The Pursuit of Award-Winning Service Improvement: A Case Study from Farm Credit Mid-America

Farm Credit Mid-America is an agricultural lending cooperative owned and controlled by our customers. We are one of the largest associations within the Farm Credit System. With more than 1,200 employees, we serve nearly 100,000 customers in 94 offices throughout Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Since our customers are members, they have a voice in how the organization is run. Our customers help shape who we are, define the course we take moving forward, and guide us to get there.

What was the situation before the launch of the service improvement initiative?

Before launching this initiative, FCMA’s service desk processes were clearly defined…and loosely performed. The team had an “every man for himself” approach to incidents and requests, and while everyone on the team got along, teamwork and collaboration were lacking. Everyone handled everything; there was no segregation of duties, no experts to turn to for help. This compounded some existing challenges:

  • Individual reporting: Though we had many reports covering overall statistics for the service desk, we had no reports that covered individual performance.
  • Knowledge base: Our knowledge base’s search feature was weak, making it difficult to find articles associated with the issues the service desk was receiving.
  • High MTTR: Tickets were sitting in queue for days without resolution. Staff were cherry-picking email and portal tickets, and tickets weren’t being created for some types of support, like walk-up and on-call support.
  • Unmonitored change tickets: Employee change tickets (onboarding, status changes, new hires, etc.) account for relatively few tickets each year (<3%), but these requests are challenging, time-consuming, and auditable. However, there were so many staff working on these requests that no one was being monitored and there was no accountability. Customer experience suffered.
  • Communication and knowledge transfer: Communication between the service desk team and escalated teams left much to be desired. Though the Tier 3 staff would alert the service desk agent who submitted the ticket know when it was resolved, there was no formal process for escalating tickets, reporting resolution, or transferring knowledge related to the resolution.
  • No CMDB maintenance: Although asset information was stored in the CMDB, there was no process for keeping it up to date. It was an inventory nightmare.
  • High ABD: Although the service desk was fully staffed, our abandonment rate hit the double digits for many months. Many times, staff walked over to the service desk to have their issues resolved, since they were unable to get through on the phone.

What was the improvement strategy?

Obviously, something had to change. Through the Roles and Responsibilities (R&R) project, we assessed the strengths of each staff member, using the Strengths Finder assessment, and assigned staff members to roles that maximized their strengths. By having the right structure and roles on the team, and by continuously monitoring and auditing the responsibilities of those roles, we knew the service desk could more effectively provide an exceptional customer experience.

The R&R team identified the top areas of responsibilities and created roles that highlighted the special talents required to be successful in the role. Specialization was key. Role specialization reduces process variation and provides a consistent and superior customer experience. It also creates opportunities for staff to grow professionally by focusing on a narrow scope of work and core job responsibilities.

Which processes and tools had to be implemented, modified, or leveraged to support the improvement strategy? What organizational changes (cultural, structural, or political) had to be implemented or modified to support the improvement strategy?

The improvement strategy entailed a complete change to the daily work and processes of the service desk staff, as well as modifications to our service desk software tool to add functionality for major incidents. But the biggest hurdle encountered by the team was that roles and responsibilities were not assigned by staff tenure or title. Three Tier 2 analysts were assigned to the queue each week, while the queue lead was a Tier 1 specialist. Our leadership stressed the importance of each role, and focused on the importance of teaching and mentoring in the new structure.

What were some of the lessons learned?

  • As with any change, large or small, communication is the key. Changes must be announced before the effective date and reinforced often.
  • Be flexible. Review all roles and responsibilities regularly, and solicit feedback from the team. Make modifications, as needed, throughout the process.
  • Focus on staff strengths, but allow staff to grow. A staff member with low attention to detail will likely be unhappy in a job requiring high attention to detail. But, as he or she becomes more tenured, they may reach out to learn the skills needed for different roles. This is a great leadership opportunity for specialists and leads.
  • Don’t be afraid to have fun and celebrate special occasions!