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Director of First Impressions Wed 21 Mar 07

HandshakeRecently I had occasion to visit the headquarters of the large company here in Houston.  Stepping off of the elevator I came to the reception desk on which there were 2 signs.  One sign listed the name of the receptionist.  The second sign listed her "title", Director of First Impressions.  What a refreshing display of the realization that the impression people form of your organization starts with there very first contact regardless of who it is.  It was obvious that the receptionist understood that.  She was very professional and efficient in answering incoming calls while greeting visitors.  At the same time through her demeanor you felt like you had her attention and that she (and by extension her company) was happy to see you there.  She (and thereby her company) made a great first impression.

Every IT department has a number of Directors of First Impressions that are more commonly know as Help Desk technicians or PC Support technicians.  These are the folks that have the most direct contact with our customers and like it or not our customers form their impression of IT based on their interactions with these folks.

How important is this?  Well try imagine going in to the CEO's office to convince him to fund a new IT related project right after he or she finished talking with a PC Support or Help Desk tech about a problem they were having.  The way your IT representatives dealt with the problem, communicated, and presented themselves all create an impression that is applied to all of IT.  The CEO will likely judge your credibility in regard to delivering on the proposed system objectives based upon how well your representatives "delivered" when servicing their PC.

So what kind of impression of IT are you creating with your customer facing personnel?  It may not be as favorable as you think.  Go out and talk with your customers and ask them what kind of impression IT has created for itself.  Listen in to a call from one of your customers to the Help Desk.  The intent is not to catch your employee doing something wrong.  Rather you should do this to see what areas you need to work on.

Impressions are often made on little things.  The tone of the Help Desk tech's voice when they receive a call,  whether or not they seem truly interested in solving the problem all build toward a particular impression.  A PC Support tech saying something like, "This is strange.  I've never seen anything like this before.  I don't have a clue about what to do." is not likely to help IT's credibility nor is it likely to create a favorable impression of IT.  I am by no means suggesting that anyone should misrepresent themselves but there are better ways to handle a situation where you don't know how to solve the problem.

There are number of things that come to mind that you can do to help your customer facing folks make a good impression.

  1. Communicate -  Make them aware of how their actions affect the impression people have of IT and how important their role as a representative, an ambassador if you will, of the entire IT department truly is.
  2. Training - Make customer service training a requirement for your customer facing people.  If you expect them to do a good job you have to give them the proper tools.
  3. Repetition -  Make your communication on this and the training you provide an ongoing activity.  It takes more than one-shot to make it effective.
  4. Feedback - Let your people know how they are doing.  Tell them when they've done thing well, coach them when they've fallen short of the mark.  Consider using customer surveys that measure customer service satisfaction.  Perhaps even incorporate survey results into personnel evaluations or when considering salary increases.

The bottom line is no one will be inclined to invest in IT systems or think of IT as strategic if they don't believe that your department can properly handle a PC trouble call.  What impressions are you creating?

Let me know your thoughts and what you are doing to create a more favorable impression of IT.

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