Why CIOs should spend a day on the helpdesk

Customer experience for CIOs

Ever had an experience that was less then you expected and then the customer contact team left you seething? Perhaps it is time for the CIO to return and spend a day on the helpdesk.

Personally I’ve just had a series of phone calls with an NBN provider to activate my new account. It has been 10 days and still my fibre connection is dormant. The end of each call involved this exchange:

Customer service rep: “Have we resolved your question today?”

David: “Please don’t ask me this question!”


As CIOs we have accountability for many facets of IT, and service delivery is a key customer-facing dimension. Only a few CIOs that have had any direct experience in manning a helpdesk — but this is the front door and face for the IT team.

How much attention do you place on monitoring this channel? From my own experience there is much that needs your attention as the CIO, and this is always part of the monthly operational update that I insist on.

My mantra always is ‘staff respect what you inspect’. Be sure that you are setting appropriate metrics for your customer support team.

A world-class helpdesk

Some years ago I led the establishment of a regional helpdesk across more than a dozen countries. As this was being formulated I referred to the Help Desk Institute and used its world-class metrics as my target.

For a period of seven or so months, the new business partner struggled to meet each of the 10 metrics that I had set. In some months, just one was missed while the next month a different target was not achieved.

Finally, in one magic month every metric was exceeded. I realised, of course, that I had set very high, ‘world class’ targets and this was just going to be a once-off.

However in the process, we were building a culture of continuous improvement. Moreover it created a team that was focused on a world-class customer experience.

Walk in their shoes

It is always best to try to avoid using the executive helpdesk and instead understand what it is like for the normal staff in the enterprise. I once worked in a large organisation that had an incredible ratio of 1:30. That’s right: One IT support person per 30 executives!

For other staff, the ratio was 1:300. Even though no one complained to me about this, I knew that this was inappropriate and had to be adjusted.

To walk in their shoes, the best thing for a CIO to try is to be rostered onto the helpdesk and listen in on calls. It is impractical and also not going to be effective to actually have the CIO take calls (poorly), but one to two hours of listening should give a good sense of the customers and what they expect.

Keep the customer satisfied

Many IT shops use a customer satisfaction survey; it may be an annual event or more regular. A better approach is to randomly select for callback a set number of customers for customer satisfaction feedback.

Usually three or four questions will be sufficient to get the required feedback and take the pulse of how well your customers are feeling with the level of service. This informal survey along with the more formal survey can provide a good indicator if you need to make any adjustments.

For some, having the customers ‘happy’ may constitute an overinvestment and thus the aspiration is not to be perfect.  There are times, however, that you want to market IT and use customer service to promote this agenda.

An example is the use of the ‘tech bar’ concept.

Tech bars

Recently, I established an IT concierge service across multiple sites for a significant enterprise.  The team was located near a lunch/coffee breakout area and meeting rooms. 

This tech bar was broadly modelled on the Apple Store/Geek Bar concept and provided service to all staff and contractors that walked up for assistance.

In essence, it provided ‘hands on’ support and coaching in use of technology – laptops, iPads, iPhones etc. At the enterprise there was a focus on the use of the extensive audio visual equipment and the tech bar provided great support for this new media technology.

Interestingly, even though it dealt with fewer requests than the traditional helpdesk, the duration of the consultations ended up being longer. The more personal approach was very well received by our business partners.

Drive the customer experience

The CIO will be required to drive more and more the overall digital customer experience. That’s a great agenda to embrace, but for hygiene reasons it is ideal that this starts with some focus also on the traditional IT service stack.

This is a classic case of driving in a two-speed future, and we have to get our own teams to embrace a new, improved customer experience.

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