Putting the customer first literally means putting their needs and requirements ahead of anything and everything else. This may seem like common sense to most but surprisingly few IT service providers can genuinely claim to utilise a customer-driven or customer-oriented business model.

A recent Harmony Report by LogicNow shows there is something of a discord between service providers and IT departments. Surveying over 1,300 IT Departments and almost 700 IT Service Providers from eight countries, the report highlights a number of key issues between the provider and the customer.

Firstly, is the IT department getting the service (or product) that they want? While departments look for cost savings above all else, this is second in terms of importance for the service providers’ key selling points. The customer is also looking for a provider with experience of working with a similar size company – something which appears undervalued by service providers.

When it comes to skillsets, there is a perfect correlation as both IT departments and providers rate technical expertise as the most important attribute. The report also states that ‘Service Providers are not matching IT Departments’ focus on business outcomes’, although this can only be associated with the surveyed service providers’ lack of emphasis on application skills.

If there is such a difference between what customers are demanding and what the services providers are offering, does this lead to unhealthy relationships? According to the report, work needs to be done. In fact, it claims that majority of service providers are misreading what IT Departments want from them and are pushing customers in a direction in which they are not yet convinced.

Security is a hot topic at the moment, with recent data breaches garnering worldwide headlines. So naturally IT departments place huge importance on IT security, and this is one area where service providers will surely get it right. However, service providers are focusing too heavily on the proactive, strategic side of security services or the new trends of mobile device security. When, as the report puts it, “IT departments simply want a solution to email security, anti-virus or web protection.”

We also mustn’t forget one of the most important aspects of the relationship between service provider and IT department – payment. The report compares how IT departments want to pay with how the service providers charge, and the correlation is certainly not as close as it should be.

For example, 24% want to pay a single annual subscription but this is only offered by 11% of providers. And when you consider that just 1% of IT departments want to use an ad hoc break/fix model, it’s a little surprising that 19% still use such a system. So, with a considerable difference between theory and reality why are only 34% of service providers planning to change their pricing structure over the next 12 months?

Fear not, of the 34% who did suggest changes to the way they bill IT departments, a majority are moving towards the in-demand process of issuing one invoice on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. However, there are also 17% of companies looking to introduce the much-maligned multiple monthly subscriptions.

In summary, the Harmony Report shows there is still work to do in terms of improving the relationship between IT departments and service providers. But to get it right, does the service provider have to adopt the policy that the ‘customer is always right’? Not necessarily, they must simply begin to understand what their customers want from them.

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