Working Alone Can Get You Into Trouble


by Tom Smetana
May 25, 2012

 

Within many companies, the help desk and desktop support teams work independently, contributing to greater inefficiencies, lower customer satisfaction, and higher support costs. A methodical, unified approach is needed to narrow the gap between the two groups, increase end-user satisfaction, and lower the total cost of service provisioning.

In many IT service and support organizations, the help desk is managed independently from the desktop support operation, contributing to inefficiencies in service provisioning. While each group spends time and energy to make their respective teams better through people, process, and technology, they nonetheless operate separately.

This independence, however, is fraught with problems, including unresolved help desk incidents that increase costs when they are escalated to desktop support. Narrowing the gap between both groups will create a more efficient, seamless operation, saving the organization time, energy, and money.

Common Threads

Consider the following common threads found in IT service and technical support environments:

  • Help desks and desktop support teams are typically managed independently. 
  • Each group’s performance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are not generally aligned. 
  • Help desks do not typically resolve all of the contacts they could and should.
  • Some help desks do not retain ownership of escalated calls and offload the responsibility on other groups. 
  • Desktop support receives incidents that should be resolved elsewhere. 
  • There is a higher cost associated with dispatching a desktop support technician than resolving the issue at the help desk. 
  • Inconsistencies and lack of control in the support environment greatly contribute to end-user dissatisfaction. 
  • There is minimal cross-training between the two groups. 
  • Many companies consider the desktop support technician position to be a stop on the career path for help desk analysts.

Compounding the Problem

Even though they generally report to the same leadership, because many help desk and desktop support teams operate independently, it is difficult to get both teams working toward a common strategy and vision. As managers identify their performance metrics and KPIs, they guide their respective groups to meet or exceed KPIs established specifically for their teams. Managers are often so focused on achieving their team’s performance metrics that they aren’t typically concerned with how their pursuits might affect other groups.

Additionally, due to many factors, such as individual skill level, experience, and time constraints, many help desks do not resolve all of the contacts they could and should on first contact. The 2010 HDI Practices & Salary Report indicates that only 58 percent of all incidents are resolved at, or prior to, level 1. Consequently, many contacts are unnecessarily escalated to the desktop support team. With the average cost of dispatching a service technician potentially three times that of resolution at level 1, such escalations contribute to higher-than-necessary support costs. Additionally, this creates additional work for desktop support technicians, who may also feel that resolving these contacts is a misuse of their skills.

Whether escalated or not, each contact must have an owner. The help desk does not always retain cradle-to-grave ownership of all contacts that it receives. So when incidents are escalated throughout the organization, there is often no centralized group responsible for overseeing the resolution process and recording whether the incident was resolved in a timely manner. Consequently, the incidence of “lost” requests increase, as end users become frustrated when they fail to receive regular communication regarding their incidents and requests.

People Issues

Owing to the distinct line of demarcation between the two groups, both teams often miss opportunities for cross-training, such as improving technical skills at the help desk and customer service skills in desktop support. In addition to the immediate benefits to end users, these skills can help team members progress along their career paths.

In the absence of a career path, however, some help desk analysts feel like they are in a dead-end position, which contributes to higher turnover. As a result, help desk analysts often: 

  • Find that their enthusiasm for the job diminishes over time; 
  • Discover that their technical skills are not always properly aligned with the position; 
  • Feel that they are not being challenged enough to encourage career growth; and 
  • Burn out from repetitive activities.

The polarization between the help desk and desktop support groups is a challenge for any support organization. Two independent groups merely hoping that they are working toward a common goal, be it customer- or career-oriented, is a recipe for disaster.

Process of Integration

So how can you effectively integrate the help desk and desktop support teams and improve operational efficiency in the IT service and support environment? It’s not just a matter of combining the two groups. You need to search for ways to make these two groups complement each other and you need to develop a strategy over time. The end result of this effort will be increased customer satisfaction, improved morale within the support team, and lower support costs.

Develop a vision statement

Begin the process by identifying and creating synergies between the two teams, even if they will continue to be managed as two independent teams. For example, develop a unified approach to goal achievement or a common vision statement. Throughout this process, you will need to demonstrate to the teams and upper management how each group can benefit from this unified approach.

Incident analysis

Another way to effectively integrate the teams is to perform a thorough analysis of the incidents that are being escalated from the help desk to desktop support. This will require a single point of data (SPOD). The SPOD will enable you to perform a more thorough data analysis, and will help you determine which actions to take to help increase resolutions and minimize escalations. This one activity alone will provide you with many opportunities to bridge the gap between the teams. Without it, effective problem management becomes very difficult to achieve in the operating environment.

Contact ownership and management

Now that you have centralized data source, you will need to ensure consistency and control. This will greatly improve knowledge management, status updates, analysis, and reporting. To achieve this consistency and control, it is imperative that you establish ownership in the operating environment. One way of doing this is by implementing an end-to-end contact management program in the help desk. Contact ownership assures that one group, typically the help desk, retains ownership of support contacts. They also develop a call flow for the contact process, keeping in mind that the number of outgoing calls will undoubtedly increase as call closures, statuses, and follow-up calls increase.

Examine your KPIs

Next, take a closer look at the KPIs that each group uses and consider taking a different approach to help support your efforts in bringing the teams closer together. For example, instead of only looking at first call resolution (FCR) for the help desk, consider the effect the frontline team has on the mitigation and elimination of escalations and, ultimately, the number of calls that are dispatched to other groups. Once these KPIs and performance metrics are more closely aligned, calculate how much the implementation of each activity saved the organization as a whole.

Cross-training

Take advantage of opportunities for cross-training between the two groups. Once you’ve identified the technical skills that are lacking in the help desk, you can carve out time for members of the desktop support team to provide that training. Not only will this help build rapport between team members, but it can help those providing the training sessions develop leadership skills. Likewise, for the desktop support team, training can help technicians better understand the types of requests that come to the help desk, and help them enhance their customer service skills and other “soft” skills. To fortify this cross-training program, you may want to link performance metrics, such as FCR in the help desk and incidents resolved over the phone (IRP) by the desktop support team. As the teams cross-train and build rapport, track how FCR increases and IRP decreases.

Here are some addition benefits of cross-training: 

  • As help desk analysts gain skills and experience from cross-training, they will provide a much higher quality of service, resolving more contacts on the initial attempt and contributing to an increase in customer satisfaction ratings as end users become more confident in the support team’s abilities. 
  • With more calls being resolved at the level 1, desktop support technicians can focus on more challenging activities. This enables the IT organization to more effectively utilize their skills. 
  • As more incidents are resolved at the help desk, the decrease in escalations will result in tangible savings, as desktop support won’t have to dispatch as many technicians to the end users’ desktops, a costly activity in most support organizations. 
  • Both teams’ morale, attitude, and enthusiasm will greatly improve as the help desk analysts take on additional responsibilities and the desktop support technicians focus on
    more challenging activities.

Value of Integration

As the help desk and desktop support teams develop a more unified approach, the support organization and company will realize tremendous value: 

  • A unified support approach will demonstrate to the end-user community that support is critical for success, instilling more confidence in the end users and increasing satisfaction. 
  • Focusing on performance metrics and KPIs will increase proactive activity, creating an environment that focuses its energies on returning end users to productivity quicker. 
  • An end-to-end contact management program will provide the support teams with consistency and control in the operating environment. It will go a long way toward minimizing end-user frustration, through enhanced communication, more frequent status updates, and more timely resolution. 
  • Building and maintaining a single point of data will provide support teams with information that can be used to enhance communications between the teams and with end users, increase the skill level of personnel, and encourage self-service and self-help opportunities. 
  • All team members will have a career path established and documented in their personnel files. This will improve their outlook and attitude, and encourage the level of commitment needed for the support team to deliver high-quality services to the end-user community.

Conclusion

In the service and support environment, there are many similarities between the help desk and desktop support. Although it is not an easy task to bring these two independent groups closer together, it’s crucial to the successful operation of any support organization, increasing customer satisfaction and lowering the cost of service provisioning.

 

Tom Smetana has over thirty years of experience in the IT service and technical support industry. He is currently a solutions director with Technisource, where he is responsible for planning, designing, developing, and implementing managed services solutions. Tom is also a member of itSMF USA and HDI, and was on the board of the HDI Motown local chapter for over eight years. Currently, he is a member of the HDI Desktop Support Leadership Council.

Tag(s): desktop support, people, workforce enablement

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