Do you have a customer service charter in place?

We often hear about high profile public sector IT projects that have fallen behind schedule or not delivered the promised results – perhaps not always surprising, given they often are on a very large scale and involve multiple IT suppliers. However, there are many more IT projects in all sectors that, while not making the headlines, fall short of expectations and lead to significant issues between customer and supplier. Similarly, many outsourcing and managed services relationships break down irretrievably when issues arise between provider and customer.

Although the cause of the problem may vary – typically finance, time, or resources – the underlying cause is almost always a lack of governance and/or communication between the two parties. This should be addressed by the provider’s Customer Service Charter, yet such problems still occur – which suggests that either organisations do not understand the purpose of these charters or are not using them effectively.

Customer service charters explained

The aim of a customer service charter is to provide a framework for governance, including the processes, procedures, and policies surrounding the provider’s service goals. While customer service charters are useful in all areas of IT, they are particularly important within managed services, where they have become a key component of most companies’ portfolio of service management tools.

The customer service charter sets out how a business works with its customers in terms of excellence, payment, response times, and overall standards. It provides a central repository of all the necessary information and documentation (referenced or embedded) to clarify which solutions or services are provided, how they are delivered, and within which contractual parameters. For managed services, the charter is not static, but a ‘living document’ which will improve over time and ultimately enhance the way in which the managed IT service supports the customer’s business.

In my experience, many organisations have heard about customer service charters but do not use them when purchasing IT services. This could be because they perceive them as an additional step in the process of moving from sales to delivery which slows down implementation without appearing to offer clear benefits. Other organisations, looking forward to a shiny new IT service and still at the ‘honeymoon’ stage with their supplier, may believe that such issues will not occur.

What does a customer service charter include?

The service charter should be created as soon as possible following agreement between the supplier and their new client. Every area of the document contains information which will instil confidence in the newly acquired client and act as a catalyst to promote a healthy and effective relationship between the two parties. Even the introduction is important, as customer service charters typically begin with an overview of the supplier and its mission, where the supplier states its goals and how they relate to the customer.

For suppliers, this is an opportunity to set out how they differ from their competitors. For the potential customers, it provides an insight into the supplier’s culture and way of working. The body of the service charter usually comprises three main sections: service overview, customer systems overview, and a description of how the service will be managed, including governance. The service overview sets out a description of the service(s) being provided, including service hours, critical periods, resilience, availability, continuity, and SLA.

The systems overview section provides details of the customer’s environment, including server names, number of CPUs, amount of RAM, storage capacity, the primary purpose of the server(s), required server reboot sequences etc. The service management section covers areas such as monitoring, incident and problem management, change management, patching, and service requests.

This information provides a myriad of benefits under a single point of reference, from setting expectations to outlining identified risks and providing recommendations for their mitigation. It provides a framework for more effective and efficient communication between all parties, which is a major catalyst for a more productive relationship. Should any delivery issues occur, the charter sets out a defined escalation path and key contacts.

Everyone hopes that their IT projects and services will go smoothly from day one, with every risk prepared for and the agreed levels of service delivered. However, we live in the real world and something unexpected will inevitably occur. The customer service charter is a vital part of ensuring that such problems are quickly resolved and should lead to clearer outcomes and value and ultimately an improved service.

Gilles Vassor, Service Delivery Manager, Fordway

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