How to Slice a Watermelon?

wouter wyns

The watermelon effect: This beautiful metaphor first popped up in the service management world during the early 2000s, and how relevant it still is! Anyone who has been involved in outsourcing services for a while probably recognizes the image of that green watermelon with its red core – all the SLAs and KPIs are green and everything seems to be under control, but the reality is completely different. Digging below the surface will readily reveal ‘red’ signs, indicating ill-health in service delivery: a lot goes wrong, and the users are not at all satisfied with the service delivered. The metaphor is so powerful that it is now popping up in other domains as well. You can have a watermelon culture in a company where middle management only reports the positive results to top management. In these organizations, the watermelon effect stands for lack of transparency and openness. It also applies to autocracies where nobody dares to bring bad news to the dreaded dictator (get the picture?).

The need to look beneath the surface

Coming back to service management, how can one slice the watermelon and look below the surface? SLA measurements define how fast tickets assigned to a support organization are processed. Too often, these are restricted to response or reaction times measuring how fast the service delivery organization reacts to an incoming ticket. These KPIs are rather useless; most of the time, there is no value in a service delivery organization picking up tickets before an agreed time. Value is delivered when the ticket is resolved: starting early enough is a prerequisite, not a guarantee for the ticket being resolved in a reasonable amount of time.   

Resolution targets are definitely more valuable. But service delivery is so much more than tickets resolved in time. The best service is the service without any need to register tickets, without bugs, and without incidents. The user requires a service that is available when they need it and that is so performant and fast that it doesn’t make them angry and frustrated. An excellent service proactively ensures the users get all they need without asking for it. And this should all be provided at a reasonable cost.

Cutting a cross-section of the melon (with 4me)

So there is a lot more to evaluating customer satisfaction than SLA response and resolution times: a holistic view of how the customer perceives the services provided is required.
Why is this important? Being able to measure the experience of the customer (XLAs – Experience Level Agreements) is key to driving continual service improvements. Customers are the ones who use the services more regularly than those who create and provide them, and their interactions with the service provider tell a story to the business. XLA’s and the Customer Experience is a gateway to opening the floor up to change and better rapport across the entire Organization and its customers.

When we look at our everyday services such as the internet, dining and online shopping – it’s important to realize that we immerse ourselves in making decisions based on reviews and ratings to determine where to go and what to buy. Poor reviews and ratings send a signal to these providers to make improvements in order to retain and attract customers. The same could be said for the services that our service departments provide where a poor service experience probably means a less reliable and inefficient service and as a result a waste of time (and also money in terms of user time spent). It could even detract users from using the service and lead to a negative perception of the service provider itself. 

In the 4me platform, this holistic view is provided with Service Insight. This dashboard includes the response, resolution, reliability, and availability KPIs but also the results of customer surveys. These customer surveys should include questions on all aspects that have an impact on customer satisfaction: does the service provide the functionality the business requires, is the service available when needed (maybe the contractually agreed service and support hours are not aligned with the expectations of the business), what about the usability and the performance of the service, etc.  All these survey questions will give a better understanding of the perceived value that a service brings to the users. And last but not least, Service Insight reports on the cost of the service. That is the information you require to make strategic decisions: as a CIO, you need to find the right balance between the value a service brings and the cost of delivering the service.

It has become common knowledge now, but unfortunately not a common practice, that one should look beneath the surface of the green watermelon to understand how satisfied the customers really are with a service delivered. To slice the watermelon, you need a knife, and that’s what the 4me platform provides in the form of its powerful Service Insight dashboard.

Authors: Wouter Wyns and Tuan Vu, Service Management Architects at 4me.