SERVQUAL and ITSM

I heard about using SERVQUAL as a method to do a ‘gap analysis’ as opposed to CMMI in a comment from ITSkeptic. I can’t actually find the original place I heard it, so, it is possible I ‘mis-remember’ exactly the context. Either way I heard about it again from HazyITSM.com: here. From there, I went ‘exploring’ ITSkeptic’s site and found this entry: here. Which then lead to CoreITSM and a blog post: here.

The net of all that and this ,  thisthis, and this, is…I think I’m really starting to actually understand Ian Clayton when he says ITIL is “inside out” thinking and we (ITSM practitioners) need to be more “outside in” thinkers.

Customer versus Consumer 

The first thing we need to understand is the difference between who the ‘customer’ is and who and/or what the ‘consumer’ is.

The quick answer to this is that the ‘customer’ is the person (entity, but I’ll use ‘person’ here) who is paying for the service. They may or may not (often times will not ‘always’) be the same as the ‘consumer.’

The ‘consumer’ is the person who is using the service but may or may not (often times will not) be the same as the ‘customer.’

One analogy is that a dad goes to the pizza place and orders a pizza, pays for it, and brings it home to the family. He is the customer (of the pizza place).

His kids eat (consume) the pizza. They are the consumers. Now, the dad is also eating the pizza, so he is also, at that moment a consumer.  The kids however, were at no time, ever the customer.

Who has greater influence over what the customer spends: the consumer or the service provider?

Knowing the difference between the customer and the consumer is a big deal for ITSM. This concept becomes important when we think of things like: “Who is our SLA with?” the customer or the consumer? Or “Who is primarily calling into the Service Desk?” the customer or the consumer?

What does the customer care about? What does the consumer care about? What if they are not the same thing? They probably are not, although overlap – think of a Venn diagram.

What does that mean for IT and the services being delivered? Perhaps IT will disappoint the consumer, who often times has greater influence over the customer than IT does. It could be that this in turn leads to the customer being unhappy with the IT even if IT is doing everything the customer asked for. But what about the consumer?

Think about that dad and the pizza. The dad maybe wants:

  1. Something fast
  2. Something cheap
  3. Something with mushrooms

The kids might have wanted:

  1. Something tasty
  2. Something with sausage

Maybe some of those items overlap. Maybe the pizza is fast, cheap and has sausage and mushrooms. But it may not all that tasty (to the kids) and therefore they don’t like it and don’t want it and complain. Who has a greater influence over future purchases (spend) – the consumer (the kids) or the service provider (the pizza place)? Clearly, the consumer does.

It won’t much matter how satisfied the customer is if the consumer rejects the service.

SLA reports aren’t written with the consumer though. They are with the customer. So you can’t just produce reports that say “We’ve met our SLA for the past 9 months straight – what do you mean you’re not happy!?”

Friction Points

In SERVQUAL there is a diagram that shows 5 gaps or 5 points of friction between expectations and reality. At HazyITSM they modified the traditional SERVQUAL diagram to include an additional 2 points, for a total of 7.

Here is the diagram from HazyITSM.com

The First Point of Friction

The first gap or point of friction between expectations and reality is between the customer (the paying party) and the service provider (IT). In more detail it is between what the service provider’s leadership believes it is providing and what the customer believes he is receiving.

Back to our dad and pizza place.

  • The service provider leadership (owner of the pizza place) believes he is providing “world class fine Italian dinning at affordable prices that the entire family will enjoy!”
  • The customer (dad) believes he is getting “pizza: cheap, fast and conveniently located near my house.”

These are not necessarily the same thing – nor are they mutually exclusive. There is however a difference in approach and focus.

In ITSM, we typically have SLA’s to help bridge the gap between customer expectations/goals and what the service provider believes they are providing.

The Second Point of Friction

The second gap or friction point is internal to the service provider. It is between the service provider’s executive leadership (the pizza place owner) and managing leadership (the pizza place manager).

  • The pizza place owner may think again he is in the business of providing “world class fine Italian dinning at affordable prices that the entire family will enjoy!”
  • But the manager may believe she just needs to  “provide pizza’s and sub sandwiches quickly and at a profit with as little waste to resources as possible.”

What ITSM can use here to help smooth this point out are detailed Service Design Packages to include costing  information. If the executive leadership and the managing leadership are on the same page as to not only what to provide but how to provide at what cost there will be less confusion between what the executive leadership believes it is supplying (and what it actually is supplying) to the customer (see friction point 1).

The Third Friction Point

This friction point is between the customer and the consumer.  This is outside of the service provider, but has direct impact on the perception of quality the service provider delivers.

The customer has purchased something (in our case, a pizza) for a certain price and with certain expectations. The consumer (the kids) however have different expectations that may or may not be met with what is being provided (by the service provider).

Do the kids blame dad (maybe) or does everyone (dad and the kids) blame the pizza place? I think you know what happens…

What can ITSM do about this? I’m not really sure but one way is to reach to the ‘consumer’ and find out what their needs are. Perhaps the ‘customer’ is not even aware of the needs of the ‘consumer.’ If we have the opportunity to find out how our ‘consumers’ feel about the service or what they want from the service I believe it is in our best interest to discover what those are.

If there is a difference, and there probably is, beyond discovering it what can the IT service provider do? Perhaps a service catalog similar to this here (link provided by Charles Betz) that shows not only what is being delivered but what is not being delivered.

I am not sure that is enough, but the data must certainly be discovered and some type of discussion and strategy by the service provider must be generated to help provide the customer and the consumer what they need so they can remain (or become) happy (or satisfied).

The Fourth Friction Point

The fourth friction point is between the consumer and the managing leadership of the service provider. This is between what the consumer expects to receive and what the managing leadership believes it needs to do.

Previously we’ve stated the consumer (the kids) want:

  1. Something tasty
  2. Something with sausage

And managing leadership believes

  •  she just needs to  “provide pizza’s and sub sandwiches quickly and at a profit with as little waste to resources as possible.”

What the managing leadership is doing may match up to internal service provider goals/objectives/budgets but not really meet what the consumer’s expectations/desires.

In the IT world, this may be the caller (consumer) to the Service Desk being dissatisfied but the Service Desk is meeting “hold time” and “1st time resolution” metrics. Which really means what to the consumer? Probably not much.

What can ITSM do about this? If points 1 – 3 are being taken care of they will have direct impact on this. Gathering data about this friction point (or gap) will help illuminate issues in point 3.

Is this even a friction point that can be solved directly?

The Fifth Friction Point

This friction point is internal to the service provider. This deals with the difference between what the managing leadership wants to do and what is actually being done.

At our pizza place, the managing leadership may want (and specify) that x amount of sausage is used on a pizza and that the pizza is cooked at x degrees for x amount of time. However, what is really being done is x-y or even x+y.

This seems to be the most focused on area from what I’ve seen in ITSM blogs and discussions. It also seems to be the most ‘guilty’ of the ‘inside out’ thinking.

It seems to me this area is mostly around Change, Release, Evaluation, Configuration, Event, and Problem management. All very important things and certainly can drive up quality – but if this is all you focus on, are you really focusing on the right things? Are you getting the most out of your ITSM dollar?

The Sixth Friction Point

Again, this is internal to the service provider. This is between what is being marketed/communicated about what the service provider can do and what it can actually do. This communication is going to the customer and the consumer.

This could be ‘false advertising’ or misleading information or just plain failure between either the communication effort to understand what is actually being delivered or the delivery team to actually do what it is supposed to (see point 5).

If this is horribly wrong (or missing) this can negatively impact customer and consumer perception.

For ITSM – the simple service catalog (as shown earlier) is an example of communications – we presume however that it matches what is actually being delivered.

What happens though if you don’t communicate at all? Then I suppose your customer and consumer will have no ‘boundaries’ set as to what you actually provide. That is probably not a good thing.

The Seventh Friction Point

This is internal to the consumer. So, like the 3rd point, this is outside of the service provider (but that point dealt with the customer and consumer, this one deals only with the consumer).

According to this paper (A Conceptual Model of Service Quality and its Implications for Future Research) “consumers typically rely on experience properties when evaluating service quality.”

What are “experience properties”? They are: “attributes that can only be discerned after or during consumption.”

So, what was the transaction experience like for the consumer? This means the consumer is not typically evaluating service quality on how costly or inexpensive it is, or long term ROI or VOI (these may all be concerns of the ‘customer‘ though) but how their immediate transaction with the service provider was.

For the kids it was “how did this pizza taste?” or “was there sausage on the pizza?” – they don’t care or take in to consideration “This is the only pizza place within 15 miles of the house” or “This pizza is very affordable.” That is for the customer to care about.

The expectation is for “tasty pizza” the perceived perception is “this pizza is/is not tasty.”

According to the previously mentioned paper “When expected perception is greater than perceived perception then the perceived quality is less than satisfactory and will tend towards totally unacceptable.”

Or to put it another way, when you perceive to get less than you expected, you are not happy. It doesn’t matter what ‘reality’ may be – what matters is what you thought you should get and what you thought you actually received.

What can ITSM do about this? I believe that focus on points 1 and 3 can really help with this more than say focus on point 5.

Soft skills and helping IT people understand that the transaction during the delivery of the service is as important (and maybe more?) to overall service quality than meeting SLA’s such as “Avg talk time” or “Mean time to repair.”

Remember, the consumer has more influence over the customer than the service provider does.

ITSM and Service Quality

If ITSM (or ITIL processes) is being fully done ‘right’ then it is quite helpful. This is everything from defining what should we provide (a pizza), how we should provide it (with these specifications), at what costs (using x items at x usage rate with x skill sets at x bill rate)  – the Service Strategy/Service Design – to building the pizza using these documented procedures, cooking the pizza, verifying the pizza meets specifications then packaging the pizza – Service Transition, to actually delivering the pizza to the customer (or consumer), and responding to any issues (Incidents/Problems) – Service Operations. 

But none of that really focusing in on an important area and that is the difference between the customer and the consumer and trying to understand the consumer and their perceived service quality.

It would seem that you could make the pizza to exacting customer standards but still end up with an unhappy customer, if ultimately, the consumers reject the pizza.

The point here then is – figure out who your customer is, who your consumer is, and the differences between what your customer wants (is paying for) and what your consumer believes she should get (expectation). Then you need to help the customer and consumer get closer together (sure, you may think this isn’t your job, but hopefully I’ve pointed out to you that you won’t have a job if the consumer and customer are not aligned) and then manage those expectations. You need to carefully track the delta between the delivered service perception and the delivered service expectation of the consumer.

If you are doing all these things, you will be more successful than if you forget all of that and instead implement a CMDB and make wonderful reports on Incidents and Problems and Change records.

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