“Press any key doesn’t mean the press key marked ‘any’!”: One of my favourite lines from the enormous library of YouTube videos parodying the IT service desk. This particular quote comes from the ‘Stars Wars Help desk’, where a frustrated Storm Trooper laments the challenges of delivering IT support in the Galactic Empire. Joking aside, what these videos highlight is that despite an increasing dependency on IT the same old support problems continue to burden the service desk.
As any service desk professional will tell you, the savviest end users can be a real pain in the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). In contrast to less IT literate workers, the challenge with savvy users is that they may assume they already understand the problem, meaning they neglect a vital piece of information needed to resolve it.
Even if a service issue is resolved technically, end users can still determine the success of a service desk based on how they rate their ‘experience’. If an end-user ‘feels’ like they are being treated badly, even if they are wrong, as customers they are ‘always right’ and will hold the service desk to account.
The harsh reality is that the days where IT was held in high regard, almost as an oracle working their magic on the mystical PC, are long gone. In fact as just a few minutes of IT outage can have a drastic impact on an individual user’s productivity, expectations around service quality continue to rise.
Service desk staff are now at the frontline, defending the wider reputation of IT in business: with this responsibility comes the need for a greater ‘customer service’ focus. However, as Don Crawley’s “The Compassionate Geek” highlights (and seeks to redress), customer service is not a skill that comes naturally to most IT folk.
At the same time, this ‘lack of compassion’ is only one part of a much broader issue facing IT service desks. The reason why a customer service focus is so important is because the majority of time is spent fire-fighting service issues, which are often basic ‘utility’ type tasks such as resetting passwords.
An adverse effect of this reactive work is that executive management end up seeing the service desk function as an expensive cost centre that is probably better outsourced. However, outsourcing the service desk can actually be extremely limiting as it prevents organisations from seeing the wider opportunities around service delivery.
The average service desk professional has knowledge and skills that go far beyond guiding users to turn their machine ‘off and on again’ (a phrase that Roy from Channel 4’s The IT Crowd has made famous), which ironically, often works. If the user is equipped with self-service and basic hints and tips to diagnose basic service issues, these utility type tasks can be diverted away from the service desk.
With more time on their hands, service desk staff can actually turn their focus to proactively improving the quality of IT services so that less time is needed on the phone and/or responding to incidents (contrary to the perception Roy might also have created that they really just spend their time avoiding support calls). Beyond service improvement, they can then set about looking at areas where new IT services can be created that add greater value to the organisation.
ITIL is of course a good place to start in terms of how to improve IT service Management (ITSM). However, as Stephen Mann’s post on Computerworld highlights, a common mistake is that people “don’t realise that ITIL is only a framework and does not equal ITSM”.
New technologies continually push the boundaries of the ITSM environment and with four years between the 2007 and 2011 updates, ITIL is struggling to keep pace with this change. Those savvy IT users I previously mentioned are amongst those placing new demands on the service desk by driving trends such as the consumerisation of IT, cloud computing, social media and collaborative technologies which are re-shaping the ITSM landscape.
They want these technologies right now; and if a lack of management flexibility around how to use or support them prevents adoption, the role and reputation of the service desk will again come into question.
Implementing CRM-like capabilities that deliver a personalised service desk experience is clearly an important step towards improving IT’s relationship with end users. However, in order to become truly customer-centric, service desk professionals must also be given more time to focus on supplying IT services their business will value.
A combination of self-service and greater automation of certain basic processes will help end users to address certain issues themselves. Most importantly, greater agility in ITSM strategy is critical to ensuring the service desk can keep pace with the ever changing demands of end users. Alternatively staff could attempt to address users’ service complaints by using the old Jedi mind trick: but that only really worked a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.