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I can't get no IT end-user satisfaction

IT jobs require a certain amount of finesse and patience. Balancing the needs of application owners and workers while communicating effectively is a difficult, yet manageable, task.

Whether you're a janitor emptying trash cans or a CEO trying to keep a company profitable, your job is built around serving others.

The IT field is no different, and often the customers we serve are diverse, due to the prolific use of technology in enterprises. An IT manager can feel like a juggler trying to maintain high end-user satisfaction while still keeping the lights on. As new technologies and opportunities arise, that juggler has no choice but to keep balls, chainsaws and fire sticks in the air without dropping a single one.

There are ways to keep IT end users satisfied, while looking after the wellbeing of the IT environment's infrastructure.

Application owners are your friends

If you're lucky, a user-facing application has one application owner or a group of them. These users have a vested interest in their software and want to interact with the IT organization.

App owners also often make an agreement around their software before talking to IT professionals. The team is then left to determine what agreement was actually made, such as a new add-on or upgrade that has different specifications and requirements to the existing system, and then make it happen or risk a decline in IT customer satisfaction from the very people that made the change.

App owners might also raise app issues with vendor support instead of their IT department. Users go back and forth with vendor support -- perhaps for weeks or months -- trying to diagnose problems with no resolution. However, if they had gone to the IT department, senior staff members often could have diagnosed issues quickly through general troubleshooting skills, then passed the information on to the vendor for a quick resolution.

To improve end-user satisfaction and avoid long, frustrating issues, catch up with the application owners, even on an infrequent basis, to ask about current issues with the software and catch murmurings of new ideas. Collaborating with application owners can be your window of opportunity to offer opinions and suggestions, and ask a few leading questions to find out more. Make it clear that you are not looking to take over their application in any way, but that you're more than willing to support them with expertise from IT. That arrangement is a lot easier and more beneficial than trying to help after the damage has been done.

Collaboration software keeps teams in touch

Anything that helps with communication without disrupting workflow will help keep projects on track, and IT end users satisfied. Collaboration tool options include Yammer, Skype for Business, Slack and HipChat, among others. Choose whichever works best for the group of people who need to inform each other of events and work together to solve issues.

Workers make challenging IT end users

The people who keep the business running are another group of end users for the IT department. In direct money-making and customer-facing positions, in IT, and in other parts of the company, these workers need an IT staff that supports them so they can do their job.

These IT end users have a range of technical requirements and needs, and some will conflict with others. Working out what makes these customers happy overall should help IT's perception within the company.

Dealing with workers on an individual or small group scale is different than dealing with the entire workforce at once. When an individual raises anything with IT, ask yourself one simple question: "What are they trying to achieve?" If you can't answer this, then you need to ask the IT customer in so many words. There's little point in doing exactly what they asked if they are not actually asking for what they need.

"Can I have a new laptop?" may be a simple, "No, you already have a six-month old laptop" answer, but there is going to be a driving force behind their question. Helping users help themselves is a great way to provide value. Maybe a certain application is running slowly or they've decided to give someone else their old laptop and need a replacement. There's always a proper answer to what they want to achieve, but it can require a bit of digging.

For the workforce overall, there are a few key points for IT customer satisfaction -- or lack thereof. "Getting in the way" is often what productive workers see when IT makes necessary changes and outages, so spend time communicating IT's planned activities for the near and distant future, and why they are happening.

Will the email servers be down over the weekend? Send the outage notice out to all staff members who may care, as well as a brief and easy-to-understand reason as to why the outage is happening. If there's a logical and reasonable reason, then your IT customer is more likely to understand and accept the situation. Of course, if there's a way to avoid making a service unavailable, that's always preferred.

Never expect each staff member to want the same experience and communication as the last. Adapting to situations is another key to better IT performance perception. Some workers want to know absolutely nothing about an IT problem -- they just want it fixed. Others want the full story along with how it will be prevented. Be short and sweet with information, and provide extra information to those who ask.

Communication is key

Many of the above statements are drastically generalized, but they should be a good starting point for improving IT end-user satisfaction and gauging if there's a different approach or angle you can take when dealing with users.

Communication is the key to keeping IT end users informed and happy. You can't keep all end users happy all the time, so aim to get as close to that as possible, while doing what's best for the business overall. If you aren't sure what that is in a given situation, then ask. IT doesn't need to be the decision maker in all technology-related situations -- and often shouldn't be, even though it usually has a pretty good idea of what the best decision is. Go up the chain to get a definitive answer in writing -- and be sure to advise on the situation with your recommendations. There will always be compromises, but informing IT end users and stakeholders of the risks and persuading them toward the most manageable outcome is one of the most important skills a senior person in IT can learn.

Next Steps

Show diplomacy with end users, mitigate vendor risk

Business value dashboards pay off

In their shoes: Monitoring the end-user experience

This was last published in June 2016

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What tips would you pass on to other IT pros who must manage customer expectations?
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In my observations, if a company enforces metrics before value, quality of service tends to go down. For example, if an IT support specialist's performance is measured by the number of tickets processed they have an incentive to drive the number up.
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This good article shows that it's not the mere functionality that matters. Too often, as a tester, I see that the problems that would certainly annoy or frustrate the users are considered unimportant. Then there are the consequences that the Support team has to deal with.
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I have seen too many projects end up with unhappy users. It happens when all parties are not involved in the design. What may seem like a good idea can actually make a users job more time consuming and or difficult. This tension and resentment is not what you want when rolling out a new application. Get feedback fro all parties that will be effected before the finale design is completed. You will have a much happier user base. 
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Totally agree with Todd - get feedback from ALL relevant parties. Often one BA is not enough. That person could be an idiot. You don't want to spend 18 months building something according to what that person's asked you to do, only to find out that it's not what the users want. Been there, it sucks!
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