There is undoubtedly a discrepancy in many organizations between the user’s view of service quality and the perception of the service provider (IT Department).
Service quality embraces availability, performance, usability and "goodness of fit" – the degree to which the service completely meets the business needs of the user. These attributes are frequently used as the basis for negotiating a comprehensive "Service Level Agreement", where the user expectations are documented and agreed with the service provider.
Why does this discrepancy exist? In many cases, it is due to a difference in what is being measured. The IT Department will typically measure its performance against certain "Operational Level Objectives" (OLOs) that may be incorporated into an Operational Level Agreement (OLA).
The difference between an SLA and an OLA is clearly evident in the diagram below, which shows the different elements involved in service delivery.
In certain organizations, an OLA may be published by the IT Department masquerading as an SLA. However, if the user experience is not being monitored or measured, the rouge SLA is more likely to exacerbate the schism between the IT and User departments, rather than bridge it.
The Compelling Need to Capture the User Experience
The user’s impression of an IT service is formed from his/her experience of the service encounter – the experience gained at the user/service "boundary" (typically a browser or application GUI).
The service is delivered through the interaction of various "service elements" – computer hardware, operating system, system software, database, communications networks, application program, etc. Although certain of these elements may be monitored by the IT Department, in most companies the complete "service delivery chain" is not being monitored as a single entity in its entirety.
Devoid of information about what the user is experiencing, an IT department is not adequately equipped to enter into a meaningful dialogue concerning quality of service. Conversely, by capturing and reporting on the user experience, both the user and IT Department may engage in a dialogue and review aspects of service quality from a factual basis. This encourages a relationship that can contribute to bridging the schism.
Internal Users/External "Customers"
The nature of the schism between the user and the IT department discussed above is largely "political". However, Candle has identified a "new awareness" concerning the potentially catastrophic impact of IT service failure when the "user" of the service is an external customer or business partner.
Increasingly, companies are seeking to provide external services via the internet. Typically these services are referred to as "on-line", "business-to-consumer" (B2C) or "business-to-business" (B2B). The customer’s experience of the supplier is created through the experience of service quality received by/through the electronic interface – with the internet browser being the most pervasive such interface in the B2C market.
In these types of systems, the impact of service failure equates to more than a loss of revenue due to service downtime. In addition:
the brand/image of the business is at risk
loss of reputation may result
it is probable that customer satisfaction/loyalty will be decreased
punitive damages may be incurred for service breach
stock price may take a "hit".