AuthorCXI Peter

Deconstructing IT Customer Service

Some years ago I attended a talk given by the BAFTA-winning documentary maker Adam Curtis. You may have encountered some of his work on the BBC. His documentaries include All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace and more recently, Bitter Lake.

If you haven’t seen these, they’re well worth the time; you’ll find them highly informative and challenging.

At this event he talked about ideas that have become so much a part of the world around us that we cease to notice them – in effect we take them as self-evident truths. He used the phrase “the water in which we swim” to describe this. I think he was trying to convey the notion that an aquatic organism is oblivious to water in the same way that we’re oblivious to air despite the fact that we (and the fish) are surrounded by the stuff.

For this reason it may sometimes be beneficial to take a hold of these assumptions (or social constructions as sociologists would term them) and under examination we may find that they are not quite of the shape that our lazy heuristics suggest.

Take the phrase customer service. It is no doubt used many thousands of times a day in corporate environments. In IT departments, service managers will talk endlessly about “providing excellent customer service”. However, if one day you stopped one of these with that easy phrase between their lips, and asked them what it meant, they would probably regard you as a crazy person. Nevertheless, I have an inkling that many do not fully comprehend the real meaning of the term.

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Kill Your Service Desk

My recent LinkedIn connections might know me solely as a SQL data specialist. There are however, many former colleagues on that social media platform from earlier in my career, who will be aware of the years of graft that I put in as an IT support, IT service and IT management functionary. I also have a few connections from my time spent drowning in academic papers at the Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield.

Quite a number of these contacts may be unaware that over the last five years I’ve spent a portion of my spare time writing, blogging and tweeting about the ways in which IT service work is organised and how it might be improved. In this I bring together my commercial experience and my work psychology education, as well as a good dollop of creative and maverick nature. I’m mainly critical of the status quo, and try to concentrate on looking ahead to benefits that may accrue from new models of work.

This writing activity began in 2009. The early pieces are remarkably similar to the stuff I am churning out now, although they were a little unformed and perhaps heavy on the work psychology. However, quite early on I hit a nerve (evidenced by the popularity of the post) when I suggested that we were witnessing the slow death of ITIL. Since then I’ve been arguing that the entire concept of ITSM is problematic in relation to good human service.

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The Process Age of IT Service is Over

In the years before I became a specialist in all things data, I worked as an IT service functionary.  I still have a finger in that pie today, talking at conferences about ITSM and (to a much lesser extent) ITIL. I have a fondly-remembered superior to thank for introducing me to ITIL in the 1990s. He was a (somewhat maverick) IT manager at a prestigious London firm and I was the newly promoted IT support manager. “Get yourself on Noel Bruton‘s IT manager course”, he said. “It’s brilliant”.

I did and it was. I picked up numerous shiny pearls of wisdom from the no-nonsense Mr Bruton. He also mentioned en passant an IT support framework called ITIL, which I’d not heard of at the time. When I returned to my desk I spent some time researching the subject and eventually bought the two OGC volumes – Service Support and Service Delivery. I was, it must be said, impressed. It immediately became clear to me that the structure and certainty which ITIL promised would be irresistible to the industry. I subsequently found myself proselyting to all who would listen about the future approach to IT service.

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