The Next Step in the Service Desk's Evolution

by Ken Hayes
Date Published May 23, 2012 - Last Updated May 11, 2016


It all started in the spring of 2009, after coming in as the runner-up for the HDI Team Excellence Award. We knew we were delivering great service to our customers, making recommendations to be more effective, and creating a great working environment, but there was something missing. After several brainstorming sessions, we realized that to be recognized as the best, we needed to take it a step further. We agreed that we needed to develop and implement an innovative method for clearly documenting and articulating the value—from both a cost and business productivity perspective—that the service desk and desktop support teams provided to our clients’ businesses. As a result, the management team built a dedicated continual service improvement (CSI) program, with the primary goal of analyzing and improving operations, both internally and externally. The program was piloted in early 2010 and has since become an integral part of our support operation. It was perhaps no coincidence that just a year later, Technisource won the external HDI Team Excellence Award. How can you introduce CSI in your support environment and achieve similar results? Read on.

The Idea: A Breakthrough

Continual service improvement (CSI) is one of those terms you hear quite often in the support world, and it can be interpreted in many different ways. Even the ITIL definition of CSI is broad enough that most people come at it from different angles, leading to an even greater variety of implementations in ITIL-compliant organizations. The good news is that you don’t have to be an ITIL expert to implement an effective CSI program.

As service providers, it’s easy to view a full CSI program negatively at first, especially since it requires additional investment in resources and time. But if you want to create a long-term partnership with your customer, you have to do more than just meet your SLAs. You have to be able to demonstrate continuously increasing value. To do this effectively and consistently, we knew that we needed a formal, centralized CSI program. This necessitated a return to a strategy that we had always believed in, but had gotten lost in the shuffle of day-to-day tactical operations.

Successful CSI programs require complete focus. To meet this requirement, we created a new position dedicated to identifying ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our service desk and desktop support operations. We also settled on one key performance indicator (KPI) that would help us both identify areas for improvement and demonstrate improvement in support value and business productivity: first call resolution (FCR). One might assume that the most important metric for a CSI program (not to mention the business) is customer satisfaction; however, while that is the main goal, it is a subjective indicator and is sometimes difficult to monitor. In our experience, first call resolution increases proportionately with overall customer satisfaction, making it a highly effective KPI on which to base a CSI program.

The Essence: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Combining FCR with customer satisfaction ratings can provide a more accurate picture of the overall user experience. However, according to the 2010 HDI Practices & Salary Report, the definition and calculation of FCR varies widely throughout the industry. This variance has a number of causes: ongoing industry debates on the best way to measure FCR; the constantly evolving list of channels for contacting the service desk; and, among other things, the ability to capture and report on FCR using a problem management system.

From a CSI perspective, we analyze changes in FCR to determine the following:

  1. Support costs: FCR is an indicator of how efficiently and effectively the service desk operates. If calls are being escalated to and resolved by other support groups, the cost of support increases.
  2. Business productivity: FCR is also an indicator of business productivity. The more calls that are resolved during the initial contact, the less time it takes to resolve an incident, allowing the end user to get back to work and continue delivering value to the business.
  3. Value opportunity: Root cause analysis will identify areas where the service desk can add additional value. This is accomplished by analyzing escalated incidents and identifying those that could have been resolved by the service desk. Depending on the incident type, the service desk may need additional training, skill set enhancement, or access to applications, tools, and/or processes used by other support groups.

The Approach: Getting Down to Business

If you want your operation to grow and demonstrate the value your team brings to the business, you can’t afford not to implement a CSI program. So, the question is, how do you implement an effective CSI program in your own support environment? You may think you need to hire a dedicated CSI resource, at the expense of investing in items that are higher on your list (adding an additional analyst, training, acquiring the latest support tool, etc.). The good news is that by focusing on increasing FCR and by using a “shift-left” approach, you should be able to move enough incidents to the service desk to easily justify additional investments in your operations.

Improving FCR is not as difficult as you might think. However, the key to success is finding the time to accomplish the task. Looking at it from a high level, we suggest the following approach: 

  • Determine your operation’s baseline FCR rate; 
  • Obtain all escalated tickets (including details) for the last three months; 
  • Sort by incident category to identify the most frequently escalated calls; 
  • Identify incidents that you do not have the ability to resolve; 
  • Determine what it would take for level one to increase the number of incidents it was capable of resolving; 
  • Determine what FCR increase could be obtained via permissions, training, process improvement, knowledge base use, etc.; 
  • Calculate the financial return on increased FCR;
  • Develop a business case for shifting calls down to level one (you should work with the other support groups to accomplish this); 
  • Train your staff on how to resolve new call types; 
  • Measure actual results and adjust training and processes accordingly; and 
  • Repeat on a regular (e.g., monthly) basis.

Once you’ve identified the incidents you feel your team can resolve, you should approach the other support groups to get their buy-in. A good argument to make is that by allowing the level one team to resolve more calls, other teams will be able to take on more challenging work and/or work on more value-added projects, thus increasing the value of their teams.

If done properly, this approach creates a cycle of CSI and cooperation across the entire IT organization. If other support teams aren’t cooperating, you may need to go the next level of management. It’s rare that someone at that level isn’t interested in reducing support costs and increasing the value of support. And CSI is too important to get sidelined because of territorial issues. In any event, keep track of all your recommendations, regardless of whether or not they’ve been implemented, and highlight them in monthly or quarterly meetings.

Before presenting your case, you’re going to want to calculate support costs and business productivity savings. The calculations are relatively simple, but have a huge impact when presented properly:

Support cost savings = Increase in FCR × Cost of escalation (i.e., resolution by the escalation team)

For example, say your CSI project results in the service desk resolving 100 more calls per month, calls that would otherwise have been escalated to another support team. It costs the escalation team $75 (fully-burdened cost) to resolve each of those calls. According to the equation above, you would have lowered the cost of support by $7,500 per month (100 × $75), or $90,000 annually, in addition to freeing up the escalation team to work on other issues.

But you will also want to calculate business productivity savings. To do this, you need to have a fairly accurate number for user downtime based on incident type, both before and after the CSI program implementation.

Business productivity savings = Number of incidents × Decrease in user downtime during resolution

Another example: Say the service desk receives 100 calls each month that are related to password resets, which they have to escalate to another support team for resolution. By empowering the service desk to handle those password resets instead of escalating them, user downtime decreases by sixty minutes per incident. Using the calculation above, your business productivity would increase by 100 hours per month, or 1,200 hours per year.

According to Mike Antonetti, service delivery manager at Technisource, the CSI program was responsible for increasing his team’s FCR rate by a significant factor. “Through the program, we were able to determine that many calls coming into level one were asking for access to Adobe Flash, but the level one team didn’t have administrative rights and the calls had to be escalated,” Mike says. “The CSI program recommended that we open administrative rights to Altiris, train the level one team to use the toolset, and resolve the ticket at the first call. The upper-level support groups were ecstatic to not have to deal with such a simple problem anymore.”

The Philosophy: Getting Everyone on Board

Before implementing the CSI program, make sure you get your entire team and all levels of IT management involved in sharing ideas, lessons learned, and successes. Do not assume that the entire team understands the idea and benefits of CSI. A lot of great ideas are generated by those on the front lines of support. Be sure you educate them on the program, as well as the benefits to them individually and the business as a whole.

CSI needs to become part of what your team does every day. At Technisource, all of the service delivery managers share their improvements virtually via a team portal, as well as during formal and informal team meetings. This enables them to leverage lessons learned and adopt novel processes that can help others take corrective action on a proactive, rather than a reactive, basis. In addition to sharing ideas, we also encourage our teams to participate in the program using the following reward and recognition programs: 

  • Continual Service Improvement of the Month: A monthly award given by Technisource management, recognizing an idea that improves our ability to increase service excellence by focusing on FCR and business productivity. 
  • Service Excellence Employee of the Month: A monthly award given by each service delivery manager to a member of their teams, recognizing contributions to service excellence. 
  • Quarterly Continual Service Improvement Award: A quarterly award for the most innovative improvement, as determined by senior practice management.

The Results: The True Value of CSI

Technisource’s CSI program has documented over 300 recommendations for improvements since the program’s inception. To date, we estimate (conservatively) that our support and business productivity savings total more than $300,000 dollars. This is a direct result of focusing the program on FCR, with customer satisfaction being the ultimate goal. Over the next four to five years, as the program matures, we expect to continue to see significant increases in savings.

The following is just one example of how the CSI program has enabled us to articulate the value of improving FCR. An analysis of escalated calls showed that if the service desk had the ability to unlock LAN accounts and reset passwords, approximately fifty calls per month could be resolved at the first point of contact. This would save end users anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, which is how long it would take the other support groups to resolve these escalated issues, and would further save the client approximately $12,000 annually in business productivity, based on an average burdened pay rate of $40. In addition, based on a fully-burdened cost of $50 for level two resolution, there would be an additional annual support cost savings of $30,000. Finally, since these incidents would be solved during initial contact, it would increase customer satisfaction for these incidents by an average of 30 percent. After presenting our analysis to management, we were approved to move forward immediately, once we had been trained.

In addition to lowering the total cost of support, a well-implemented CSI program also enables the service desk to better understand the real needs of its clients, and improves and increases communication between level one support and upper-level support groups. Gail Thompson, delivery director at Technisource, tells us that the CSI program is directly responsible for changing the way one of her clients viewed its level one analysts; now it sees them as part of the internal support team. And even though the other internal support groups (level two and three) were reluctant to embrace the CSI program—they felt it was stepping on their territory—“they came to love the program, as it gave them more time to do higher level projects that added more strategic value and raised their value in the CIO’s mind,” Gail says. “Through the CSI program, we were easily able to determine what the level one service desk could and could not do, which allowed us to develop new training modules with the level two and three groups, designed to boost the skills/toolsets of the level one group and increase FCR.”

The message is simple: Any service desk (internal or external) that wants to remain competitive over the next several years must implement a CSI program and dedicate resources to ensure its success. Customers (and CFOs) are increasingly demanding that the service desk and desktop support demonstrate solid business value and decrease overall support costs. A CSI program is one of the most effective means of accomplishing these objectives.


Ken Hayes has over thirty years of experience in the support services industry, from analyst to director. He is currently the director of CSI for the Technology Support Services group at Technisource, one of the largest technology services providers in North America, delivering a wide range of staffing, management services, and technology solutions. As director, Ken is responsible for developing and implementing programs to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of its service desks.

Tag(s): process, practices and processes, framework and methodologies, people, customer service


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