How to use rapid communications to meet customer service goals using SLAs

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Teon Rosandic

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

IT leaders and engineers certainly have their hands full with ever more sophisticated internal customers who are more empowered and easily disappointed than ever.  They are placing greater demands to “get it right” and deliver immediate access to information, products and services.

End users want to know not just that a service or product will meet their expectations, but that IT will deliver first-class, instant customer service.

At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract.  Conceptually, SLAs focus on accountability and liability, and over time communication about issues and outages has become the norm.  As issues in IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency is as critical as the service license itself.

It’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected businesses depend on cloud-based services. This environment also translates to internal customers in the IT organisation, where such expectations are at an all time high. Imagine your corporate Internet connection went down. Employees would be without email, the web and all the services they rely on, including CRM, marketing automation, financial tracking and much more.

One-third of Service Provider Customers report that just a five-minute outage would cause a large percentage of employees to be unproductive, according to a Cloud VPS  Hosting report.

The scramble to remain productive during an outage would certainly lead to an avalanche of questions, notifications and complaints from employees – exactly the sort of activity that prevents IT from taking action more than helps it.  A more proactive approach that sent notifications from IT to employees would both give IT more time to devote to resolving issues and create better relations between IT and the company at large.

You can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because employees experience these outages immediately and in every area of their work.  They want immediate answers; and if you don’t send them, you’ll get the avalanche.

Upping the Communications Ante

If your employees are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and most have tablets, but by 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, according to ABI Research.  But a smart phone is one person’s lifeline and another person’s albatross.  It’s not enough to just communicate.  You have to communicate to the devices your audience checks.

With more devices linked to the cloud, employee expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket.  IT will have to answer to this demand. It is telling that 82%of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson. For clients of the IT organization, time to resolution is even more important because that’s when they can be productive again.

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated interactions. If companies put this approach in place before any problems occur, then they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time during crucial moments.

The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audiences. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit them best and then keep them regularly informed throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.

The targeting should be much more specific than just preferred devices. Depending on the situation, maybe not everyone needs to be notified.  So it is a good practice to targeted recipients as well. Targeting recipients will also reduce the number of responses IT is likely to receive. According to the 2014 Zendesk Global Benchmark, IT departments receive an average of 33 alerts per day – on top of routine notifications. Sending too many irrelevant alerts can make people inside and outside IT stop paying attention, a phenomenon called alert fatigue.

So if IT gets notified to fix an issue at one employee’s workstation, it makes more sense to alert the affected employee than it does to notify the entire company. As IT adopts a more strategic role in helping companies achieve strategic goals and meeting financial targets, they need to be cognizant of being more than just a fix-it shop or just keeping the lights on.

To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.

Executives should be asking themselves – how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” service? How can rapid communication help me meet their productivity goals? If one or all of these answers involves the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate end user satisfaction.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

3 thoughts on “How to use rapid communications to meet customer service goals using SLAs”

  1. “service license agreements”?

    What I actually wanted to comment on is “Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. ” no it isn’t. In fact I’d go so far as to say it has nothing to do with it. We’ve spent decades evolving the roles and processes which give us a separation of duties so that one team deals with communications and user support while another team deals with resolution.

    Communication mechanisms are useful of course, but as a vendor of such tools you don’t help your cause by over-hyping them.

    1. Hi Rob,
      That’ a great point and precisely what ITIL prescribes – separate of roles. But I guess you have to evaluate the different types of communications which Teon has identified:

      – IT service desk comms to service recipients (customers and/or staff)
      – IT service desk comms to IT responders — the staff which needs to resolve issues
      – IT comms between one or more responders
      – IT comms between the responders and the relevant stakeholders (management, executive teams, account owners)

      In order to speed up MTTResolution, Teon proposes that all of these communications can and ideally should happen automatically and fluidly within a communications channel which is accepted as “normal” by each stakeholders in the process (where each stakeholder may have different preferences). In many environments, the communications are manually driven, loosely targeted, ad-hoc, and primarily email-only.

      The last two bullet points I mentioned above are especially critical to resolving issues by reducing MTTResponse and getting everyone collaborating ASAP. In my experiences, once the responders are correctly identified and dispatched to own the resolution, many other circumferential vendors and internal IT staff need to get involved which further slows down ultimate resolution, unless intelligent communications can gather them all together in a timely manner.

      Full disclosure here – I work with Teon but have also been a technology practitioner within large enterprise environments. My experiences are, unfortunately, that by orienting around strict processes and narrow roles, we’ve built artificial silos between roles. And the walls grow higher when when multiple vendors and outsourcers are involved . These walls are what make it more difficult to quickly communicate and bring people together to get the business humming along again.

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