IT's impact on the employee and customer experiences during COVID-19 (and beyond)
By Rae Ann Bruno
As it became evident that sheltering was going to be a requirement during COVID, things changed drastically and quickly for organizations. The workforce became remote virtually overnight. Information technology (IT) was suddenly 'at the table' with the business decision makers - some for the first time - to help organizations set-up a remote workforce and service their external customers. What IT accomplished for their organizations, demonstrates the value of the ITIL 4 guiding principles and a focus on the employee and customer experiences.
ITIL 4 Guiding Principles
Focus on value
Start where you are
Progress iteratively with feedback
Collaborate and promote visibility
Think and work holistically
Keep it simple and practical
Optimize and automate
Focusing on value for remote work
First, IT focused on value with their organization's decision-makers, realizing that they had to equip their employees with hardware, access, and applications to ensure they could work from home. Together, the business and IT identified what was needed and how to make it happen quickly.
Even individual contributors were collaborating with business executives to align, plan and implement quickly. Not only did they collaborate on preparing their employees to stay productive remotely, but they also strategized, innovated, and executed new services and channels of support for their ultimate company's customers. Business partners relied on IT's technical expertise and guidance and recognized the value of what IT accomplished for the business.
Starting where you are with your resources
Next, with so little time and virtually no warning, companies had no choice but to start where they were. Some companies had already prepared their employees to work from home (past initiatives) while others quickly purchased and configured laptops. Some organizations' support teams offered additional options like text, chat, and email, to supplement existing channels. They made sure all customers got the support they needed in a challenging situation.
Many projects, such as Office 365, One Note, Google, Slack, Zoom, etc. had to be expedited. Often, projects that were expected to take 12 months were completed in three weeks! Collaboration tools, video conferencing, and virtual hiring and onboarding of new employees became the new normal.
IT thinks and working holistically with the business
Teams worked across silos in new ways, ignoring previous boundaries, working together to think and work holistically with the business. For many, innovative strategies and services had to be developed to be able to stay in business and service customers. Some projects which were 'just verbalized or listed ideas', were suddenly prioritized and implemented as quickly as possible. Apps became vital for ordering products, scheduling curbside pick-ups for retail establishments, supermarkets, and restaurants. Additional support channels were added, and technology was even used to reprogram or re- tool equipment to manufacture new products (e.g. mattress factory that started making and distributing masks for health care facilities).
Conversely, projects that may have been prioritized or in progress, were delayed if they did not pertain to the employee or customer experience, communication, and collaboration. Many technical resources were also involved with innovation efforts in preparation for the post-COVID business model.
Progressing iteratively with feedback to work safely
Some companies progressed iteratively with feedback by phasing their efforts of sending people home to work. As they learned challenges while setting up their employees, they documented, fixed quickly, and managed risk in alignment with the business needs. They brainstormed on new ways to communicate, collaborate, service customers and deliver products. Based on responses, adoption and feedback, they continually tweaked and improved in all areas. They did the same with any services and products for their ultimate customers.
Keeping it simple and practical to be adaptive
Because of the need to move quickly, organizations had to keep it as simple and practical as possible. For example, the service desk helped to prepare employees to quickly get back to productivity once they set up their home offices. IT anticipated user needs and proactively delivered self-help so people did not have to wait for the service desk's limited staff for them to be functional. This ranged from emailing answers to frequently asked questions, steps to use collaboration tools, and even easy-to-follow videos.
Optimizing and automating to support the team
At the same time, IT worked to determine where they could optimize and automate to make the transition smoother and to increase productivity. They had to analyze the best way to support the rapidly expanding need for remote access capacity. Was it best to make the necessary investments in infrastructure and network optimization or would it be best to move to cloud-based access?
Collaborating and promoting visibility to feel connected
Some support organizations who were considering using chat bots, expedited those efforts to help with the increased volume. They optimized collaboration with consistent chat or other tools that connected employees and IT.
Further examples of collaborating and promoting visibility was driven by business leaders including Human Resources who wanted to make sure employees felt valued and connected to the company, each other, and their customers. Many held virtual coffee breaks and happy hours where everyone was on video, and no work was discussed. Not only did they make the best of a tough situation, but they bonded in ways they hadn't before.
COVID-19 influence on IT incident response volume and scores, ©Happy Signals
The situation now
It is evident that IT became 'essential' to organizations during COVID-19 and performed heroics to quickly support a remote workforce and business. But what now? Although IT was able to movie quickly and adapt to needed changes, the new 'business as usual' still needs to be redefined. Expedited project timelines are not sustainable. Relaxed access policies may increase risks. An entire IT department working remotely, or having a totally remote workforce, may not fit the company culture. The business knew they could not do this without IT, so they worked closely with them and involved them in decision making and strategizing, but will they continue to do so?
There have been several high value changes that were much needed and are hopefully, here to stay. In my opinion, companies should work to keep the following improvements:
Continual value co-creation by keeping IT 'at the table': Better business decisions are made when it is a shared effort.
Multi-channel support: People want to have choices today and it increases efficiency and customer loyalty.
Collaboration: For many companies, forced collaboration broke down the siloes and helped teams to work better together and deliver better quality services.
Expanded self-help options and virtual learning: Whether employees are back in the office or still working remotely, these options help people to have what they need when they need or want to have it.
The option to work remotely: For most organizations, it has been proven that it is possible. Even traditionally in-office companies like Facebook are considering keeping remote work for some employees.
Continued focus on innovation: We have seen innovation everywhere during these unprecedented circumstances. The NFL performed their draft virtually, artists have been releasing videos or new music and have been performing virtual concerts, retail stores are offering online ordering and providing curbside pick-up for products. Now that the options have been provided, customers will want more! Innovation is a differentiator.
Soliciting and "really hearing" the Voice of the Customer: Companies had to understand the 'must haves' of their customers to stay in business and then identified 'nice to haves' to better compete in the marketplace - this is a great way to keep customers, grow customers, and succeed.
Improved Employee Experience: The employee experience has been at the forefront of many of the changes during these circumstances. Companies have asked, listened, and delivered on employee's needs. For example, Google recently provided a stipend for employees to buy home office furniture and work from home. Some companies have already decided that some roles will permanently work remotely, and many organizations have quickly improved the remote worker experience through collaboration efforts. It has been proven that better employee experiences drive higher engagement and better service delivery which results in a better customer experience.
These are just a few of the high value changes that have altered business and life as we know it. As a whole, collaboration, communication, and service delivery has improved. IT has been recognized as a co-creator of value and a business asset - not just in words - but in execution and results. The need for employees to feel connected and safe has been a priority and the customer experience has evolved through innovation and alignment of services to needs.
About the author
Rae Ann Bruno is the President of Business Solutions Training, Inc (BST), an organization focused on training and consulting in various areas of ITIL, Knowledge-centered Service (KCS), Service Desk Improvement, Internal Marketing, Metrics and ITIL Process Improvement.
Rae Ann was inducted into the HDI Hall of Fame in 2017 and was named one of Cherwell's IT Legends that same year. She holds several ITIL and HDI certifications and is a Business Associate for HDI ITIL and Support Center certification courses and consulting. She is a member of the HDI International Standards committee and is a frequent speaker at leadership and support conferences and the author of the HDI focus books, Translating IT Metrics into Business Benefits and What Have you Done for Me Lately? Creating an Internal Marketing Culture.