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5 Steps to a Better Service Desk

Service desks: We love them when they help us. And we love to complain about them when they don’t: “Too slow to answer.” “Too slow to fix my problem.” “Not personable enough.” “Not knowledgeable enough.” The truth is, whether we’re internal or external customers, we have high expectations of service desk personnel.

5 Steps to a Better Service Desk

By John Sundberg

We are often already frustrated (if not totally exasperated) when initiating contact. We have been forced to seek answers or problem resolution and we want our request handled as quickly as possible—a reflection of having become a real-time society with real-time expectations.

All a service desk really needs to do is communicate effectively and expedite the resolution of problems to meet customer expectations. It sounds easy, but it requires a custom blend of people, processes, information, and technology working together to create a service desk that enhances productivity and customer service. Whether you’re currently facing service desk challenges or preparing to create a service desk, this article focuses on five key areas that cannot only improve service desk operations, but also get you started on the right path.

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Customers want better service and experience. Best practice says to continually improve. Do your processes and tools support what people need?

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1.  Create a Circle of Success: Expectations, Metrics, Assessment, Improvement

According to a recent survey conducted by Forrester Research, 41 percent of the more than 2,000 service desk users they interviewed were “on the fence” about their satisfaction. They cited several areas in need of improvement, such as time to resolve requests, timeliness of status updates, and even expertise. Creating a circle of success is the key to addressing these critical concerns among help desk users.

Managing Expectations

Before discussing service desk standards and measurements against which to measure performance, consider the expectations of customers (internal and external) who are served by it. Operational Level Agreements and Service Level Agreements take an extraordinary amount of effort to create and review annually. Therefore, I recommend leveraging your service management system for information to help service desk personnel manage each contact’s expected outcome—what I call Service Level Expectations.

Your system should have the ability to track the time spent resolving each type of incident. Service desk personnel can then access this information quickly to tell users/customers what to expect based on historical experience, not fanciful guesses. For instance, “90 percent of these issues are resolved within three days.”

As far as expected coverage, the eight-hour, five-day work week is long gone. Business is transacted 24x7. Asking your users about their current expectations via formal surveys is the best way to start the improvement process. If your service desk is new, survey your users about their off-hour needs. If you’ve had a service desk in place for a while, a survey is more accurate than relying on call logs—users may not be calling, because they are not expecting anyone to answer.

Regardless of the support model chosen to cover off-hours, users and customers must have the resources required for business continuity. The processes and procedures for receiving off-hours support should be available on-demand by telephone at the very least. A best practice is a message outlining the process to be followed on the main service desk line—rather than an online directory of services—since the user’s issue may prevent them from accessing anything online.

Searching for Satisfaction

Time does not heal all wounds on a service desk. In fact, allowing a problem to remain unresolved can cause irreparable damage—to the company’s prestige, to employee morale, and to the service desk’s reputation. So, having a method to identify problems is critical to service desk success.

But what is service desk satisfaction? How do you define and measure success? By establishing metrics. These metrics will provide an assessment of how well your service desk is meeting customer expectations and will also help you monitor improvement progress.

Pulse on Patterns

If your service desk is new or in the planning stage, plan to measure early and often—weekly—to help you identify kinks that can be resolved quickly to protect your service desk’s reputation. If you already have a service desk, conduct a baseline assessment against which you can measure progress.

In either case, as you interpret results, look for patterns of problems that need solving rather than one-off “glitches.” Take a lesson from low-budget Internet service providers (ISPs) that operate with a very small staff of five or less people. When a problem occurs, they try to find a pattern so that the problem can be resolved for good. Consider making your service desk staff the first line of resolution before embarking on an improvement project. Empower your subject matter experts to help determine if the issue requires a technical fix or can be worked around using a new process, and the ramifications of each alternative.

State of the Service Desk

A simple survey will provide you with the information you need to identify service patterns. The following few questions make it easy for users to complete the survey after each contact.

  1. On a scale of 1-5, how would you describe your level of satisfaction with your recent service desk experience in the following areas?
    • Service desk’s ability to resolve your request successfully the first time around
    • Service desk’s ability to resolve your requests in a timely manner
    • Expertise of service desk staff
    • Availability of service desk staff—in particular, your ability to reach them in a timely manner
    • Courtesy of service desk personne
  2. How does this experience compare to past experiences?
    • Somewhat better
    • Much better
    • Same
    • A little worse
    • Much worse
Focus on Continuous Improvement

When patterns surface—through survey results, complaints, or service desk personnel—it’s time to kick into improvement mode. That means amending staffing (training/coaching/replacement), process (create a workaround or a new process for performing a specific function), technology (develop a fix), or a blend of these areas. What’s important to keep in mind with respect to continuous improvement is that after the change is implemented, metrics must be monitored for signals that the change resolved the issue.

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