I was working with a client recently, helping them plan ways to improve the management of IT user support. When I came to review the advice I offered them, I realized that other organizations might find the same advice useful, so I have created three blog posts highlighting some of the client’s issues and what might be done to resolve them. I have, obviously, made some changes to preserve the anonymity of the client.
This blog post is the second of the three.
The client is the IT support organization for a very large outsourcing company. They run many different service desks, and support teams. Some of the service desks deliver internal support; others are used by external customers. Some are dedicated to single customers; others are shared by many customers. Some provide a very basic service that simply logs incidents and dispatches to level 1 support; others provide more expertise with a high first-time-fix rate.
This organization is subject to the same pressures as every other support organization I have worked with recently. They need to cut costs, but this mustn’t lead to a reduction in service. In fact, they need to improve service levels AND customer satisfaction while cutting costs – an apparently impossible goal.
In the second of three posts, I’m going to share with you how providing excellent self-service options for your customers and offering them a well-planned and appropriately managed choice of channels, can help an organization achieve this seemingly impossible goal. I’m also going to point out some of the ways in which the ITIL® Practitioner Guiding Principles helped to inform my thinking as I worked with the client.
Self-service adoption and channel management
My client already understood that increased adoption of self-service by their users would have significant benefits. As I wrote in the first post, this made these areas the obvious starting point for their improvement planning, in line with one of guiding principles from ITIL Practitioner: Start where you are.
What the client wanted was advice about the best way to set about this, and guidance about which channels they should be thinking about using.
In general, support costs tend to decrease as you move away from expensive phone calls to emails, to text-based chat, and cheapest of all, to web-based self-service. Consequently, many organizations are now migrating user support from phone calls to these other channels. When this is done well, it results in significant benefits for both the IT organization and their customers. There is an improvement in service quality and efficiency, better communication, increased customer satisfaction, and a reduction in cost.
However, many self-service projects make cost reduction their primary focus, and this almost invariably leads to disappointing results. Such projects tend to have poor levels of customer acceptance and low take-up.
What makes for a successful self-service project?
The best advice I could offer my customer about this is in line with two of the ITIL Practitioner Guiding principles: focus on value, design for experience.
I cannot emphasise too strongly how important it is to make sure that any self-service project has a focus on providing good service to customers. The internal service desk at one organization I knew enforced use of self-service by denying staff the option of using phone calls. While this did result in cost reductions for IT, the level of customer satisfaction was so poor, and the cost to the business was so significant, that the organization was forced to restore the ability to use phones. Customer satisfaction immediately improved, but the longer-term damage is likely to prove incalculable. Memories of a poor experience of self-service are likely to linger and may make it very difficult to get support for any future improvements.
On the other hand, self-service projects that focus on service experience almost always result in significant reductions in cost. Customers choose to move to the self-service portal, without being forced to. This results in fewer calls to the service desk and reduces overall costs. Users spend less time on the phone trying to get support instead of getting on with their jobs, which reduces business costs; and incidents tend to be resolved faster, which reduces costs for everyone.
Common features of effective web portals and text-based chat
I have seen some very effective implementations of web portals and text-based chat. The best of these have common features that the ITIL Practitioner Guiding Principles can help you identify.
- Multiple channels. This allows service desk agents and users to choose the channel which will work best to meet the current need. It is important that users are empowered to choose their preferred channel, rather than being forced to use one that isn’t going to work well for them. This contributes to users’ willingness to use self-service and their satisfaction when they do access it, and ultimately ensures the lowest overall cost. (Focus on Value; Design for Experience; Collaborate)
- Seamless movement between channels This allows the customer to choose their preferred channel in the first instance, but allows service desk agents to move the communication to a different channel when necessary. For example, an incident may start with web-based chat; the service desk agent could then agree with the customer that they will use email to send a document with explanatory detail. Alternatively, the incident could start with web-based self-service and move to chat when the user needs more personal support. (Focus on Value; Design for Experience; Work holistically)
- Equal priority for all calls to the Service Desk, regardless of the channel used to make initial contact. This is probably the biggest issue for users. Calls received via a web portal or chat should NOT be treated as lower priority than calls received via the phone. If users know that they will get quicker and more effective service via the phone, that’s what they’ll do. They will be reluctant to migrate to other channels and will reject self-service and chat. In fact, during the early stages of a transition to web-based services, it may even be appropriate to prioritize calls that arrive over chat and self-service interfaces, to encourage users to migrate to these channels. (Focus on Value; Design for Experience; Be transparent)
- A focus on good knowledge management. Successful projects always have good knowledge management, integrated with the web-portal, and, as discussed in my previous post, enabling users to get help in a format and style that works for them. Some users prefer to read documents; others are more comfortable with audio or video recordings. A great self-service solution will provide knowledge in many different formats to support this kind of user choice. (Focus on Value; Design for Experience)
- Making improvements and then marketing them. You need to make sure that the new channels are better for the users than the phone that they currently use, and you need to make sure that they KNOW that they will get better support using these new channels. Tailoring changes to suit your users and educating them about what you have done are essential aspects of a successful project to move users to text-based chat or self-service. (Focus on Value; Design for Experience; Be transparent)
- Incremental progress. There is no need to migrate all users or all services to new channels in one enormous project. A small implementation for some users, or for some types of call, can enable you to learn what works in your environment with little risk. You can then scale this up as you discover your users’ preferences and as the service desk learns to manage the new channels. For example, my client could not afford to implement the tooling needed to enable all users to communicate with chat, given their specific circumstances. But an easily affordable pilot project for a group of internal users can be implemented using existing tooling. This can then be scaled up to include more internal users. Ultimately, the data collected will allow them to understand what steps would be required to implement a scalable solution, and what the costs and benefits are likely to be. This will, in turn, enable the organization to make an informed business decision about how to proceed. (Progress iteratively; Keep it simple).
You may have noticed that while the previous post was structured around the guiding principles of ITIL Practitioner, this one was focused on things that are more specific to my client’s concerns. But even though I didn’t explicitly use the ITIL Guiding Principles to structure this blog, they informed my thinking, and their influence can be felt throughout the discussion. I hope that it’s easy to see how Focus on value, Design for experience, Progress iteratively and the six other guiding principles can help you to recognize, adopt, and adapt best practice when designing an improvement project.
If you’re planning an IT Service Management (ITSM) improvement initiative, then make sure you’ve read the ITIL Practitioner guiding principles, use them to help you think through your options, and see if they can help you improve your decision making. Please let me know how you get on.
See our ITIL Practitioner certification and ITIL Practitioner Nine Guiding Principles sections for more information
Read the other posts in this series
Service Desk Improvement - Part 1
Service Desk Improvement - Part 3.
Read Stuart Rance's other AXELOS Blog Posts
How does 'Focus on Value' relate to the rest of ITIL Practitioner Guidance?
ITIL® Practitioner - Focus on Value