Customer service is still a concept many firms outsource. Better firms give it more than just lip service. Great firms make it part of every aspect of their firm.
Unfortunately, many businesses and the executives who run many of their processes don’t know how to make their part of the company customer service focused. They lack the tools to measure their efforts. They don’t know the metrics or the taxonomy for service measurements. Worse still, if they tried to discuss their progress with their peers in other parts of the organization, it might be a challenged conversation.
Companies without a strong internal service culture are failures at the Golden Rule.
But why should Finance, Legal, Logistics or Human Resources have a customer service focus? Don’t they know their jobs? Aren’t they executing against the workload they have? Could it be that their value contribution to the firm could be increased? The answer to all of that could be "Yes".
Yet I suspect that many groups only give a cursory look at the service level they provide to others within their firm. Moreover, I’d wager that people in other parts of the firm wouldn’t agree with another department’s (mostly) self-assessment of its service levels. Other workers and executives might desire different metrics, different levels of service, different services offered, etc. But, these needs/wants/expectations of others are not routinely collected, vetted and incorporated into business processes and measures.
Now, you might ask “So what? Who cares if HR is only doing a passable job?” As an executive who was often on the receiving end of a functional department’s “service” to my entity, I was often floored as to what others thought we wanted or needed. Worse, the gap between our expectations and what was received was often tremendous. In case you didn’t catch it, that’s a really bad thing.
I’ve gone years without ever once seeing someone from HR darken our floor. How in the world can they know what kinds of recruits we need if they don’t even make an effort to find out? Ignoring entire departments is bad enough, but assuming that we’ll willingly accept their allocated costs for the services they didn’t render is a double insult.
Over the years, I’ve paid princely sums for IT services, floor space, recruiting services, etc. that my organization never received. In over 10 years with one group, I never met our CIO or any senior IT person in that organization — and we worked in the same building.
Q: What's the difference between your firm's functional groups and a bowl of yogurt?
A: Only one of these has a good culture.
An equally galling “service” I’ve paid for is having Finance demand all manner of financial plans/budgets or other schedules that are of no help to my organization and may contain data of no real use or insight to anyone. Yet, they always seemed to want it yesterday or while I’m in a plane flying to some far off corner of the world. Rare is the Finance request that isn’t needed a week ago. Can’t they plan? Have they not seen a calendar before?
Oh, the service malfeasance that one corporate function can heap on other groups is grim and grotesque. It sucks the soul out of the organization and the people within it. It makes people want to work elsewhere. It’s what makes work, work, when it should be enjoyable.
Companies without a strong internal service culture are failures at the Golden Rule (i.e., Do unto others as you wish they do unto you).
If your organizational unit triggers a cost chargeback to another part of the firm, you need to have a services culture and the tools to manage one well. If you trigger work for (or demand deliverables from) other departments or functions, you’re probably in need of a services makeover, too.
When I went to ServiceNow’s user conference a couple of months ago, I didn’t think I’d get schooled on how firms can have this kind of service culture throughout their firm. No, I thought ServiceNow was a firm solely focused on IT departments.
I was wrong — big time.
ServiceNow initially developed a series of cloud technologies that help IT organizations measure the services/service levels they provide to their constituents. As it turns out, the same approaches and technologies can be applied to other functional groups, too.
I learned that for a functional group, not just IT, to develop a successful services environment, five critical things must be present:
In a subsequent interview with Dave Wright, a ServiceNow executive, I learned that ServiceNow’s focus is clearly around creating systems of engagement. I know — if you’re like me —- that expression almost invokes your gag reflex because it is so overused and misunderstood by so many software vendors. But, in fairness to ServiceNow, I think they get it.
Dave spoke about how an HR department that takes weeks, instead of days, to onboard a new hire isn’t really engaging with these workers or the departments they are to serve. One of the key HR metrics we discussed is how the time between interviewing a job seeker and making them an offer has actually increased by almost two weeks since the start of the recession in 2008. If that isn’t a leading indicator for a service level problem in HR Recruiting, I don’t what else you’d call it. (If you’d like more on how ServiceNow brings this service thinking to HR, see this link.)
Dave and I discussed how every corporate function needs a SLA (service level agreement). These agreements need to address the taxonomy, analytics, etc. listed above. Dave also discussed how a single agreement or set of metrics won’t always work. He used the example of one group’s leader preferring to communicate via email and voicemail while other generations of workers prefer text or other methods. To add a measure of emphasis to this point, he discussed how one employer was giving out reward vouchers to employees for outstanding service. Unfortunately, these vouchers were not being cashed as the employees who received them rarely looked at their email – email was the distribution media for these vouchers.
Creating a real system of engagement requires business functional leaders to understand their constituents beyond a simple set of performance metrics. It requires an intimate understanding of the psychographics of these people, too.
Dave also shared these points about systems of engagement:
ServiceNow and its partners are taking the knowledge of services in its approach to helping IT groups to other functional and vertical segments.
In interviews with ServiceNow’s customers, I heard an oft repeated story: A CIO brought in ServiceNow’s cloud technology into the IT group and over time introduced the technology to other functional groups in their firm. One executive described how their firm (not just IT) has a single framework for measuring and communicating service successes/challenges. He described the cross-pollination of great service ideas in the executive committee. Every functional group has baseline service levels and is continuously measured against these metrics. They also use a lot of the workflow technology to automate the routing and decision making in their firm.
Faster, better decisions and visibility to problems has made a difference for them. A service discipline has meant organizational changes, new business taxonomy and improved workflows for this firm. And, if you’re curious, this firm did this as they couldn’t expand globally until they had better internal operations domestically.
Another ServiceNow customer discussed how they use the solution to manage HR cases. Whether it is for unemployment benefit claims, workers compensation claims, discrimination claims or other HR issues, the tool is helping this customer quickly investigate and determine its next course of action. The business case for this undoubtedly involves rapid disposition of certain matters and helps defray potential litigation costs.
ServiceNow should do well extending beyond the IT department. IT leaders can become their greatest internal ally in expanding account penetration within existing customers. If the company can continue to build out the taxonomies and metrics for more functional departments, it can grow to be several multiples of its current size.
The company has a PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) that partners are using to extend the core solution. Where Salesforce.com’s PaaS, Force.com, may enter an organization via the sales/marketing side of a customer’s business, ServiceNow’s should find easier access via the IT department.
Getting companies to adopt more of a services culture internally will remain a bit of a missionary sale, though, as I still run into less enlightened firms out there. Thankfully, the most resistant to this kind of thinking are disappearing like the dinosaurs.
Update/Sidebar: A few months ago, I penned a piece titled “Where did the Human in Human Resources Go?” I was blown away by the number of people that tweeted that piece. Apparently, it hit a nerve in HR circles. The article focused on how a long-time HR professional was suddenly looking at recruiting from the other side of the fence. What she saw wasn’t pretty.
Fast forward a few weeks after that article ran and ServiceNow had hired this HR pro. It’s rare that I can tie two diverse stories like these together. I’m happy that ServiceNow and Connie found each other. Now I wonder if ServiceNow will implement some of its own tech in its HR and Recruiting processes?
Disclosure: ServiceNow did cover my travel costs to their user conference in April.