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ITIL & ISO 20000 Blog

Drago Topalovic

ITIL Business Relationship Management – Know your customer

Business Relationship Management (BR Management) is a newly defined process introduced in ITIL 2011. Although it is not one of the mature key processes, it is absolutely crucial for IT service management. Therefore, it is also addressed in ISO/IEC 20000 as one of the relationship processes, however in this article I will go through some of the BR Management basics according to ITIL.

As a process, it is defined in the ITIL Service Strategy book, but it spans through all five ITIL lifecycle stages.

Why is BR Management recognized as a crucial process? Because it deals with the fundamental service management paradigm: better understanding of IT and the business. If done correctly, it will reduce the natural barrier between the service provider and the business, helping to better align a provider’s services to business needs.

Purpose and scope

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Aside from the mentioned general goal of better understanding between the service provider and the customer, BR Management takes care of the customer’s (ever-changing) needs and the provider’s ability to fulfill them. Business Relationship Management helps to meet and manage the customer’s expectations, which are the key factors in their satisfaction.

Therefore, someone on the provider’s side has to play the role of the customer’s attorney, communicating the customer’s business needs to the provider, pointing the customer in the right direction to obtain efficient support for his key business functions, taking care of satisfaction surveys and complaints, and ensuring that services provide real value to the customer.

How is it done?

The Business Relationship Management process is managed by one person dedicated to each customer. In practice, these business relationship managers often perform the role of the Account manager and/or the Service level manager. This is nicely explained in article Business Relationship Management, Service Level Management… Too much management?.

Choosing a business relationship manager (BRM) for a customer has to be done carefully. The desirable skillset for the BR manager should include some technology competence, good social skills, and some kind of commercial training. Have in mind that this role includes potential conflicts of interests, since this person will represent the customer, and at the same time he/she has to have the provider’s point of view in mind.

There are numerable BR Management principles, concepts and activities that can really add value to any service organization, and they are described well in 4.5 Business relationship management chapter of ITIL Service Strategy book. If I could recommend only a few titles from the Strategy book, this one would definitely be among them. I will mention a few points that I found useful in practice:

  • Customer portfolio and Customer agreement portfolio: keeping them up to date, and linked to the Service portfolio or at least the Service catalogue, really helps in managing your services: who are your customers, what are your valuable services, which services could provide added value to existing customers, etc.
  • Customer satisfaction: involving not just reactive results from after-incident inquires, but the proactive management of the customer’s expectations, can really provide valuable input for maintaining and expanding the provider’s business.
  • Complaint management: if done even in a minimal, but organized manner – helps the provider to understand the customer’s real pains and often impresses the customer. A good practice would be to treat all poorly graded tickets from satisfaction surveys as formal complaints. Have in mind that ISO/IEC 20000 requires an agreement between the provider and the customer about what constitutes a formal service complaint.

Challenges

The implementation of the BR Management process makes sense in a mature service provider organization. Young and rising providers should put more effort into implementation of the key processes and building a quality service. Appointing account managers to take care of the customer with the basic BR Management principles in mind will do in the beginning. No flashy process will make up for poor quality of the service on the customer side.

On the other hand, an oversimplified BR Management process in mature organizations is most probably destined to failure. It is much more than a simple customer satisfaction function. BR Management should be involved in all the key processes in all five lifecycle stages, providing a vehicle for a long-lasting strategic partnership with the customer.

You can also download a free sample of the Business Relationship Management Process template to learn more.

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