As the time to make my call neared, I continued to go through the plan in my head.
“Be pleasant,” I said to myself, “tell them the story, be clear and precise, and respond to any rudeness with heaps of honey. No matter what happens — DON’T GET MAD.”
The clock struck 9:23. “Give them until 9:30 so they’ve had their coffee and settled in. Don’t be the first one to call them — they always hate the person who makes them start working.”
Tick, tick, tick. I knew the call would either clear up the problem or, five minutes hence, I’d be neck-deep in a tar pit of bureaucratic red tape from which escape would be most painful. You see, I was about to call THE STATE, the government, Big Brother. The first few minutes were all I’d feared:
- The person who picked up said I’d reached the wrong department (though I called the number and extension on the letter I’d received).
- The person he transferred me to said she had no idea why I was transferred to her.
- Whatever department she transferred me to must have been enjoying their second cup of coffee, as neither a human nor voicemail picked up.
After starting the exercise all over again, I finally reached someone who was reasonably pleasant and did help me.
The experience reminded me of one I’d had years ago. In order to teach a weekend creative writing course at a public school, I was required to be fingerprinted at the local police department. I made an appointment with one of the officers and showed up on time, only to be told by a dispatcher infinitely irritated by my presence that the officer in question was not there. After waiting 30 minutes, my next inquiry was met with a scream:
“COME BACK TOMORROW!!!!!” he yelled through the bullet proof glass window.
Instead of taking him up on his offer, I penned a scathing description of my treatment and proceeded to fax it to the Chief of Police, Mayor and everyone else I could think of. A few hours later, I received a personal call and apology from the Chief.
“There is something very wrong when a police department employee thinks they have a right to speak to people like that,” I said.
Thinking back on it, and considering my recent experience, I realize the condition these folks are afflicted with (arrogance) is one common to the type of organization in which they work (the monopoly). In the case of calling the state, I knew that if things went south, I couldn’t call another state, I’d have to make do with the folks on the other end of that line. Oftentimes, there is only one person in a government agency who deals with a specific type of issue, meaning if you don’t get along with “Suzy,” you’re sunk. The problem is — Suzy knows it and, unfortunately, often acts like it.
At the head of your organization’s IT departments, you are, in effect, the state — you are the Police Department, you are a monopoly. Your users/customers know it and your staff knows it. It is your job to make sure they don’t act like it. But one reminder a year won’t do. Just like a neglected lawn, the monopoly not on guard against monopolistic behavior will see it spawn and spread.
Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of CIOs about the concept and associated terminology of customer service. As much as your application strategy, embedding a true sense of the vendor/customer relationship is critical to your department’s long term success. In a soon-to-be-published interview with Banner Health CIO Michael Warden, he expressed the idea that IT departments must treat their “customers” as if they had a choice of where to obtain services.
Knowing how it feels to be served by those who know you have no choice (and act like it), I couldn’t agree more.