is a big banner or pop-up that says “We are experiencing a one-day delay in garbage pick ups” and offers the number to customer service.

What do you think about this experience? Pretty good right? This is basically where a portal begins; one-way communication with the option to initiate further. It’s a stepping stone to two-way communication.

There’s a reason this exists – because communication is a two-way street. So usually, I recommend giving your customers a voice. It makes them feel valued and listened to.

Now, depending on your culture, needs, audience size and web platform this could take many forms. Maybe you add a chat option so that users can chat with agents or fulfillers or staff directly. Maybe you need a webform? Maybe you just display a phone number call.

Something, anything that allows two way communication will greatly improve the portal’s value and demonstrate compassion for customers.

The chat option is the most advantageous because it also provides a universal “out” for customers who are stuck, can’t find something or just have a simple question.

Remember to design this for the customer. Test out multiple methods of conversation, and continue the dialog and feedback loop.

Next post will be about content! Subscribe in the right margin or follow us on twitter for updates!

Customer Service Week

Don’t miss out on this year’s customer service week.

If you work in customer service, use it to make work fun. If you don’t, use it as an opportunity to say thank-you – or even offer more!

Here are some ideas:

Service

  1. Start at csweek.com – it’s the best resource and mostly free!
  2. Make sure you mark it on your calendar
  3. At the very least, bring in donuts
  4. Take the time to thank each member of the team
  5. Do an off-site meeting or lunch
  6. Host a happy hour
  7. Host a potluck
  8. Bring in a customer to say “thanks”

Non-Service

  1. Say thanks to the team
  2. Offer a cross-team training
  3. Bring them treats, donuts, lunch
  4. Print a big “thank you” sign
  5. Hand written notes of thanks
  6. Giant posted with thanks written all over it

Got more ideas? Leave them in the comments below!

Portals: How to get started?

This post is the third in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

When we look at the common needs of users of portals there are always trends, fads and basics. I prefer to start with the basics and keep options open.

Remember that the goal of a portal is to make people happy. So how do we start doing that?

Most portal projects jump way ahead into the future. They go straight to “we want to be like amazon” or some other phrase like this.

The reality is, you can’t afford to be like amazon AND unless you’re in retail, your goals do NOT align. Your number one priority should be happiness for your customers and your providers. I’ll use these terms going forward to describe the people viewing your portal, but do keep in mind they can be the same.

The most obvious and noticeable feature of all portals is communication.

This is even true for amazon – as soon as you go there, they tell you buy something.

What does your portal say?

We often don’t communicate well as a group because communication is difficult and people delude themselves into thinking it’s simple. Portals start like a mouth, or a brand. This may be the first time anyone sees or notices your group exists, the first interaction they’ve ever had with your team!

So what do you want them to think?

You know what I want and are ready to give me what I want.

If you can convince your customer of this, on their first interaction; congratulations, you have reached success.

How did you get here? Understanding the customer. How did you understand them? By listening to them (most likely) – or maybe you were one once. That last one is a doozie – don’t let your experience cloud your vision. Always go back to the customer and base your decisions on data.

So, the easiest way to start a portal is to get a webpage set up. And post a message to your customer. Something along the lines of:

Hi, we’re (insert group/team/person name here),

You’re here for __________, and we have ____________.

Here’s how you get __________:

And that’s it. Follow up with instructions on how to get it.

No fancy technology. No $3m project. No integration, no automation… nothing.

And already your customer has value.

Next post: adding value to a simple portal.

Portals: Why do we need them?

This post is the second in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

Whenever I see a problem or hear a solution I love working it backward. I think it’s why I loved consulting. I think it’s the inner 3-year-old in me who just loves to ask “why” until someone goes bonkers.

So why do we have web portals to teams, departments and companies?

Easy! So our customers and partners can connect with us.

Why?

So that they can get what they want, how they want to get it!

Why?

To make it easier to deliver it to them!

Why?

So they can be happy and we can be happy.

And that’s good enough for me – don’t get me started on the four types of happiness, but this basically is the goal. Keep people happy. There are a multitude of other benefits. Revenue, cost savings, scalability, governance etc etc. However, to achieve these goals faster than your competitors you need teams that can operate, innovate and move quickly.

This brings me to the most overlooked part of every technology project: the people.

You basically have three main customer groups for every portal. The user, the provider and the provider’s partners. And each of these three categories have a TON unique characteristics. From competency to goals there are many misconceptions and assumptions that can be made of the user. There are also universal givens that can be applied since they are people and they are using the portal.

Now’s where the general basics kick in. Most people want (in all three groups):

  1. Easy
  2. Clear
  3. Fast
  4. Powerful
  5. Freedom

These universal desires were stolen from an article I read about libraries. LOL. But they are fundamental elements of humans search for solutions and information; things that will make them happy in the moment they are using your portal.

Since your team is unique and provides a unique service or product – I can’t provide much more advice than these very general keys.

For instance, if you’re a hospital exposing self-service check ins #3 is probably more important than #5. And if you’re an IT shop numbers 1 and 2 are probably more important than 5.

And this is where your challenge starts. Understanding the users – ALL the users. From the customer, to the people on the queues to the people they pass the work to. Each of them wants to be heard and influence the design and execution of the portal.

This doesn’t mean you can take each person’s input into consideration. Group consensus doesn’t really work that way. Instead, you must use this information as research into the design.

If you’re not into design or have experience with this – it’s bigger than a blog post. I can’t give you all that with some words. It really comes from understanding design. If you’re not ready to learn about user research and design – I highly recommend hiring someone with the experience. It is invaluably successful.

Building IT Portals – what have we learned?

I was honored to lead a roundtable discussion at HDI Minnesota yesterday. Topics ranged from hiring practices to career paths for agents. Very involved discussion with a ton of experience and leaders in the room.

I loved being there and listening.

The topic I was ‘leading’ (which means asking questions) was on IT portals. Mostly every support team had a portal along with the challenges exist that have always existed.

However, I think our industry and software in general has come a long way to understanding the shortcomings of portals, adoption and experience.

I started off the session by asking who had a portal. And some hands flopped around uncomfortably. Maybe they don’t think their portals are good enough to call them portals.

One leader offered up his story about using Sharepoint as a portal and what that meant to the sharepoint service (when we upgrade we have some issues with our portal).

Several people noted that posting critical information on the portal was a huge win for both communication and contact avoidance.

Someone else noted that Knowledgebase access was a great feature to have (totally agree) – and went on to shock me that they even allow a forum feature for people to simply discuss anything (very innovative IMHO).

Then I asked the difficult question “what do your customers think about it?”  – – crickets.

“I don’t want another password” is what one end user cited for not using the portal.

Over the next weeks I will outline some of the heavy topics involved in department portals. I’m not going to focus on IT though, because I believe this is a challenge that all many-to-one relationships have. Meaning that any department, team, group, organization, or organization can learn from other groups’ failures and challenges to build an app to improve interaction, collaboration, service, and experience.

Subscribe in the right-hand margin to follow along ->

Or follow us on twitter to read as they are posted.

Your Next ITSM Tool Should be Neither

TL,DR; decouple IT operations from customer service and development. Then realize the incredible savings and benefits thereof.

The term “ITSM” has always bugged me, and I think I know why.

The primary customer of ITSM is IT; everything else is lumped into “customer service” and “customer experience”.

ITSM_WikiEven Wikipedia says there are too many “fluff words” and that ITSM has an unclear definition.

But in IT, we know better. We understand what we’re talking about when we say Service Management. It’s a standard way of operating so we don’t fail.

So why would any business person buy Service Management?

To keep the lights on.

“But that’s what we hired you for! We don’t care what you call it. We don’t want to buy it, we want you to DO IT!”

Then I’ll need $1.5m every three years to replace my tools, redesign processes and…

Wait, $1.5m? Don’t you remember when last year we were managing changes via email? Don’t you remember the spreadsheets of Assets? Why $1.5m?

Technology has become complex and our colleagues want to reduce risk. Some also want to understand the value and depreciation of assets. ITSM is just IT Operations Management + Customer Service.

DING DING DING DING DING DING – we have a winner! Here’s your $1.5 million. But why every three years?

Think of ITSM tools like a car lease. Three years comes along, and it’s time for a fresh smelling one, the latest one with all the bells and whistles.

Do the bells and whistles keep the lights on?

No.

Then why keep upgrading and rebuilding your operations empire?

The tools and practices that surround Service Management change, and they change often.  Have you considered who benefits from that change?

Consider separating your systems of operation from your systems of service. It gives you the freedom to change platforms without impacting your customers.

The impact of this is far greater than you realize. We believe in building systems of engagement separate from systems of record. To understand the nature of this problem:

 

systems-of-recordDoes this image describe your problem? If so, you’ll be interested in understanding our approach to enterprise software. Read more here, or just call us directly: 1-651-556-1030

The CIO’s Role in Stellar Customer Experience – Hunter Muller

The role of the CIO has shifted dramatically in the past few years, from the traditional focus on “keeping the lights on” to playing a more strategic part in aligning IT with the business, as well as embracing trends like the consumerization of IT.

Yet in his new book The Big Shift in IT Leadership, author Hunter Muller “contends that many CIOs remain focused inward, only concerned with technology,” according to Anita Bruzzese on The Fast Track blog.

The Big Shift in IT Leadership: How Great CIOs Leverage the Power of Technology for Strategic Business Growth in the Customer-Centric EconomyAs Bruzzese writes, “The best CIOs, (Muller) says, know that results beat out technology. Having great technology doesn’t mean much if customers aren’t having a good user experience.”

Muller believes CIOs should not only contribute their expertise to efforts aimed at providing a great customer experience (for both internal and external “customers”), but to take a leadership role in this area.

He views IT leaders as uniquely positioned for this task, because CIOs “have total visibility across the organization,” and with that access, “have a golden opportunity to help develop innovative strategies and spur collaborations that will have a big impact on the organization’s overall success.”

Continue reading “The CIO’s Role in Stellar Customer Experience – Hunter Muller”

Three More Key Findings About the Future of IT Service Management from EMA Research

The consumerization of IT, digital business model disruption, and the need for greater speed in technology development are combining to dramatically change the role of IT service management. According to Dennis Drogseth of Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), “Both the ‘rules’ and the ‘roles’ governing IT Service Management (ITSM) are evolving” as the relationship changes “between IT and its service consumers.”

Cloud computing, mobile, and the future of ITSMIn The Future of ITSM: How Are Roles (and Rules) Changing? Part 2, Drogseth details several conclusions from the organization’s research, expanding on previously reported findings. Here are three observations that stand out, with additional commentary.

Service management isn’t just for IT anymore.

Among EMA’s findings, “89% of respondents had plans to consolidate IT and non-IT customer service.”

Continue reading “Three More Key Findings About the Future of IT Service Management from EMA Research”