Changing Services: Clients, Quality, and Collaboration
Michael G. Prais, Ph.D., Northern Illinois University, 1993

2. Changing Service to Value the Client

Drucker points out that the major reason most organizations fail is because they exist for the workers not the client. Organizations value the convenience of their workers rather than value their contributions and performance. Our goal as user services is to provide services. Success in user services comes through problem solving for others.

Service is meeting a client's expectations responsively, simply, accurately, and reliably. Note well that beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Service does not exist without accurately meeting client expectations. It is possible to simply satisfy a client: expectations are usually very specific. However, we have to work to find what those expectations are. In this sense our goals are simple: identify and meet client expectations.

Assumptions, values, perspectives, and artifacts give you a structure in which to look for client expectations. Without an openness for client information and without an interest in finding client information, we will never meet client expectations.

That American manufacturing industries have been failing because they have been failing to meet client expectations has been a major topic over the last decade. Pundits point to the effectiveness of Japanese industries and to the influence of W. Edward Deming in an area known as Total Quality Management. Deming suggested that organizations must operate with different perspectives, values, and assumptions. Deming's ideas have focused on the importance of client expectations over production expectations, the involvement of each employee in the evaluation of the product against client expectations, the dedication to the continuous improvement of quality, the development of teamwork through worker accountability and participation in decision making, the identification and removal of barriers to communication and pride in workmanship, and the avoidance of purchasing based on immediate price through the development of long-term relationships with single suppliers. Deming expects and has demonstrated that this culture reduces costs and allows organizations to stay in operation. Deming's ideas point to the recognition of the relationships between producers and consumers, between clients and servers, between organizations and workers, and the communication and recognition of expectations.

Quality is meeting client expectations. Productivity is primarily quality not quantity. Production expectations have been quantitative in that they have focused on the number of completed products over a period of time. Quantitative measures have a place where we can observe multiple, significant differences between the object and the ideal. However, the ideal is defined by the client. Where the product is often an assembly of pieces, the producer can observe qualitative and perhaps quantitative differences from the ideal in each piece. Deming has pointed out that inspection of the end product does nothing to improve its production. Differences from client expectations must be recognized at every point of production. Deming suggests observing small samplings of the intermediate product for systematic variations.

User service organizations put out a number of products that provide information and instructions: workshops, handouts, user guides, newsletters, short answers, help servers. These products differ from personal-contact consulting activities primarily in that recorded information is available accurately at a later time. Any product, whether put out by a manufacturing or user services organization, is a deferred service. A mechanical product is a machine that provides a service for the user in the absence of the producer. An automobile carries people and material to a destination. Trucks, trains, and airplanes transport material to a destination for a client. The industrial revolution allowed organizations to use mechanical cycles to build machines to further change and move material. The information revolution allows organizations to use processor cycles to build procedures to further change information. While Deming's ideas focused on the manufacturing industries, they are just as applicable to service industries.

The products of user services organizations relieve a client from the tedium of finding information and instructions for himself or herself. At all times we are providing information and instructions that we have collected and organized. The information and instructions can show how to start a personal computer or how to find a gopher server, or they can consist of a Word Perfect macro or a C++ program. Information is valuable, and people pass it on. We are valued when our information and our instructions are responsive, simple, accurate, and reliable. We can consider that which we provide to our clients either a product or a service as long as we recognize that it must responsively, simply, accurately, and reliably meet the client's expectations.

Accuracy may appear as the primary measure of information and instructions, but without reliability, we only meet that measure once. Service should always be reliable, that is, it should be accurate and effective this time and every time. Client expectations change and a service presented a one time may not meet a client's expectations at another time. Nevertheless, this is no excuse for not accurately identifying client expectation at this particular time and for not examining other situations in which this service might be expected. Programmers are asked to program defensively-- why should we not be asked to do the same when we generate instructions for our clients. If we consider that our instructions will be used once and discarded, they will be.

Responsiveness may alternatively appear as the primary measure of our service, but without simplicity, complexity causes unnecessary work and reduces the time that clients can spend on their own objectives. They do not want to use, manage, and maintain complex systems, nor do they want to be tied up with mundane, redundant support operations. All services should be reviewed to eliminate complexity. Procedures that remain redundant and/or complex can then be automated.

3. The Knowledge Worker

Originally published in Proceedings of the ACM User Services Conference XXI, 1993.
Copyright Association for Computer Machinery 1993
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