don't complain“Private Stooper, front and center! Assume the front leaning rest position.” That’s army talk for get ready to do pushups. It’s a bitterly cold January morning at Fort Leonard Wood and every drill sergeant is here. Even the first sergeant and a couple of lieutenants showed up, which never happens. There are 200 recruits standing in formation freezing our butts off and the vapor rising from the ground has created an eerie, surreal atmosphere. What on earth is happening?

“Private Stooper,” the drill sergeant shouted in his North Carolina drawl, “I spoke with the Colonel yesterday afternoon. It seems your mama called him. Start beating your face!” That’s army talk for start doing pushups. “Knock ‘em out till I get tired. It seems you don’t like the conditions here in Charlie Company. You don’t appreciate the gourmet food and you don’t like the luxurious accommodations we provide.” Stooper is weeping like a baby and still doing pushups, occasionally shouting “Yes Sergeant.” At one point, there were about 6 NCO’s standing over him screaming. The hazing seemed to go on for hours. We all felt sorry for the guy, even though he was a pretty big screwup.

The message was clear – don’t complain or your life will get a whole lot worse. In many public sector IT audits I have done, I have found that the IT Director and staff used the same tactics as my drill sergeants. If end users complained about the horrendous customer service provided by the IT Department, the IT staff would punish and humiliate the culprits in order to train the rest of the staff not to complain. It’s a common practice and not only in the public sector. Is this happening in your organization? If it is, how would you know? Everyone is afraid to be Private Stooper.

IT and Customer Service Best Practices

Many of the IT Departments I encounter aren’t using any best practices for Information Technology Governance and aren’t concerned with customer service. They are an internal service organization, don’t face the public, and don’t feel any pressure to achieve acceptable industry standards for performance. They get a paycheck whether or not they actually solve problems. The root cause of this problem is lack of executive oversight and non-tech executives frequently have no idea of where to begin or what to do. They are stumbling in the dark.

Here are a couple of DIY steps for approaching customer service problems with IT.

  1. Draft and adopt a service level agreement.
  2. Acquire a Professional Services Automation System and use it according to industry best practices.
  3. Establish a Tech oversight committee, chaired by an assertive advocate for better IT services. Don’t let the IT Director hijack this role.
  4. Write a strategic plan (or hire a consultant to do an audit and strategic plan). If followed, this sort of plan will quickly pay for itself and can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But, only if you follow it and make the hard decisions.

Your IT Department, and all your public sector departments should be trying to provide customer service that is on par with Amazon. How well is that working out for you?

I’m sure you are wondering what happened to Private Stooper. He loved basic training so much that he went through it a second time.  Feel free to send me an e-mail and share your army stories or your concerns about customer service in your organization and don’t let you users or customers get treated like Private Stooper.

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