Top 10 Most Sought After Service Desk Skills: What to Expect in 2017?

The (IT support) times they are a changin’, and IT service desks have already reacted not only in how they operate but also in how they recruit and train their staff. The average service desk, if there is such a thing in reality, is now focused on recruiting people with service desk skills like customer service, communication, and problem-solving skills – rather than previous support experience or deep technical knowledge.

sysadman-my-computers-broken Source: The Sysadman Diaries

It sounds great from a customer service point of view, but is this merely a plateau before another step change in end-user expectations of IT support (and associated industry best practices) change the qualities required of service desk staff again?

The service desk status quo in 2015

At the end of 2015, HDI – a professional association for the technical support industry – released its annual support center practices and salary report. Naming the top ten sought-after skills for hiring and promoting staff as:

    1. Customer service
    2. Communication skills
    3. Ability to learn quickly
    4. Troubleshooting/problem-solving skills
    5. Ability to work under pressure
    6. Adaptability
    7. Teamwork skills
    8. Interpersonal skills
    9. Support experience
    10. Integrity

With the provided training also emphasizing the need for customer service skills (please note that this HDI table includes only those organizations that have each position):

service desk skills in 2017

Source: HDI, 2015 Support Center Practices & Salary Report

And just to really underline the importance of customer service skills, the top five factors that influence salary increases for service desk people were said to be [Source: HDI, 2015 Support Center Practices & Salary Report]:

  1. Customer service skills
  2. Quality of work
  3. Meeting performance metrics or standards
  4. Help desk or support experience
  5. Increased job responsibilities

One can’t argue with the importance of customer skills to IT support but the times are still a changin’, with two factors in particular anticipated to change the requirements for service desk staff as we work our way into 2017.

Looking to 2017 and beyond – the growing importance of customer experience

Many service desks are already aware of the growing use of customer experience in the business-to-consumer (B2C) world – with improving customer experience a method of winning and retaining customers. This growing use of customer experience is raising customer expectations of services and service; and employees (who are, after all, consumers) are bringing their new expectations of customer experience into work and measuring the IT department, HR, and any other corporate service provider against them.

These customer-experience-adopting B2C companies will testify that a focus on customer service alone is no longer enough. And thus service desk management and staff (and the wider IT organization) will need to fully understand the constructs of customer experience, what it means in the context of corporate IT service delivery, and what they need to do to at least keep up with the growing expectations of employees.

Customer experience can be hard to explain, for instance Wikipedia states that:

“Customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer’s attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase and use of a service. It is measured by the individual’s experience during all points of contact against the individual’s expectations.”

And while what customer experience, and how end users “feel” about IT, means for service desks and staff training is yet to be fully realized, the smart money is on things like: the ability to be empathetic to the end user’s situation (or challenge), heightened listening skills, product and service expertise, and solution orientation.

Looking to 2017 and beyond – the impact of self-service success

Self-service success, i.e. achieving high employee adoption levels of the corporate IT self-service capability, is a wonderful thing; however, it has a number of adverse effects on the service desk. In terms of future service desk skill requirements, we have to look at how this success alters the mix of issues and requests hitting the service desk.

It’s not an exact science but if a non-technical service desk team member can follow a script to help an end user then many of today’s tech-savvy employees will also be able to follow similar instructions themselves. In an ideal world, and permissions willing, much of what Level 1 support currently handles can be pushed to end users to help themselves (Level 0 support).

The result is that the service desk will be dealing with fewer but more complex tickets, tickets that require so much more than the ability to read scripts.

And, unlike the money-saving service desk staffing vogue of the last decade, service desks will need to skill up technically rather skilling down in favor of script reading capabilities and customer service skills.

So we have a service desk staffing dichotomy

Thanks to knowledge management technologies and scripts, and of course the need to reduce support costs, service desks have spent the last ten years replacing highly technical staff for those with a customer service bent. But how will these teams of less technical staff deal with consistently more complicated, and more technical, issues and requests.

It’s as though service desk staff have gone full-circle, picking up some new skills along the way. In that we will need service desk staff that are empathetic, knowledgeable of the business, and packing many of the technical skills we wanted in the 1990s:


It will certainly make service desk recruitment trickier, and the same is possibly true for service desk staff retention. The flip side, however, is that it’s great for the service desk professionals who have the skills required for the 2017 service desk – with future rewards and recognition reflecting their new found rarity and importance.