Automation can never replace the IT Service Desk

Written by on June 8, 2018

Automation, chatbots, artificial intelligence and self-service support capabilities are great, but they will never be able to entirely replace the value of having an IT Service Desk with real people available to provide support.  When most people think about the objective of having a service desk, they often wrongfully assume it is just about solving the user’s problem as quickly and as cheaply as possible then moving on to the next call. Yes, a service desk does resolve incidents, answer questions and fulfil requests, but the real value it provides is in listening to the challenges, concerns and needs of users.  Your IT Service Desk should be first and foremost a listening mechanism.

Every ticket is a work stoppage

Users don’t like calling the service desk, and they would rather avoid it if at all possible. They do it because they have run into some sort of barrier preventing them from getting their job done.  Whether it is needing access to something, encountering an application error, needing hardware support or just getting an answer to a question, when they make that call, they are no longer productive – work has stopped.  What is the answer? Perhaps it is building self-service capabilities or publishing knowledge articles and FAQs to enable users to diagnose and resolve their own incidents without the need for calling the service desk or opening a ticket?  Or perhaps not…

Self-Service = Outsourcing support to your users

ITSM leaders often look at self-service capabilities as a means of lowering operations costs, reducing the time it takes users to get back to work and generally a good thing.  What they fail to realize is that just because a service desk ticket isn’t being opened doesn’t mean the user isn’t having an issue and work hasn’t stopped. They have simply outsourced support to the people the service desk is supposed to be supporting.  Self-service doesn’t solve problems, it just hides them from view for a little while and makes them someone else’s issue.

Listening is the most important skill for your service desk to master

Technology and automation may be able to diagnose issues quickly, take corrective action, provision resources and convey information, but it lacks the ability to care, empathize and listen to the users’ problems and concerns.  As a result, automated support systems will continually fail at answering the question “How we can make this service better?” Your IT Service Desk staff, on the other hand, are an ideal resource for listening. By engaging with the user to understand not only the error, question or request but the context of what they were doing, the impact the roadblock is having on their work and the effectiveness of corrective actions, the service desk agent (through simple listening) becomes an expert on your users’ IT service needs.

Effective listening isn’t something that everyone is good at.  Some people have natural abilities, others require coaching and development of the skill.  The biggest factor that impacts your overall service desk listening capability isn’t the skill of individuals but rather the management and process structures that define the culture of the team.  Service desk metrics like cost per ticket and time to resolve may seem like good operational metrics, but they can easily become a barrier to true listening. “I can’t take the time to understand your real needs because I need to answer 6 more calls this afternoon”, “my script says if we can’t figure out what’s wrong in a few troubleshooting steps, just re-install the software” and the all-time favorite “Have you tried restarting?”  The intent may be to resolve the immediate issue quickly and cheaply to get the user back to work and save operational costs, but each of these quotes represents a missed opportunity to understand the user’s real needs and challenges.

Modern ITSM software like Freshservice can help your Service Desk staff develop their listening skills by removing some of the artificial obstacles to natural interaction with users.  Get rid of un-necessary heavyweight processes and scripts. Instead, provide your users with prompting questions to promote dialogue and a greater understanding of the user’s needs and concerns.  Then provide the service desk agents with an efficient means of capturing what they learn from the discussion and sharing it with service owners, problem management staff and others who can make the services better.  Its all part of taking a Fresh approach to IT Service Management.

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