Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wherefore art thou, service desk?

This started as a reply to a blog written by ITSM consultant extraordinaire Barclay Rae. Go back and read that if you get the chance. My thoughts are intended to compliment what Barclay shared  and expand in an area that's had a lot of my attention lately. Where has the Service desk gone, what have we done to it, and how do we give it its proper place in ITSM?

We've worked so hard to define ITSM and ITSM software as "more than (just) the help desk" that we started to believe ourselves that the service desk doesn't matter. We (ITSM industry) have such a strong inferiority complex that we needed to show everyone else, the business and the rest of IT, that what we do is more than logging calls and managing trouble tickets. Along the way, we've forgotten that the people we put in between the rest of IT and the business actually matter. Instead we looked for easier and cheaper ways to do that function. This has given rise to:
  1. Outsourcing the service desk function entirely, and/or
  2. Scaling back on the quantity and quality of people we use to staff internal service desks
Over the past year I've come across more and more organizations downplaying the importance of the service desk. Even when facilitating Incident Management workshops, the service desk is barely mentioned. The service desk manager may even be present, but he/she recognizes that the people taking the calls are virtually irrelevant.

We've justified the easier, cheaper goal based on research  that tends to imply that customers don't want to talk to us anyway. The service desk is an anachronism of days long past when customers had no other options.

I'd argue that internal technology support is significantly different than most transactional customer support; but I'm willing to set that aside for now. Let's go with the assumption that most customers of internal IT services prefer not to interact with your staff. So customers try to resolve issues on their own. What happens when they can't? They've googled the issue, searched through your knowledge base, asked coworkers for help, and the issue remains. It's clear that by this point their issue is not a simple password reset that self service can easily solve.

Now they need to call in professional help, so who do we have them call? Outsourced staff armed only with scripts for common issues, or internal staff of whom we expect little more than being able to transcribe the issue into a ticket. These are the people you want representing the face of your services to your business?

Yes, we're probably right that automating simple service transactions are a good idea. But that doesn't mean we can scale back on the people who do engage with our customers. What it means is that the people who do call for help can be divided into two groups:
  • Those with more complex issues that aren't easily resolved by standard repeatable steps, OR
  • Those who prefer not to use self help, and need more hand holding
We need people taking those calls to have a broad technical base, so they understand how to triage and diagnose issues that may have multiple causes across technology AND business disciplines. They must understand how our specific business works. And we need people with the skills to empathize and listen, who actually enjoy helping less tech savvy customers achieve results.

Instead, we give our customers the polar opposite of what they need. We give them outsourced staff who know nothing about our business, and staff with minimal technical breadth.

The old model was to staff the Service desk with entry-level systems analysts. The current model staffs the Service desk with the cheapest resources we can find. I propose that what is needed going forward are service desks staffed with junior business analysts or junior relationship managers. Let's use people who are focused on technology breadth and customer outcomes.

Crazy idea, huh?