Running the Support Center as a Business Within the Business


by Katherine Lord


 

At some point or another, we’ve all fantasized about starting a business and, of course, being a great success. Is managing a service desk really all that different?

I’m always telling my students and clients that they need to run support as a business within the business. This is one of the fundamentals of HDI’s philosophy—indeed, the industry’s—and it makes complete sense! But how do you make it happen?

In the Beginning

Imagine you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re just about to start a new company. To get started, what are you going to need?

First, you’ll need a vision statement that articulates your organization’s values and identifies how you want your business to be perceived. From the vision statement comes the mission statement: What is it you want to create? What does that journey looks like? How are you going to get there? To achieve the vision and mission, you’ll need to flesh out your strategy and do some planning. At this point, you should know what you need to do; you just need to prioritize and put the steps of your strategy in order.

Next, you need a product or a service (maybe both). Whatever you’re offering, there needs to be demand for it. Do some market research. Get to know your potential customers: What do they need? What do they want? What will they buy? What will they be willing to pay?

Finally, you’ll need stakeholders, investors or sponsors who are willing to take a chance on your idea. Think about your resources and capabilities, and remember that resources are more than just people—it’s tools, supplies, facilities…stuff!

Up and Running

So, you’re up and running; now you need to maintain. It’s all about steady state, but it’s also about growing the business in an agile and responsive fashion. Keep in mind that the only constant is change. Market and business conditions will change rapidly (acquisitions, changes in strategy, economic shifts, etc.), so in the ongoing care and nurturing of your business, you must tend to its roots and revisit your beginnings. This is one of the keys to operational success, though it’s something we often forget to think about when it comes to running a business. For example: 

  • Financials: Budget, funding 
  • Resources: Capabilities, “stuff” 
  • Market: Ongoing demand, solid customer base, customer loyalty, growth, marketing 
  • The Future: Product development, ingenuity and innovation, improvements, refinements

Let’s start thinking about support in this context. You may be surprised by how similar the mindsets really are.

Even if you aren’t in a position to start from scratch (or start over), you can still leverage this map to go backwards. For example, if your support center’s vision and mission statements are unclear (or nonexistent), there is no time like the present to define them. These statements drive so much in terms of strategy and how you operate and exist as an organization. Think of this map as a checklist for identifying things that can be improved or fixed.

For those off you who’ve been in the support industry for a while, the support side should look very, very familiar. Marketing, metrics, KPIs, continual improvement—all of these are very much best practice guidance for managing a successful support center. It’s easy to fall into reactive, firefighting mode; this is inherently part of the life of support. But it needs to be balanced with a proactive, forward-thinking view.

Thinking Ahead

Consider this: Why do businesses go out of business? 

  • Lack of demand/customers 
  • Lost customers/lack of loyalty 
  • Competition 
  • Poor/inconsistent service 
  • Noncompetitive pricing 
  • Weak offerings 
  • Lack of awareness (branding, marketing) 
  • Lack of innovation, not staying current 

If you don’t plan, forecast, anticipate, and understand the needs and future of your environment, your business will go out of business. Let’s take that back to support. Never forget: Even if you’re an internal support center, you can lose customers! All of the above can very much apply to you, too.

One of the best ways to avert disaster is to anticipate and mitigate. This is basic risk management. If you think about what could go wrong and plan accordingly, you are paving a much more successful road for yourself.

*    *    *    *    *

So, you drank the Kool-Aid. Now what?

A lot of what we need to do is educate and communicate with others. To successfully achieve your vision, it’s can’t just be your vision. A lot comes down to marketing, awareness, and the whole concept of the value proposition. Your new strategy should cultivate this mindset, manage the perception, and help shift the thinking. Without the recognition of value, it will be very challenging, if not impossible, to run the support center as a business.

One of the keys to success in support is stepping back and taking a fresh look: What’s important? What are we trying to do? We often get so bogged down in the traditional paradigms that we lose perspective. It’s time to shuck the legacy baggage. This new paradigm really puts a different spin on things. You may be surprised how much forward momentum this mindset can provide!

To go in-depth on this topic, check out Dean Meyer’s September webinar at www.ThinkHDI.com/Webinars.

 

Katherine Lord holds numerous industry certifications, including ITIL v3 Expert and Six Sigma Yellow Belt. She is also a seasoned ITSM consultant and practitioner, with significant consulting experience in the ITSM/ITIL education and implementation space.

Tag(s): business of support, process, service strategy

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