How To Set Up Your Service Desk – The People, Process, and Technology

Service Desk Defined

The service desk acts as the primary support mechanism in organizations, managing customer contacts for assistance and access to services. Their primary purpose includes the following:

  • Receiving and responding to requests for support across multiple communication channels
  • Prioritizing the requested work based on its impact on the business
  • Communication of incidents and known issues to the business
  • Supporting incident management by escalating issues, working with the incident management team to convene conference calls, and issuing reminders to teams when to follow up on actions.

The service desk can manage their daily challenges in many ways. Still, the design and architecture of delivering services and a set of robust communication channels, powered by sufficient automation, collectively help the service desk excel and provide an excellent customer/consumer experience.

The right people, process, and technology in an organization form the core of any successful business. It’s a framework that’s been in use since the 1960s to improve the operational efficiencies of employees. We can apply the same framework while designing and implementing a service desk in your company.

Part 1: The People – Hiring for the Service Desk

Staff: Finding the right mix for service desk staff can be challenging, but there are a few things to keep in mind. The ideal candidate is personable, likes being on the phone with customers, wants to help people, and has sufficient basic skills for the job. This skill-set is often appropriate for an entry-level position. Putting the right people on the desk is critical as the service desk’s perception affects overall customer satisfaction with IT. Traits to look for include:

  • Good phone manner, customer service capabilities demonstrated in their experience. It doesn’t always need to come from a background as a service desk agent. People in the hospitality industry with sufficient technical skills are also well-suited to the task. 
  • Sufficient technology background to fix simple configuration/usage issues and follow knowledge scripts to apply workarounds for more complex issues.
  • Some service desks cover many second-level support specialties, including desktop support, system administration, and access administration. In these situations, the technicians hired should have a more profound technical background than the first-level analysts who might grow into these more advanced roles.
  • A desire to grow and a passion for serving others are a plus.

Managers: While service desk analysts can be relatively entry-level roles, the manager’s position requires a more robust skill level than some of the other managers in IT. Service desk managers will most definitely play a key role in delivering service and support within the organization. They need a strong customer focus and the ability to play a vital role in ensuring other support personnel gets the job done. They will often be the person who holds other managers and directors accountable for resolving incidents on time and making sure certain requests are fulfilled within expected time frames. Skills to look for include: 

  • Leadership and teamwork development to build a strong service desk team
  • Solid customer service skills
  • Some level of technical skill to help contribute to proper escalation and management of major incidents, even better if they also play a role as major incident manager or incident manager
  • Experience and/or training in knowledge management, building and managing knowledge bases
  • Experience with metrics and reporting
  • A visionary and/or innovative outlook also helps, as the technology available to service desks is currently in a transformational period

Part 2: The Process – Pitfalls to avoid

When setting up a service desk, there are a few areas in the design or practice that can lead to lowered customer satisfaction or internal struggles. Some areas to consider in the design and ongoing operation are as follows:

  • Shutting down channels too soon: As channels like service portals are added, service desk management often makes the mistake of trying to shut down ineffective channels like email too quickly. Sometimes, email is shut down when the portal goes live, but this is actually a mistake that can lead to lowered satisfaction levels. The best way to shut down an ineffective channel is to use great experiences and adoption programs to drive people to the preferred channel. Then, as volume decreases, begin a communication program to shut down the channel over a short period of time.
  • Confusing or lengthy voice menus: When multiple-service desks or skill-based routing is used to direct calls to the right person, there’s a temptation to create complex menus to support the routing. This can be very frustrating for an end-user. Work to make menus as short as possible, no more than 3 or 4 options on a level and no more than two levels. Make certain every option is used by skill-based routing. In other words: don’t use menus unless you need them for routing, and don’t ask for more than you need to accomplish this routing.
  • Failing to focus on building knowledge: Creating a robust knowledge base is critical to service desk operation but widely overlooked. Knowledge bases not only ensure a consistent and efficient service desk experience, but they also support self-service and chatbots. Every ticket for which a knowledge article is not found should be turned into one when a workaround is determined, at either the service desk or during L2 support. This won’t happen automatically, so many organizations are turning to a program of gamification and reward to encourage technical teams to build knowledge.
  • Too much emphasis on wait times and call length: Keeping wait times down is critical to employee satisfaction, and keeping call times short is needed for cost-effective operations. While they’re both significant in service desk operations, too much focus on the measures themselves is counter-productive. People can’t be rushed off the phone just to keep average call times low or because other people are waiting. Proper staffing, use of multiple channels, strong and problem management are the key to lower overall phone volumes. Extensive knowledge bases help technicians get a workaround applied more quickly and will naturally drive the right balance on wait times and call times. Work on the qualitative areas rather than the quantitative, and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Part 3: The Technology – Service desk tools

Successful service desk operation is extremely tool-based. While vision and mission are critical, they can’t be carried out effectively without the technology to back them up: phones, service portals, and ticketing tools to pass incidents and requests to other teams are all critical to service desk operation. Following is a recap of some of the technology needed to work effectively at the service desk.  

Phone systems

Most common is the ACD or automated call distribution system, which can combine voice menus and skill-based routing to deliver calls effectively. ACD systems can provide other capabilities to enhance their functionality:

  • Use of voice-integrated capabilities to enable the caller to engage in normal speech when indicating their need, instead of listening to lengthy menus.
  • Employing unified messaging techniques, which can import voice messages in a single mailbox. Ensure that these are imported into the service management platform through integration. 
  • Integration of the ACD system to the service management platform, called Computer/Telephony Integration (CTI), provides “screen pop” capabilities and speeds up service by opening a record with the person’s name and contact information displayed. 

Service Management Platforms and Portals

The service management platform, still sometimes called a ticketing system, is second only to the ACD system in importance. Modern service management platforms will offer an incident management application. They also offer an application that interfaces to the built-in service catalog to manage the requests submitted via the service catalogs. In addition, they offer applications for problem management, so technology and application teams can manage issues that need to be permanently resolved. Features to look for in a service management platform are provided in the table that follows. 

These platforms are widely variable in their target office, with scaled-down products for small service desks and large, robust platforms to support enterprise service management needs. If you need more info on how to choose a service management platform, click here.

Call initiation capability

Providing the ability to start a call before knowing what type of support the caller needs (incident vs. service request) or to land a screen pop integration is helpful. Generally, this temporary record type can be converted to an incident or service request during the initial interaction. In a robust system, this may even display other open tickets the caller has when they call to follow up on one of them.

Incident Management application

Not all incident management applications are alike. In order to be useful in today’s complex environment, the following capabilities should be provided, along with the ability to capture appropriate information about the caller or service recipient and the incident itself. Look for:

  • Ability to categorize the call at a high level for trend reporting
  • Ability to classify the configuration item about which the user is calling. This may not be the one at fault, but a truly good design will have a place to store the configuration item that caused the issue as well.
  • A built-in interface to the knowledge management system that displays potential solutions to your L1 technician.
  • Ability to assign tickets automatically based on the configuration item, categorization and/or a set of simple rules, along with the ability to post the issue to a feed that’s used to manage support delivered by swarming.
  • Escalation and special management workflows for managing major incidents, along with integration to an automated notification capability that enables key support personnel to be notified and join a conference bridge and/or the ability to manage on-call rotations and notify the appropriate personnel
  • Dashboards that assist in managing critical incidents: critical/high priority, incidents that are nearing their SLA breach point, breached SLA’s etc.

Knowledge Base

Most service management platforms have a knowledge base application included within them. This should provide support for a Knowledge-Centered Support or KCS practice in the organization. There are several basic processes in KCS support that the platform should support:

  • The solve-evolve loop is supported by the ability to convert an incident into a draft knowledge article
  • The ability to display draft knowledge to the service desk for just-in-time use as new known errors are identified (with workarounds)
  • The evolve-portion of the loop is supported by the user’s ability to flag knowledge as it is used, and to provide feedback and ratings to help evolve the knowledge

The knowledge base should enable both streamlined approval and instant publication of knowledge. Bonus points if the platform alows the use of commercially available knowledge bases to supplement the internally created knowledge base articles. The incident deflection process should let end users see appropriate articles when they log a support ticket through the portal.

Problem Management

When the root cause of an incident is not known, the system should provide the ability to escalate it to problem management. From there, it can be assigned and managed outside of the service desk, ultimately leading to the creation of knowledge articles with workarounds that may be used until it is fully resolved.

Request Fulfillment Application

Since requests are separately managed from incidents, many products interface their service catalog to a back-end request fulfillment application. This holds the request “ticket” and utilizes workflows to manage the fulfillment of the item. The workflows should include interfaces that enable the following:

  • Collection of appropriate approvals
  • Ability to provision any hardware/software needed from an asset management viewpoint (or to procure the item needed)
  • Ability to indicate a requested item is on backorder, along with the ability to display when it is expected in the service catalog or to notify the requester
  • Cost tracking for chargebacks, when used
  • Ability to open tasks to multiple fulfillment teams and/or providers in sequence or in parallel, depending on the item’s fulfillment process
  • Tracking against service levels for the fulfillment of the request

Service Catalog

The front-end, customer visible portion of request fulfillment is the Service Catalog. Service management platforms vary widely in the quality of their service catalog, with some key capabilities including:

  • The ability to categorize the items contained in the catalog, offering both incidents and service requests through a structure that doesn’t require the user to know which they are logging
  • Robust design capabilities to manage complex requests, including the ability to ask questions conditionally, depending on the response to a previous question
  • The ability for the end-user to return and see the status of their ticket
  • Notifications and ability to add notes to a ticket
  • Integration with a service portal for a full self-service experience
  • Integration with knowledge bases for tickets that generate incidents: when a question or description is entered, knowledge should display automatically

Service Portal

Tied closely to the service catalog, the service portal is the customer’s entry point to obtain information and support. The more robust the portal experience, the higher adoption will be for the portal, end-user knowledge, and the service catalog. The portal should offer access to the following capabilities:

  • Information about current system issues, helpful information like holiday schedules, company announcements, etc.
  • Integration to the phone system and walk-up center queues to show current wait times
  • Ability to sign up for a spot at the walk-up center, then receive a notification shortly before the user’s turn is reached
  • Access to knowledge bases through search capabilities or browsing
  • Access to the service catalog
  • Chat capabilities for direct support
  • Ability to post a question or need to a social media style application and thus engage in the support provided via swarming

Chat, Chatbots

While listed under the portal as well, the platform’s mechanism for providing chat, integration to virtual personal assistants like Cortana, Siri, etc., and ability to scale support through the use of chatbots should be considered.

Social Feed

Social feeds are needed to support swarming and peer-to-peer support.

Walk up center support

Establishing a walk-up center requires technology that has become more common in service management platforms. There are several aspects to establishing a walk-up center:

  • Support for signing in from the service portal
  • Support for signing in via a tablet/kiosk at the walk-up center
  • Ability to see the queue/place inline
  • Agent’s ability to pull the ticket and manage the queue

Integration support

Even the best service management tool will not work well unless it can interact with other applications within the platform as well as external systems. Consider the ability to interface with the following capabilities, either within or external to the platform:

  • Asset Management and provisioning software
  • Configuration Management data and discovery tools
  • Monitoring systems
  • External display boards: showing call stats, current major incident information, and more
  • Notification and texting systems for on-call rotation and major incidents
  • Ability to automatically import emails

Predictive analytics

Finally, as artificial intelligence and big data become more and more prevalent in the industry, the number of tools that leverage data to provide predictive support is also growing. The ability to begin logging an incident and see common solutions based on incidents like the one being experienced is a great time saver for knowing there’s a major incident in the making or that an issue needs to be escalated to another group.