6 Tips for Winning with Self-Service

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By Stephen Mann, guest blogger from ITSM.tools

Principal and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.


As outlined in my previous blog – “Consumerization is Changing Corporate IT Support Forever, But What Are You Doing About It?” – just offering up IT self-service technology, or capabilities, isn’t enough to achieve self-service success. Sadly, the traditional “build it and they will come” approach to IT self-service of old has failed to reap the required level of success for many corporate IT organizations. And according to Service Desk Institute (SDI) research, two out of every five organizations currently rank “low self-service adoption” as one of their top causes of service desk pain:

In your daily service desk life, what causes you the most pain?

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Source: SDI “Life on the Service Desk in 2016”

Plus of course not all the surveyed organizations will have invested in IT self-service yet – SDI rates self-service (technology) adoption to be circa 80% and thus, at 42%,  this is one in every two organizations suffering with low end-user adoption levels. Or that are admitting to suffering.

In some ways, I can’t help think that this situation isn’t helped by the assumption that corporate IT self-service can just piggyback on the success of consumer-world examples such as Amazon. It’s the assumption that just because employees use self-service outside of work, they will use self-service at work. This is then compounded when corporate IT self-service capabilities just aren’t as easy to use as their consumer-world counterparts.

Don’t compare apples with oranges when it comes to self-service

While end users are happy to use self-service in their personal lives there are a number of differences between this and the use of self-service at work, including:

  • The self-service capability itself. For instance, there might be a gulf between the ease of use of a consumer-world self-service capability and that provided by the corporate IT organization. Or that the corporate capability is considered slow due to the absence of automation – either front-end, using machine learning to offer up best fit solutions, or back-end, to automate help and provisioning. One could also argue that one capability built for the benefit of customers while the other is built for the benefit of the service provider (IT).
  • The use case scenario in terms of importance. The personal-life need might be trivial compared to the workplace requirement. For example, ordering a new personal mobile phone case versus the need to have a faulty corporate mobile phone replaced before leaving on a foreign travel trip. So would an employee currently trust the latter to self-service or would they rather get assurance from a human being that “everything will be OK.”
  • The required speed of resolution or delivery. As with the use case scenario point above, we might be happy to wait for resolutions or the delivery of new services in our personal lives – there might be a speed to cost trade off. At work, however, slowness and delays can severely impact our ability to work productively and the business operations we support.

6 tips for approaching corporate self-service the right way

Corporate IT organizations need to realize that self-service success requires a change in the attitudes and behaviors, of both end users and IT support staff. Thus to create an IT self-service ecosystem that people want to use (and actually can and do use), corporate IT organizations should:

  1. Plan for, and deliver, IT self-service from a business perspective. No matter how good the self-service technology, IT will struggle to deliver the required benefits – across costs, efficiency, and customer experience – if employees don’t use it (or maybe even if they don’t use it enough). So look at self-service as the introduction of a business capability through which end users can access help, information, or services rather than just as a technology. Also consider how self-service capabilities are delivered, understanding that the further the IT organization makes employees “travel” to use self-service the less likely they are to make the journey.
  2. Recognize that the creation of this business capability needs business user involvement. A common reason why IT self-service projects fail is a lack of end user and customer involvement. In the case of self-service, the delivered capability usually fails to meet end user needs or is too complex for them to use. For example, take the current industry push to “kill email” for IT support because it makes IT personnel less efficient (versus portal-based self-service). But how do end users and customers actually want to receive help? I’d be willing to bet many would still prefer to send an email, and receive an immediate machine-learning-based response (that helps them), versus needing to go to a portal to get the same information.
  3. View self-service as more than just a cost-saving replacement for telephone access. For people to use self-service, it needs to be better and easier to use than the existing telephone channel. Taking a one-dimensional cost-saving approach won’t necessarily deliver a self-service capability that people want to, and will, use. More importantly, low self-service usage will most likely make the self-service initiative a negative rather than positive return on investment (ROI) project.
  4. Embrace user and customer experience principles throughout the self-service capability. The self-service delivery project has to clearly differentiate between the technology’s user interface (UI) and how end users actually use and experience it. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean that people find it good to use. In an ideal world, every self-service end-user touch point should be reviewed for optimal user experience. In particular, focus on the need for immediate gratification – as we now live in a “I want it now society.” Knowledge management is a key part of this – not only in having the required knowledge nuggets available as and when end users need help but also making sure they can be “found” (or received) and are both understandable and usable by non-technical people.
  5. View self-service success as more than the technology “go live.” Self-service requires more than a one-time investment in pre-launch communications and education. Instead a self-service capability needs to be treated as a “living thing” that will flourish or die based on how it’s cared for. Including continual use monitoring, end user feedback collection, capability tweaks, and additional end-user coaching and training where needed. Again, knowledge management plays a big part. There is a need to not only ensure that existing knowledge articles stay “fresh,” but also the continued addition of new articles to fill gaps and to support new opportunities for end-user self-help.
  6. Create the right environment for end users to adopt self-service. IT organizations need to address potential people-change issues and the associated likelihood of resistance. Starting with the “what’s in it for me” and demonstrating the value of self-service to end users over the other existing methods of access and communication. Then getting communication, involvement, education, and training right such that end users know why things have changed (the business benefits), how the change will help them (the personal benefits), and what they need to do to benefit from self-service.

So that’s six tips for succeeding with self-service and better meeting the needs of consumerization. Please look out for future blogs that dig deeper into:

  • Using automation to deliver the real benefits of self-service.
  • New consumer-world support and self-service capabilities such as machine learning.

We held a live webinar on January 25th to discuss the impact of consumerization on corporate IT service desks. If you missed it, you’re in luck! You can view the webinar by clicking here.

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