The quality of business relationships is based on much more than the quality of the products and services we deliver. If we're going to improve the relationship between IT groups and the people who consume our technology, we're going to have to start thinking more carefully about their experience of us as well.
As engineers, we tend to believe that the quality of our products should speak for itself, but this never really works out too well. First, we are not merely technology providers. The experience of working with us is part of our value. Second, the consumers of our products can't really directly determine the quality of our products. If they knew enough to judge the technology, they probably wouldn't need us at all -- they'd be experts themselves. So they judge by the quality of the experience they have working with us.
But there is no single experience of working with us. As technology has pervaded almost every area of our enterprises, the number of ways in which we interact with our consumers has expanded significantly. There are three dominant types of experiences that IT consumers have, each with different expectations and perceived values.
Daily operations. Business functions like finance, marketing and logistics have incorporated technology into virtually every aspect of their work. The systems we have purchased, customised and written enable them to meet their daily objectives. And most of the people working in those functions live in front of screens as much as we do.
Every day, even when things are going perfectly, they experience our technology and have feelings about how it affects them. Sometimes that technology feels like a tool that enables them; at other times, it feels like an obstacle constraining them.
But when something stops working, they feel frustrated. And when they contact us for support, they are already upset. How we handle their emotions at that moment colors how they think of us in every circumstance.
So how we handle support affects how they feel about us generally.
Operational adaptation. Beyond everyday work, IT consumers want us to help them improve their operations. Whether they are trying to increase efficiency, consolidate functions or adapt to new processes, they need to change how the daily operations use technology.
We help them adapt through projects. The goal of nearly every project is operational change, and the experience of working with us on prioritizing, planning and implementing these changes is distinct from their experience of daily operations.
Strategic change. In the past, business functions didn't really think about IT when considering strategic transformation. We were included only as an implementation afterthought. But as business models have become more dependent on technology as a fundamental enabler, we have (or should have).
The expectations of how we participate strategically are quite distinct from operations or adaptation. But how our consumers feel about our services at lower levels colors how they feel about us at higher levels. It's not uncommon for consumers to wonder, "If they can't fix my laptop, how can they contribute to strategic planning?"
To improve our relationships with our consumers, we need to understand the context of the value we are offering and the expectations that come with that type of value.
Glen is the author of books on managing IT staff