Are You an “IT Flat Earther?”


Having led several global IT teams, I’ve flown around the world visiting offices from Trondheim to Tokyo, and friends, I can attest to the fact that you can get from San Francisco to New York going both east and west (spoiler: going east is much quicker). Put simply, the world is round. That said, long before traversing the planet for myself, I trusted science and math, which showed clearly that the earth is spherical, even though it seemed flat to my young mind.

Why did I trust math and science? Because these are our ladders to the truth and out of our own limited perspective. While nothing particularly amazing has been created by closing one’s eyes to knowledge, the greatest feats in human history have been powered by scientific thinking and mathematical expertise.

Think about it. Whether you believe the pyramids were built by the Egyptians, or (I hope!) aliens like in that amazing show on the History Channel, it’s clear that whoever built them used math to get it done. The Vikings would never have had such a successful run without engineering incredible ships and navigating the sea using astronomy. Great artists studied the Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio in pursuit of their craft.

In short, you will only propel yourself to great things if your methods are mathematically and scientifically sound. Trusting your gut might get you through life, but you’ll never build anything truly great that way—certainly not a fantastic IT department.

Is Your IT World Round?

Like flat earthers, many IT professionals are well-intentioned, and completely confident in what they think they know about IT, yet their core assumptions about IT service are not fact-based. The result? They go their whole careers being no more successful at providing great service than a flat earther would be at leading a global expedition. We’ll use the moniker “IT Flat Earthers” for these folks. Because it’s funny.

If you’re afraid you’re already an IT Flat Earther, don’t be. There’s hope for you yet! Before IT, I earned a master's degree in psychology and became a licensed professional counselor, which entailed thousands of hours helping individuals deal with irrational or unfounded beliefs. As such, I can attest to the fact that it is a very, very human thing to ignore facts when it’s more comfortable. That said, if you want to do great things in IT, as in life, you have to get rid of these flat-earther-type beliefs before you can achieve that greatness. To help you, below are three surefire pro tips to avoid being an IT Flat Earther and, as a result, guarantee huge successes in your IT service delivery program.

Pro Tip #1: Constantly Seek New Insights About Your Customers

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it bears repeating: the most important skill for IT service teams in 2020 is empathy. If you don’t buy into that, you have bigger problems than this article can help with! If you agree that empathy is key to great IT service delivery, then naturally you’d want to understand your customers as much as possible, right?
While this sounds obvious, at least a few times a month I’ll meet with CIOs and IT directors who offer every excuse in the book for not collecting customer experience data directly from the end users they support.

“It’s not the right time, we’ll fix things and then measure customer experience.”

“My CEO doesn’t like surveys.”

“We already know what we have to fix.”

And my personal, cringy favorite:

“We don’t want to collect CX data because the feedback will be negative and make us look bad.”

One CIO I spoke to even asked me sincerely, “Why in the world would I want to find out more things that need to be fixed?”

While I’ll assume positive intent for these IT leaders, consider yourself warned. If you’ve caught yourself offering excuses to justify not learning new things about your customers, watch out! You might be an IT Flat Earther.

Pro Tip #2: Blow Your Customers’ Minds with Legendary Customer Experience

For employees at most companies, even in the 2020s, “Talking to IT” is still an anxiety-producing proposition. While of course there are many truly incredible IT teams out there (I’ve led three of them), overall the industry bar for IT customer experience is incredibly low, as are employees’ expectations for their IT departments.

While this is a bummer for the industry at large, our customers’ low expectations provide a convenient litmus test for whether or not you are an IT Flat Earther. For example, my company’s research shows that for any IT team, regardless of whether or not they use ITIL or any other methodology, if they have an accurate measure for customer experience, and base their strategy solely on raising that score, the results are what can only be described as mind-blowing IT support that end users consider the “best IT experience [they’ve] ever had.” Everything else gets fixed as a result just by focusing on what really matters, rather than the metrics you think you should be looking at.

I once worked with the IT team of a $4 billion company who, in their first meeting with me, proudly presented CSAT scores of 98-99% for eight quarters straight. That’s funny, I later told the leadership, because the first 20 employees we interviewed told us that IT here is, what was the word, garbage. If the metrics you use look great, but your end users aren’t completely in love with your service, ¡ten cuidado! You might be an IT Flat Earther.

If the metrics you use look great, but your end users aren’t completely in love with your service, you might be an IT Flat Earther.

Pro Tip #3: Stop Using the Term “World Class”

You know, unless you actually mean it.

As an author, songwriter, and speaker, I spend innumerable hours every week agonizing over word choices and the meaning they convey. That’s the reason one of my favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic songs is “Word Crimes.” It’s also the reason I absolutely, literally lose my mind (sorry, I had to) when people misuse terms like world class, best-in-industry, etc., ad nauseum until the terms have lost all practical meaning.

When I work with clients who are trying to write out their mission statement, the first working session is almost always a buzzword-palooza, resulting in some variant of the following:

“Our mission is to provide world class service and deliver innovative solutions by leveraging bleeding edge technologies to make employees of [Company Name] the most productive workforce on the planet.”

While this sounds great on the surface, it’s usually total malarkey, as evidenced by the number of teams whose “mission” has been to be world class but have never arrived there. Why? Because (again, there are exceptions) most IT folks who use these phrases have no solid metric for or quantifiable definition of what world class service is, nor have they done anything particularly innovative, employed cutting edge technology, or ever endeavored to define or find a way to measure workforce productivity at all.

The next time you find yourself using terms like “innovation” or “world class,” take a moment to Google the term and read the actual definition. Otherwise, if you continue to use buzzwords like these in meaningless ways, Achtung, baby! You might be an IT Flat Earther.

Call to Action

In spite of our flat earther tendencies, the truth is that the majority of us come to work every day wanting nothing more than to provide a great customer experience to the workers we support. While some less-than-scientific thinking has resulted in a disconnect between the service we want to provide and actual experience our customers have, the fact that the bar of excellence for our industry is low is actually a massive opportunity to fly past those lowered expectations and completely blow away the businesses we support with next-level, never-before-seen service excellence.

The truth will set you free. Try out these three tips, please leave your comments below, and let’s all go forth and make the 2020s the decade of legendary IT support.

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