Gathering user feedback to drive continual service improvement

The goal of continual service improvement (CSI) is better IT services for the business. Better in terms of the quality of the outcomes that IT services deliver for the business. Better in terms of delivering those outcomes in the most efficient manner possible.

What we’re talking about here is IT doing the right thing and doing things right. These are the two angles which IT needs to examine to improve services: effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is how well the service meets the business requirement. Efficiency is about doing so at the lowest practical cost. An efficient and effective IT service gets the job done for the service consumer, while minimising IT costs.

What should drive continual service improvement?

Continual service improvement should be driven by data, not intuition; metrics that indicate where performance is up to scratch and where services are failing to deliver for the business. There are three flavours of metrics that the IT department can use to measure current performance and pinpoint areas for improvement:

  • IT performance metrics: technology metrics that indicate how the technology is performing, process metrics which show how well operational processes are performing, and service metrics (like service level) which show the service-oriented perspective.
  • Business performance metrics: Business-level metrics that may indicate where IT systems, services and applications are failing to support efficient business processes.
  • Customer satisfaction metrics: How happy are end users with what IT gives them to help them do their jobs?

Effective CSI should look at each of these types of metrics to get a more ‘rounded’ view of IT performance and identify opportunities for greater efficiency and effectiveness. However, the reality is that few IT departments take a balanced view that includes data from all three of these sources.

What drives CSI in practice?

IT departments have a tendency to focus on improvements that are unearthed by looking at IT performance metrics because they’re right in front of them. Gathering data on IT customer satisfaction (and the causes of dissatisfaction) means building new capabilities - surveys, ad-hoc feedback loops and data analysis.

The traditional technology and process mentality that IT people have puts the focus is on tweaking the technology, adjusting IT processes and using SLAs as the primary yardstick for overall performance. However, internal IT metrics like SLAs don’t tell the full story: they only show how IT performance measures up against SLAs - snapshots of business needs that were defined in the past. Business requirements and end user expectations change over time, so gaps quickly open up between IT’s understanding of demand and actual business demand today. Ongoing engagement with end users is an effective way to close this gap (and keep it closed) - by keeping IT’s view of end user expectations fresh and up to date.

The value of end user feedback

Unlike IT performance metrics and business performance metrics, end users can tell you directly where they feel IT services are falling short of what they need to do their jobs effectively. So, end user feedback can be a powerful driver for service improvement - improvements that end users are actually asking for. It allows IT to identify and apply the improvements that end users really want, not what IT thinks they might want.

By engaging and asking direct questions, some of the feedback will be painful for IT but this is the point: end user engagement is all about seeking out dissatisfaction, identifying the causes and fixing the underlying issues. Not only will end users tell IT which improvements they would like to see, they can also indicate which improvements should be prioritised; telling IT why they need these improvements and how important they are to the business.

Putting it into practice - the seven step improvement process

The CSI seven-step improvement process sets out how you can capture, analyse and action user-driven improvements, starting with the vision of involving end users in the process of service improvement:

  1. What should you measure? The vision is to improve services and improve IT customer satisfaction ratings by implementing end user driven improvements. So, IT customer satisfaction is what you need to measure.
  2. What can be measured? Standard customer satisfaction metrics like CSAT and NPS are easy to measure.
  3. Gather data. Measure customer satisfaction through online surveys sent to end users via email and other digital channels.
  4. Process data. Identify dissatisfied end users as this is where opportunities for improvement will be found.
  5. Analyse data. Dig deeper to find which issues and constraints have the greatest impact.
  6. Present and use information. Discuss and agree improvements and priorities with business stakeholders (including members of the end user community).
  7. Implement corrective action. Add priority improvements to the Service Improvement Program (SIP) to be applied.

Conclusions

IT departments that focus on technology and process metrics to target service improvements are neglecting the end user perspective and risk becoming increasingly detached from (and irrelevant to) the business. In order to sustain and improve IT customer satisfaction (and the general perception of IT as a value-provider to the business) IT needs to engage with the end user community to gather information on desired improvements and their priorities.

That means building new capabilities in order to collect and analyse feedback efficiently - a challenge for many IT organisations which are already working under extreme pressure. However, by following the seven-step improvement process, and by using simple tools that in many cases are already in place, IT can create easy-to-manage feedback loops to measure IT customer satisfaction and unearth the improvements that end users really want and need.

Martin Thompson

Martin ThompsonMartin Thompson is owner and founder of the The ITAM Review and The ITSM Review. Martin is also founder and Chair, Campaign for Clear Licensing. A contributor to the BCS Configuration Management Group and contributor to the UK itSMF UK Service Transition SIG.

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IT service management is about delivering, supporting and managing IT services in an effective and efficient way. This blog provides a platform for experts across a variety of ITSM roles to share their insight and best practice for people to embrace new ideas to improve processes and performance.

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