Don’t hide your service desk away

Some time ago a client asked me to help them improve customer satisfaction with their IT service desk. They were achieving all the targets in the SLA, but the customer was always complaining and the results of customer satisfaction surveys and post-incident user surveys were poor.

As usual in this kind of engagement, the most important thing for me to do was to listen and learn about the customer and their issues. In this case I spent some time with the service desk manager talking about how they manage incidents, and what they do to keep customers happy. I then reviewed recent incidents to see how they had been managed, and I looked at the post-incident survey results. As I looked through the survey results I noticed something I wasn’t expecting: although the average results were quite poor, there were a few service desk agents who were consistently getting good survey feedback. So I went to interview these people to find out what they might be doing that was different. 

The ‘good’ service desk agents

Brief conversations with the service desk agents who were getting good survey feedback showed that they were following exactly the same process as everyone else, and they didn’t know of anything they did that was different. As we chatted though, I did discover one interesting fact. All of the “good” service desk agents had previously worked in other parts of the business, and had moved to the IT service desk after starting their career in a different business unit. I found this quite interesting too.

I asked for permission to listen in to some service desk calls to see if I could detect anything in the way calls were dealt with that might explain why customers responded more favourably to this particular group of service desk staff than they did to the others. It quickly became apparent that practical experience in other parts of the business was the factor that made the difference. People who had such experience were able to connect with the users. The way they talked to the users showed that they understood the impact of different incidents and empathised with the people trying to cope with the difficulties such incidents cause. 

Huge benefits and low costs

I discussed this with the service desk manager and we agreed to try to  help the other service desk agents get a better understanding of the business. We arranged for some business presentations to be delivered to the service desk, to make sure they understood what the IT systems they supported were doing, but the biggest benefit came from sending service desk agents out to work in a business unit.. Over a period of 6 months, every service desk agent spent half a day shadowing somebody in the business, and this was repeated on a rolling basis. The cost was one day per service desk agent per year, which was fairly low for training, but the benefit was huge. After the first year the results were clearly visible in survey results, and in reduced customer complaints.

I was discussing this situation with some other consultants on Twitter recently. One of them told me that they had put in place a similar work shadowing scheme at a different company, in this case they had arranged for people who work in different bits of IT to spend half a day taking calls on the service desk. Every IT manager, and every technical support person, got to find out what it was like to deal with customers on the service desk. This resulted in much better understanding within IT of what the service desk role involves, and what customers care about. It led to better relationships between the service desk and other parts of IT, and ultimately to better service for the customers.

The challenge

So here’s my challenge to you. Get your service desk people out to shadow your customers, and get your IT managers and technical people in to shadow the service desk. It will cost you a little bit of time but the returns will be very large in terms of increased empathy and understanding between groups, and therefore of increased service levels and customer satisfaction.

This is a guest post by Stuart Rance for the Freshservice blog.

Stuart Rance is a consultant, trainer and author, and owner of Optimal Service Management Ltd. Stuart helps clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. He is a regular speaker at itSMF and other events, a senior ITIL examiner, a Chartered Fellow of BCS (FBCS CITP), a Fellow in Service Management at prISM (FSM), and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Stuart is the author of ITIL Service Transition, 2011 edition, and co-author of the ITIL V3 Glossary. He has written many service management pocket guides for itSMF and for the official ITIL portfolio. He is currently writing a new cybersecurity publication for Axelos, the owners of ITIL.

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