Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #143

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thriving While Others Hunker Down

As firms look to improve customer loyalty and increase operational performance, a key area to consider focusing on is your service delivery organization, its practices and procedures. The article in this edition covers a best practice know as ITIL, which was designed for IT service management. However, it is just as effectively applied to external/customer-facing organizations (customer service, technical support, etc.) as it is to internal IT organizations. So, in the spirit of "not reinventing the wheel," consider tried and true best practices that are proven to be highly effective in improving the customer experience and operational performance. If you need help assessing your service management effectiveness or implementing service management practices, feel free to give us a call.

Building Better Relationships Through Best Practices
By Christopher P. Barry

The degree of firmness in your handshake with your client is dependant on a chain of relationships within your company. To add a twist to an old saying, the relationship chain "is only as strong as the weakest link."

A key link in this chain is your service organization.

In this article, I will present, from a business prospective, the benefits of using an Information Technology (IT) industry best practice framework, and how this framework will help to improve relationships with customers and provide coveted cost saving efficiencies.

IT service management is a discipline for managing IT systems, philosophically centered on the customer's perspective of IT's contribution to the business. And, these practices are just as important for internal IT organizations as they are for external/customer-facing technical service organizations. The effectiveness of service management depends on how well the service organization is organized with its processes and procedures.

To understand the state of your service management, ask the following questions.

  • Are requests sent to your service organization in the form of an email, a hallway conversation, or by placing a phone call to your favorite support person?
  • Does the service organization commit to resolving an issue within a given time frame?
  • Do you know what changes are going into production, when and how those changes may impact other services?
  • Do you know if your service organization fully understands your product offering and if they can provide the necessary system resources to meet your present and future needs?
  • Do employees in the service organization appear to understand their roles and responsibilities? A lack of understanding roles and responsibilities becomes evident when your service request continues to bounce from one support group to the next.
  • How secure is your company's data?
  • Do you have a fail-over plan in place in the event of a disaster?
  • How are costs being controlled? Is finance providing the necessary ROI on product fixes/enhancements and long term goals?

If you are not happy with the state of service management, there are ways to improve it based on best practices designed for IT which can also be adapted to external/customer facing service organizations. This article will focus on the industry best practice referred to as ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library).

ITIL has been around since the late 1980's. The IL refers to "Infrastructure Library," which is literally a library of books containing IT best practices. ITIL is flexible. You can conform to ITIL guidelines entirely, apply some of the guidelines, or implement ITIL a la carte. It can be applied in companies big or small.

ITIL originated out of the Office of Government Commerce in the UK, and has gained significant notoriety world wide. You can gauge its popularity just by searching for "ITIL" in any popular internet search engine or job posting site.

The key to good customer relationships is to align the customers' business needs and expectations with the services provided. The tasks to accomplish this are simplified with a series of steps provided below.

  1. Service Level Management: Establish a service level manager (SLM) role, to act as the liaison between the customer and the service organization. The SLM is the hub for all communications and activities that take place within your service organization. Providing an SLM is the first step to establishing good relationships with customers.
  2. Prepare a service catalog: This catalog should list, in layman's terms, all of the services that the organization provides to the customer. The catalog should include a cost for the service and (if you are hosting a technical infrastructure for the client) the name of the server(s) where the service resides (this also supports the step of organizing assets and services see #4 below).
  3. Establish SLA's: Work with the SLM to agree on an SLA for each service. The SLA should contain easy to understand language guaranteeing the availability of the service, severity level, impact to the business, agreed resolution time and escalation procedures. Escalation procedures should include a contact list such as relationship management and senior management for both customer(s) and service provider(s). Include the time period to commence the escalation and time period between escalating steps. Be sure to include 3rd party vendor "SLA's"* and escalation procedures.

    The SLM should work with the customer and the service organization to align the internal service SLA's**, (such as the call center, and subsequent tier level support groups) with the customer SLA's. For example, avoid promising the customer 2 days to fix an issue when the internal SLA adds up to 3 days.

    The SLM should then publicize the SLA's so that management and support services are aware of them. Tip: Create an incentive for meeting SLA's by integrating the SLA's into employee performance management. For example, from the SLA's, establish key performance indicators (KPI's), and establish employee performance goals based on the KPI's.
  4. Establish configuration management: Build a list or database of all items that make up services and the relationships that exist between the services. This database should also contain documents containing agreements, contracts, processes and procedures as well as a detailed list of IT assets and the relationship that exist between the assets. This list should be maintained through a change management process to ensure that the records are tracked and maintained in a controlled manner.
  5. Set up monitoring: Monitoring can be automated or manual. It's a means to determine if SLA's are being met. An example of monitoring might be to check for email service availability (e.g., in the past month, email was unavailable twice for a period of 30 minutes).
  6. Reporting: The SLM should meet with the customer on a regularly scheduled time to review the results of the monitoring. The SLM should consider implementing service improvement plans for areas of poor performance. Reporting on service improvement plans should also be included within the regularly scheduled business meetings.
  7. Periodic Reviews: Review SLA's as well as the entire service level management process. Renegotiate SLA's or processes as necessary based on the prioritized needs of the customer. A continued breach in the SLA may be due to user training needs, system issues, or end user behavior. User behavior can be influenced by charging less for running reports in the evening when system resources have more capacity. Revisit the business needs and priorities and work with the service organization to establish attainable SLA's. SLA's are meant to build relationships, not to break them.

Implementing these steps can be done gradually. Start by measuring conditions as they exist today. This will provide a baseline to compare against after applying the steps mentioned above. Go for the quick wins such as the creation of the service catalog. Then work on creating SLA's for each service.

As you make progress implementing a best practice, you should have better efficiencies resulting in cost savings, an increasingly profitable relationship and a high degree of confidence in that handshake with your client.

*ITIL uses the term "underpinning contracts" as a component of 3rd party SLA's.
**ITIL uses the term "operational level agreements" for internal SLA's.

Best Practice For Service Delivery, The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) ; The Stationary Office (TSO), PO Box 29, Norwich NR3 IGN, First published 2001 Eleventh Impression 2006.

Serving Those (Still) In Need

A group from the First Baptist Church of Hudson, NH is in Biloxi, MS this week to work with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild the Mississippi Gulf coast. This area was ravaged during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. Nearly 267,000 homes in the Gulf Coast area were either destroyed or damaged in the storm.


Much has been done, but there still remains a great need. At its peak, FEMA placed 44,000 trailers in the area to shelter storm victims. As of June, the last 7,000 occupied trailers were closed, sending hundreds of poor desperately hunting for affordable housing. Katrina's devastation has dropped off the national media radar screen, but we have not forgotten. Rebuilding the infrastructure of the Gulf Coast is an ongoing process and there is still a great deal of work to do. Habitat for Humanity currently requires 1,000 volunteers a week in areas along the Gulf Coast.

Each team member has been deeply affected by previous trips and once again, we are thrilled that we can be a part of this project. You can play a part too, by praying for the team, which is made up of: Ellie Cropley, Al Daigle, Bri Daigle, Torre Daigle, Pastor Jim Harrington, Clarice James, Mike Ledoux, Bruce Mostrom, Terry Mostrom, Tony Rice, Jayce Stella, Jessica Surro and Craig Bailey. Please pray for our protection, safe travel, good health, and ability to bring much needed relief to those who need it.

We are also seeking financial donations. The cost of the trip will be approximately $5,000. Your tax deductable donation can be made securely at:

Thanks for your support.



+ Thriving While Others Hunker Down

+ Building Better Relationships Through Best Practices

+ Serving Those (Still) In Need

+ Recommended Reading



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