Stoking Ownership

BRuss Levanway, President

Stoking ownership

For many years, our company has had a mantra: I’ve got this. We even had water bottles for everyone made with that statement in big, bold letters printed on them.  For us, this phrase conveys ownership and personal responsibility.

For instance, let’s say a client calls the service desk in a panic because their internet’s down. What do they want to hear? I’ll tell you what they definitely don’t want to hear: “That’s not our problem. You should call your cable company or whoever provides your internet.”

No. They want to hear “I’ve got this.”

If a client has an issue with their software, they don’t want to hear that it’s the responsibility of a different vendor, or a different department within our company. If a client asks someone to help them, no matter that person’s job or title, their answer should always be “I’ve got this.”

What does this mantra accomplish? If someone has a problem, we want to be the ones to assure them it will get handled. Behind the scenes, we get it done. To me, that’s the first step of ownership: the ability to convey to the client that we can be trusted with their issue.

Behind the scenes, we might call the cable company on the client’s behalf, or call the vendor about a person’s software issue, or talk with the project manager to get the problem resolved. The customer never sees that. They don’t need to. I think our company does a good job of conveying consistent trustworthiness; we don’t push issues back to the client or pass the buck on the front line.

Empathy maintenance

Establishing ownership is one thing. Sustaining it all the way to the resolution of a problem is much harder, and it’s where we as a company have been trying to grow lately.

For instance, let’s say I work in our technical support Rapid Response Team. Somebody calls and explains their issue to me, but I’m not the right person to fix it, so it gets assigned to somebody else. Maybe that person works on the issue and partially resolves it, then calls the client back.  The client isn’t available when they call back.  The next day, this technician is out of the office sick, so the issue is assigned to another technician for follow up and completion. By then, there are several degrees of separation between the first call and who is currently working on the problem.  As a result the initial sense of urgency, empathy for the issue, and understanding of the full impact, is diluted.

That’s why sustaining ownership is much more difficult in practice.

In a larger company, this is a constant battle. With many people working on the front lines with loads of different issues and different clients, how can we keep the train chugging until an issue is fully resolved? Some things we work on take days, weeks or longer to resolve because they may require replacement parts, coordination with vendors, or some other sequence of events to occur before we can finish. Seven times out of ten, we can fix an issue after the first call, but the rest of the time that’s not the case.

With that in mind, we’ve been digging into our process. After years of believing that a key piece of our process encouraged ownership, we’ve had to ask ourselves: Does it actually discourage ownership? In hindsight, we see a key point in our service delivery that might unintentionally do just that.

Where ownership breaks down

In our San Luis Obispo and Fresno regions, it’s been the role of the service coordinator to ensure that each issue resolves and wraps up as quickly as possible. They may take a client call or get an email request and then assign it to the next available technician. Again, it is the service coordinator who takes the initial assignment, not a technician.

Now, it sounds like ownership when a service coordinator hustles to solve a problem ASAP, right? But when they assign the issue to someone who isn’t readily available or who gets stuck along the way, the service coordinator finds someone else to work on it. In other words, the service coordinator is pushing hard to get the problem fixed.

But here’s where something subtle happens: Because the service coordinator gets that initial request and hands it off to someone else, there is already one degree of separation between client and technician. Let’s take the scenario even further. Let’s say that the original technician can’t resolve the problem and has been escalated to another technician. Sure, they’ll take good notes on the issue and pass them along because that is a requirement, but even the best notes aren’t the same as hearing about it from the client.

Even though we were able to brag about how few issues would stay open for more than just a couple days in our company (way lower than the industry average), a disconnect stood between the person in need and the one who would ultimately provide help. Even though, on the front line, the first person would say “I’ve got this,” the urgency and, therefore, ownership of the situation wound up diluted.

A new idea

As I’ve detailed, we found a place in our company where our message of ownership was out of harmony with our process. So we set about making adjustments and changing that process.

Our solution? The first technician to handle an issue is the one who stays with it until the end, with allowances for situations such as illness, vacation, or the issue being beyond that technician’s skill set. They are the point person for the duration of many issues.

In practice this means, even if they’re not available for a client call at 2 p.m., they’re the one to reschedule it to 3 p.m, directly with the client, not through a service coordinator reassigning it to someone else. If resolving the issue takes a little longer than he or she anticipated, the original technician can find someone else to help them work through it, but they remain the point person for the client. The thread of ownership remains strong, even when the issue takes time to fix.

Putting our new process into practice

In the last few weeks, we’ve been rolling this process across our whole service team. Instead of technicians working off a calendar of assigned tickets, they have a group of issues they own and need to figure out.  Does this new process change the I’ve got this mantra? Absolutely not. If anything, the mantra is even more true now, as we’re bringing a key part of our process in line with it.

Of course, all process changes are challenging, and we’ll have our fair share to face as we go company-wide with this one. But whether we stay with our old process or go forward with a new one, we’ll have to deal with a set of issues either way. If technicians and employees take greater ownership of their clients’ issues and satisfaction, we’ll gladly deal with the inevitable challenges that arise with change.

 

Russ Levanway, President// Russ is a sought-after public speaker, technology expert, and community leader. As the president of an ever-growing managed services provider with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, Russ’s goal is to sustain and grow an IT company that provides incredible value for clients, and a great workplace for his team. When he’s not collaborating to chart out the future of CIO Solutions, Russ serves on several non-profit boards, volunteers at the People’s Kitchen and travels the world with his wife and two daughters. More on Russ>>

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