End user satisfaction is a fickle affair

The perceived success of an IT department isn't just about financial performance and back-office efficiency, final judgement often relys on end-user satisfaction.

This is a tough barometer because end-user satisfaction or dissatisfaction is fickle, which is why IT departments are increasingly implementing innovative programs or surveys to measure service delivery to better meet staff needs.

An exclusive poll of Computerworld readers shows that Australian IT managers are making genuine attempts to find out if they really are getting the job done and winning over their constituency.

At the same time, according to IDC Australia director of IT management programs Catherine Bennett, IT recognizes that the way it is perceived is critical to win the blessing and budget support of senior executives.

"Some companies have formalized programs where they do end-user needs analysis and customer satisfaction surveys," she said.

When looking to consolidate or implement new technology, Bennett said IT departments run workshops selecting staff from across the organization to participate and set down their requirements.

"But the best way for IT to keep end users happy is to focus on governance. It really comes down to how organizations make decisions and how they communicate these decisions to the end-user base," Bennett said.

"A good idea is a steering committee, which meets regularly."

Respondents to Computerworld's survey use a number of methods to gauge the ebb and flow of user perceptions.

Pacific National IT manager Norman Arnott says the key to end-user satisfaction is continual communication.

"I suppose we measure it by having continual discussions with end users on what we've done and where we want to go," Arnott said.

"It is important to be open and honest. This includes educating employees on the realities of bringing sophisticated IT products to market." Managing expectations, Arnott said, is the biggest challenge.

"They read the magazines out there and then think that if you buy something off the shelf, it can be installed immediately and will just work," he said.

At the Greater Murray Area Health Service, IT manager Mark Slater undertakes regular surveys asking end users to rate IT's performance.

"It's very difficult to keep everyone happy. We're trying to make our helpdesk more successful and giving end users more opportunities to provide feedback," Slater said.

"With more and more people having computers at home users now have higher expectations which is hard for us with 60 percent of our fleet still on Windows NT."

But Thiess Services PC and network support manager Peter Mellor says even the use of surveys and helpdesk feedback doesn't always work. "It isn't just about feedback forms, you have to actively go out and talk to users to really find out how everything is going," he said.

"Otherwise they won't let you know when everything is rosy; they will only come to you when they have a problem."

While steering committees and surveys rated highly in the poll, many respondents warned that problems in perception can dangerously affect IT's influence across the organization.

Respondents agreed that a single, failed technology implementation can have a lasting affect, and it is a tough job to overturn end-user dissatisfaction once it sets in.

They said also that perceptions do not change until replaced with a more immediate, positive experience.

How do you measure end user satisfaction; do you have programs in place and does it influence senior executive decision-making in your organization? Feedback to sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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