8 Ways Self-Service Success Adversely Impacts Service Desks

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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.


Corporate IT self-service success stories are thankfully more common these days, and we know the upside – wins in terms of time, money, and customer experience. But what about the adverse consequences, of self-service success, that need to be considered and addressed?

This might seem a strange question to ask, but taking a leaf out of Isaac Newton’s physics playbook – “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” – there must be some form of knock-on or kickback effect when self-service success removes incidents and service requests from the service desk’s workload.

This blog offers eight likely adverse impacts of self-service success and what you need to do about them. There will no doubt be others you can think of, if so please feel free to share them via a comment below.

1. Changes to the incident and service request profile mixes

Self-service will remove many of the “easy” tickets (both incidents and service requests) from the service desk queue. As a result of this:

  • Service desk tickets will on average take longer to complete due to increased complexity.
  • Dealing with complex issues will possibly have a detrimental effect on end-user views of service desk agents, if and when service desk agents are having to “fly by the seat of their pants” to deliver a timely resolution.
  • Service desk agents will need to be “better equipped” for these more complex issues and requests. Needing a wider skillset, starting with true problem solving over script reading.

What you need to do: Reimagine the service desk role

The days of “dumbing down” the service desk by merely employing “people who can read scripts” are over. Firstly, due to the self-service capability absorbing most of the simpler incident and service request tickets, with service desk agents now getting only the more complicated tickets in the main. And secondly, due to the rising expectations of end users based on their consumer-world experiences.

The service desk role, and associated recruitment criteria, will thus need to be reimagined to reflect not only the additional complexity but also the growing focus on the need for a better service experience. Agent training will also need to change, in particular to focus on problem solving and customer experience – with the latter replacing “speed” in some respects.

2. Service desk agents will be a premium resource

Given the need for a different, and wider, set of skills on the service desk:

  • Service desk agents will become a more expensive people resource (although admittedly fewer will be needed).
  • Retaining staff will be more important, and harder. It’s just the law of supply and demand in action.
  • It will be harder for service desks to “plug and play” new staff into the role, even if they have the right technical skill-sets. Knowledge management will play an important role in sharing business knowledge as well as technical knowledge.

What you need to do: Value service desk agents more

According to Service Desk Institute research, service desk agents now get little financial recompense for loyalty, i.e. staying in their service desk role for two or more years:

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Source: SDI Service Desk Benchmarking Report 2015

Nor are they likely to be subject to staff morale surveys:

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Source: SDI Service Desk Benchmarking Report 2015

Something has got to give here. Given the added complexity of the service desk agent role, it will be harder to recruit and then to assimilate new staff. And retaining staff will become both more important and harder.

3. Smaller service desk teams will mean less flexibility

Fewer tickets will potentially reduce the need for high numbers of people on the service desk, even with the average complexity of tickets rising. This will mean that:

  • There will be fewer opportunities for technical specialisms – as fewer people are available to cover the range of technologies used.
  • Planning for peak times and emergency needs will be more difficult, as will juggling annual leave at popular holiday times.
  • Peak periods, in particular, might offer a substandard service for non-self-service users. Look to retail banks and their in-branch queues on Saturdays as a good example.

What you need to do: Work smarter, not harder

With fewer staff working on more complex issues and requests, service desks will need to be better at knowledge management. Or more specifically knowledge exploitation.

It’s all well and good having a process to capture, codify, store, organize, and distribute knowledge but it’s not the management of knowledge that ultimately makes a difference. It’s the repeated use and benefitting from knowledge that makes a difference, and this is usually a culture change as much as an operational change.

“Working smarter, not harder” also includes exploiting opportunities for self-service, service desk, and ITOM automation (covered in the next section) and using the level zero solvable (LZS) technique.

It’s hard to explain LZS in less than 100 words, so instead please take a look at http://www.thinkhdi.com/~/media/HDICorp/Files/Library-Archive/Insider%20Articles/WhatIsLZS.pdf if you have the time. Put simply, it’s a measure of how many tickets hitting the service desk could have been resolved using self-service knowledge articles:

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The important thing is that LZS allows IT teams to know whether their knowledge bases are ready for self-service go-live (the blue line peaks before the dotted red line of go-live), and is thus a good indication of the chances of self-service success. Post go-live, LZS can still be used to ascertain how well the knowledge base is performing and to identify opportunities to improve.

4. Business operations are adversely impacted

The key here is automation versus the lack of automation.  Without automation, does the end user receive a slower resolution than with a service-desk-agent-based first contact resolution? Does this impact the end user’s personal productivity or maybe even business operations? And where the end user has to wait for a manual fix or provisioning, surely they are getting a worse service than if they had just called up. So given this, why would they use self-service?

Then some elements of IT support might cost more than if a service desk agent was involved. For instance:

  • Are higher-paid employees (senior end users) now in effect fixing IT?
  • Are employees take longer to fix things than IT would, at the expense of their real jobs (and business operations)?
  • Do failed self-fixes make things worse – in terms of secondary fix costs plus lost productivity?

What you need to do: Exploit opportunities for self-service, service desk, and ITOM automation

Automation offers a trifecta of service desk benefits:

  • Greater speed/efficiency
  • Reduced costs
  • Better customer experience

But there are also other benefits to be realized from introducing automation wherever it is thought to be advantageous:

  • Reduction in human error – things just get done, and consistently
  • Greater ability to change – it’s easier to program change in automation than to get groups of people to do things in a different way
  • Better people utilization – automation frees up people from routine, potentially mundane, tasks to focus on higher value-add activities

Finally, we shouldn’t just think of automation as scripting and orchestration capabilities. Machine learning offers a wealth of opportunities to time-strapped service desks in terms of improving knowledge management and self-service capabilities. For example:

  • Improved search capabilities – intelligent search provides a number of relevant options with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Providing recommendations – such as end users already get with Amazon and Netflix in their personal lives.
  • Intelligent autoresponders – tickets completed and closed by the technology without human involvement with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Identifying and filling knowledge gaps – the identification of knowledge-article gaps or the conversion of documented ticket resolutions into knowledge.

5. Metrics and targets will become skewed on a number of levels

Old service desk measures and targets will need reassessing. For example:

  • Ticket volumes should decrease if self-help is done right.
  • First contact resolution (FCR) will potentially drop dramatically – and will it still be relevant in a self-service world anyway?
  • Average handling time will increase, as tickets are in the main more complex.
  • Additional measures will be needed.

New metrics/targets will also be somewhat skewed by the proportion of the end user base that will never want to use self-service.

What you need to do: Reinvent and re-baseline metrics

Don’t just tweak the existing metrics and targets. Instead, addressing the differences brought about by self-service success is an opportunity to revisit the worth, or value, of service desk metrics. To ensure that they are still relevant, fair, viewed in the context of other measures, and are used as a platform for action – ideally to engender operational or service improvement.

6. Self-service success will potentially lower business perceptions of IT

Measuring the value and business perceptions of IT has never been easy. One thing, however, that sticks in my mind is a global analyst firm statistic that’s now too old to officially cite – that the IT service desk is responsible for about 50% of the business’ perception of the corporate IT organization. Thus the perception of IT as a whole could easily go down as a result of fewer human-to-human service desk contacts.

Plus, there might be different perspectives on the result of self-service success. For instance, the statement “IT has a great self-service capability” when viewed with a half-empty mind-set could be “IT breaks it, we have to fix it” or “IT support is easy, why do we need so many people doing IT support?”

Then finally, depending on the level of focus on customer experience, corporate IT self-service might always be seen as inferior to its consumer-world equivalents (with the latter offering a great UX, orchestration, and machine learning capabilities).

7. Customer relationships are strained or even lost

Following on from the previous point, valuable human-to-human contacts will be lost through self-service. So will the service desk, and the IT organization as a whole, thus know less about end users, their needs, how they use IT, and business operations?

There’s also another angle here – does the corporate self-service capability make the end user feel stupid? No one likes to be made to feel stupid. Or, putting how we feel aside, are end users actually able to use the self-service capability and its content effectively? You might argue that self-service can’t be successful without this, but it all depends on how success is measured – just look to the usual “sea of green service desk” metrics versus the less-flattering, end-user opinions of IT support seen in industry analyst reports. So IT might consider self-service successful even though it costs the business more than it saves in time and costs.

What you need to do: Invest in better relationship management

I think that most of us would agree that self-service success, without some form of compensating activity, will adversely affect H2H relationships and the IT organization’s knowledge of end user wants and needs. So:

  • At a business (unit) level, invest in more H2H roles such as service delivery managers, service level managers, and/or business relationship managers.
  • At an end-user level, understand that every H2H service desk contact now needs to be a home run.

Use the relationship-based roles to start (constructive) conversations about how well IT support and the IT organization as a whole is meeting end-user and business needs. And ensure that you make it at least a level above the traditional transactional surveys. If your organization is going to focus on customer experience (CX) for internal service providers too, then the measurement of employee “feelings” will already be on the agenda.

8. Self-service is a “movable feast”

End user self-service needs and wants will change over time. These will evolve quickly as consumerization – where employee’s personal-life experiences and expectations are brought into the workplace – continues to push the service delivery envelope for corporate IT (and other internal service providers).

Take mobile access to self-service as an example. We expect it in our personal lives but, according to 2015 HDI research, only one quarter of companies that offer an IT self-service portal currently provide self-service capabilities via mobile devices. Then there’s the introduction of machine learning (although it’s already available to IT organizations in many forms), such as that we experience in our personal lives.

What you should do about it: Plan and budget for self-service evolution

It’s important to appreciate that end-user expectations of self-service will change, possibly quite rapidly, and their personal-life experiences will strongly influence them.

So, look to how business-to-consumer (B2C) self-service is evolving to see the potential future impact on corporate IT. For example, bots or the use of machine learning applications such as knowledge exploitation are already here, whether customers know it or not.

So, that’s eight ways in which self-service success adversely impacts the service desk and what you should do about them. If you have already succeeded with self-service, did any of these obstacles or anything else catch you out?

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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Karen Chisholm

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