Friday, 28 March 2014

Talk Talk Care Not Not

Those of us who work in the service management industry are equally cursed and blessed. I get so excited seeing excellent customer service in action, both when it is driven by the passion of individuals and when technology is harnessed to deliver a great customer interaction.

And then there are experiences like today's with TalkTalk.

I have no idea whether the fault we've been suffering for the last few days lies within TalkTalk's control to fix or if it is something to do with our end of the line. What I do know is that the experience of interfacing with them has been difficult, disappointing and  so far a depressing  dead-end.

A couple of days ago our phone line suddenly became very, very noisy. So much so that it wasn't possible to hold a conversation with anyone who rang us. It sounded like someone had rung our number and not hung up, there was electrical interference, or there was an issue with the wireless channels, which in these days of cordless devices can be a problem.

If I'm honest in the past TalkTalk and BT, who provide the service between them, have generally been quite proactive and they also provide simple to use diagnostic tools. So if there is a problem at the local exchange it is normally fairly easy to identify and to know that Talk Talk are aware of it and taking action.

On this occasion though their on line diagnostic tools showed nothing wrong.

That is when the fun started.

Many of you will know and understand that I'm normally a busy man. If I have to take a day off to deal with domestic issues it has a knock on effect.

Foolishly I presumed that starting the diagnostic process at around 8.30am would mean that by around 9.30am we would either have the problem fixed or know what the next steps were.

Silly me.

It turns out that despite having a "Report & Repair" page on their website TalkTalk don't actually provide the facility to do either of those things. The only mechanism open to report something is via an on line chat with an agent.

There are times when I find that sort of option really useful. If I have a simple query for instance.

It isn't useful when:
  • The chat session keeps getting ended 
  • Every time you log back in the agents ask questions with no apparent connection to the previous session
  • The chat session keeps getting ended 
  • Sometimes you get asked security questions, sometimes you don't
  • The chat session keeps getting ended 
  • The agent appears to have no record of your previous call despite having a reference number
  • The chat session keeps getting ended 
  • The agent takes no account of information you've given them
  • The chat session keeps getting ended 
  • The expectation is you will get back to them, rather than them proactively telling you what their tests have/have not found.
Of course like many organisations Talk Talk have a Twitter account, @talktalkcare and to be fair they were quick to pick up that I was unhappy. Less quick to get back to me though despite knowing my contact details and the call reference number. less quick as in "Still haven't done so" OK they have now, but far too late and the damage is done.

I could go on and list other things about the customer experience that have been deeply disappointing,  but what would be the point? I've already wasted a day of precious annual leave trying to sort this out, I still don't have a working phone, and obviously we've already decided to change phone line provider.

But the underlying messages are key:

Customers accept that things break, but they expect the experience of fixing failure to be customer centric. They understand the capability of  CRM tools and they recognise when they are being asked pointless questions or dealing with an agent who is following a poorly written script. They also expect faults to be fixed with minimal friction on their part. We accept that technical diagnostic work has to happen, but where possible we expect that to take place behind the scenes and for the technical teams to understand when and how to interface with the customer.

Above everything else customers want providers to understand the impact the fault is having on their lives.

You know at the end of this saga, which I'm still waiting for , it is quite possible if not even probable,  that the fault itself will turn out to be nothing to do with Talk Talk, but the way they've responded to it is how I will, judge them as a provider.

Unfair? Possibly

Understandable?  Definitely.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Irrelevant in the Room

So much is happening in the ITSM world that I really don't know what to post about next.

Now I'm aware to many of you this level of activity might not be visible.

Not only that but as I accept my inevitable journey into middle age, and as a result I  find myself agreeing with Rob England on more and more topics, I also find myself wondering how much we are actually achieving.

Perhaps I'm simply too old and cynical to be a revolutionary.

Yeah, B******ks to that. There is a reason I was one of the first people to suggest Punk ITSM as a movement. It is why I was so pleased to receive Charles Arasujo's invite to be part of RevNet that went on to spawn SM Congress, even if I couldn't get to the event because of that boring four letter word work.

But I do feel that we need a healthy dose of realism about where we are and where we are going.

So here follows my state of the ITSM address for 2014.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here not to repeat cliches or to promote agendas but to bury them in a sea of vanities, for all our previous versions of ITSM profundity have lighted skeptics the way to dusty irrelevancy.

Don't you just hate faux profundity? There is a lot of it about.

Twenty years ago people sat down to address a key issue. That was that operational IT didn't benefit from the sexy frameworks and methodologies available to developers. So ITIL was created from the spare rib of a somnambulist business analyst.

It is easy to presume that ITIL was created out of thin air. It wasn't. There were people who had been running very effective, well controlled  data centres who realised that operational IT had three basic challenges:
  • Being relevant to the business
  • Responding to changing business requirements
  • Not forgetting the requirement to operate a controlled environment.
None of those basic issues have gone away, but to listen to some people you would think that  what really matters is what they are currently getting excited about. and nothing else.

We need to be clear that BYOD. wearable IT, the cloud and big data do not alter any of these fundamentals.

Get real.

The future doesn't lie in a presentations about the internet of things, or wearable tech  What they have to say can be truly interesting, insightful and intelligent, but it doesn't alter the basic issues we have to deal with.

IT exists to serve the business.
The business thinks we fail to support them.

That is the issue.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Post Pink Ponderings

It seems that many of us who were at Pink14 this year have been in a reflective mood since returning, and that those reflections have some common themes.

Sophie Danby has been questioning what it means to be an ITSM Community whilst Charles Araujo has been putting into words an overview of the discussions we had about the future of SMCongress. Those of us who were in the Pink Think Tank are thinking about how we can make the content we discussed useful to a wide audience,   and there has been a wider debate on the Back2ITSM group and on Rob's blog  about how itSMF International can be reinvigorated by giving people access to material that is currently hidden in plain sight.

I think these different discussions are extremely important for the future of both ITSM and ITIL. Not because I believe the future lies in crowd-sourcing but because I believe the future depends on getting three things right:
  • A career structure that keeps people engaged with ITSM in the long term
  • ITSM approaches, including ITIL, being driven by market needs
  • A professional body for those working in ITSM in whatever role
This actually mirrors pretty much what I experienced many years ago when Internal Audit began to develop as a profession in its own right. Of course being IT people we would much rather reinvent the wheel than look outside IT for guidance.

How does this relate back to those post-Pink discussions?

We might as well start with the Pink conference itself. I've said many times that all the events we go to have their own sweet spot. Pink probably has several sweet spots. It manages to reach out to a wide range of participants, delivers a variety of content, and, perhaps this is the key, it actively reaches out to engage with participants, speakers, and , thanks to the streaming of keynotes and the encouragement of independent SocMed content it even reaches out to those who were not in the room.

There is a reason that so many of  us believe that Pink is the once-in-a-lifetime-must-go-to-event-for ITSM and to be honest it isn't because they get the best speakers and have the best programme. It is because they encourage an environment in which networking and the discussion of ideas, both theoretical and practical is not only encouraged but actually hard to avoid. Compare that to the many conferences I go to where in  all honesty the audience remains un-engaged and unchanged.  I'm not recommending this, but you could go to Vegas the week is Pink is on, checking in on the Saturday, enjoy all the attractions of Vegas during the daytime and then in the evenings sit in on the discussions that take place in the two piano bars and you would take away an awful lot of ITSM goodness.   

Despite of, or perhaps even because of, Pink's commercial nature it actually feels more like what I used to experience at conferences for Chief Internal Auditors.  This is a meeting of professionals who believe in what they are trying to achieve, who are open to learning in many forms and who are given the resources and support to help them do things better when they go back to the office on Monday morning.

The ITSM chattering classes on SocMed that are such an easy target for Rob's blog love talking about the ITSM community. I think there are some good reasons for that, not least because the nature of ITSM means that it attracts people who, mostly, genuinely care about other people and want to share not just knowledge but also emotional support. However I believe that it is a red-herring. We won't make progress until we stop thinking

How do we engage the wider ITSM community?

and start thinking

How do we make ITSM a profession?

So, how do we make ITSM a profession?

You'll find lots of definitions out there but let me suggest a few things from my days as a professional internal auditor.
  • A professional body membership of which is effectively amnadatory
  • A career path that includes multiple options 
  • A body of knowledge
  • Exams that are controlled by the professional body
  • Professional standards that allow an outsider to judge whether a professional is acting in accordance with good practice
  • Support from higher education
  • A code of ethics and a disciplinary body 
Perhaps here we have a role for SMCongress. Perhaps it should be the catalyst for the switch to becoming a true profession?

I await your thoughts.