The Challenge of I.T. Customer Service in Higher Education

With the rapid advance of consumer technology in recent years, customer demand for new technology solutions in the workplace has increased dramatically. For support organizations, this has created new challenges to provide technology related services while maintaining security and providing greater customer service. This problem is magnified for higher education Information Technology (IT) support groups who are struggling to keep up with customer technology demand in an environment where the academic culture is very permissive but resources dedicated to change are limited. Curtis Bonk, Ph.D., Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University, states that educators have an ethical obligation to consider using technology to enable students’ learning. Higher education IT organizations have the same obligation to consider the use and support of technology for enabling both students’ learning and empowering instructors’ use of technology to achieve these outcomes. Providing good customer service while meeting this obligation represents the major challenge to higher education IT support organizations.

Success in Information Technology is typically associated with a monetary goal, either in revenue or savings achieved from the implementation of a technology project, with a new solution that is considered to be implemented on time and under budget, or with a project that has achieved the internal goals of what the IT organization desired. The customer’s input is often overlooked. IT frequently fails to ask:

“What are the benefits to the customer?”
“Did the implementation achieve what our users want?”
“If the new service is implemented, how does this change our relationship to our customers?”

Attention to these customer-centric questions, or the lack thereof, is what promotes either good or bad customer service from the IT organization. Achieving good IT customer service in higher education calls for a fundamental change in mindset toward improved communications and a focus on the people aspect of IT service—regardless of whether it’s the employee or a customer. Everyone should be considered a customer, but it takes time to build this mindset, and it definitely requires team members who have a “Servant’s Heart” approach.

Simultaneously, the organization must continue its focus on understanding new technologies and how they help anticipate and are tailored to customer needs, as well as how these technologies can contribute to the effective attainment of business goals. Being consistently responsive to customer needs via their questions, complaints, and requests determines your relationship with the customer. It is this responsive quality of your service offerings that will either enhance or degrade the relationship with your customer.

In order to achieve a greater customer relationship while providing IT customer service in higher education, our organization has focused on the needs and the care of our customers by:

Embracing a customer-centric approach to providing IT services. This is a shift from the old days of IT being perceived as dictating what services are provided. It places the focus on customer needs and how IT can partner with the business in fulfilling those needs.
Acknowledging the successes and failures of our organization’s efforts. By transparently acknowledging our organization’s strengths and weaknesses, the organization is better positioned to understand our capabilities in providing IT services.
Recognizing within our organization those areas where gaps exist in providing good service and working to improve those areas with measurable and sustained results.
Empowering our customers at every level. Our organization starts by empowering our IT team members through training, decision making, and team member effectiveness. From a higher education perspective, empowering our team members enables our University faculty and staff to instruct without technical issues and to provide a great learning experience for our students, which translates to improving the learning outcomes for our students—empowering them to achieve their educational goals and aspirations.

In summary, exercising greater responsiveness in your communications, acknowledging your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing what actions are needed to improve overall service will result in the empowerment of your customers. It is this approach to your customer that will improve your relationship with the customer, resulting in a greater customer service outcome.