by Meg Frantz
Date Published - Last Updated February 25, 2016


What Is Self-Assist?

A self-assist solution is one in which a person doesn’t directly rely on any other person to resolve their problem. No phone call needs to be placed. No chat window needs to be opened. No email needs to be exchanged. True self-assist (sometimes called self-service) is similar to how gas stations operate now. Can you imagine what the cost of gas would be today if we still had to rely on the friendly attendant to pump gas for us? And what about speed? Forget it! We’d all be sitting in our cars waiting…

Today’s gas stations are operated by people who, among other things, make sure the pumps are turned on and the credit card machines work. But you can pump your gas, pay for your gas, and drive away without ever speaking to that person. If you have a certain kind of request—a hot coffee or that bag of chips you can’t live without—then you may need to interact with a person. Similarly, in the case of a request to add new hardware or software to your system, a service request may ultimately require the efforts of a person, but the initial request can be placed unassisted.

Self-assist reduces the direct costs associated with a service desk. For example, password reset requests typically account for up to 40 percent of a service desk’s volume; however, a reset can be easily accomplished by the end user without a call to the service desk. Self-assist can also reduce on-site support costs, such as the costs associated with dispatching technicians to install new software. People are more technologically savvy and comfortable with technology than ever before. A positive experience with self-assist is likely to ensure that a person continues using it, instead of requesting on-site help. All of this greatly improves end-user satisfaction, because issues can be resolved more quickly without waiting for another person to respond.

Today’s Challenge

“Faster, Better, Cheaper.” This is today’s business mantra, and the IT support industry is no exception. Talk of eliminating or reducing costs inevitably leads to talk of reducing the cost of the people who provide technical support. In fact, the idea of people being able to help themselves instead of relying on IT support has been on the table for ten years now, but very few support centers have successfully rolled out a solution. However, self-assist can be successfully implemented. All you need are five simple ingredients.

The Ingredients 

  • A front-end portal 
  • A robust knowledge base 
  • An automated password reset system 
  • A service catalog (featuring automated service requests) 
  • Online ticketing and status update capabilities

The Recipe

Step One: Design a front-end portal.

To “make” self-assist, start by visualizing what you want it to look like. Then design a front-end portal that provides a simple, but exceptional end-user experience. This will motivate people to connect to and use the self-assist portal as their preferred support solution for virtually any problem.

Step Two: Ensure that all service desk agents are skilled in Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS).

KCS is a set of best practices that capture, structure, reuse, and improve knowledge as a by-product of the problem-solving process, and it is the cornerstone of a robust knowledge base. End users contribute to the information in the knowledge base, so the knowledge is presented in a context that makes sense to them. The content evolves based on demand and usage.

Using the KCS methodology with a KCS-verified tool has proven and measured benefits as shown in the table below.

Knowledge should marinate in the knowledge base for twelve to eighteen months so that the content becomes more robust. Be sure to stir frequently and monitor progress using the metrics established by the Consortium for Service Innovation (step six).

Step Three: While the knowledge in the knowledge base is marinating, prepare the automated password reset system.

Password reset tools enable people to reset their own passwords via the web or IVR-based self-service tools. It eliminates the need to contact the service desk for this simple task. When the tool includes password automation, disparate passwords are combined. This eliminates the need for people to remember multiple passwords and further reduces the number of incidents.

Choose a password-tool partner that has the knowledge and experience to implement a successful, turnkey, self-service password reset solution. Technology alone is not sufficient to ensure the expected ROI from password management. The following elements are equally important and often overlooked: 

  • Business processes 
  • User adoption 
  • Communication 
  • Training

You should see a reduction in service desk calls for password resets soon after deploying password management tools. Over time, however, internal systems change, new employees enter the company, and the password management program, running on autopilot, becomes less of a focus. When this happens, the volume of calls to the service desk will slowly increase.

To prevent overcooking, stir constantly; in other words, there must be ongoing monitoring of the password management program. Encourage people to use the password management tool instead of relying on the service desk. Regularly analyze increases in service desk volume to determine whether new password management features or SLAs should be implemented. Also, consider marketing the tool to the user community.

Step Four: Provide people with choices via online ticketing and status updates.

Allow people to submit their own tickets and check the status of previously submitted tickets directly from the ticketing system. Status update calls are typically short, but they represent up to 20 percent of all service desk calls. Putting these functions in the same place in the portal will help end users acclimate themselves to the portal in preparation for the next step.

Step Five: Stir a service catalog (automated service requests) into the mixture.

Ideally, your ticketing system should be able to support a service catalog with automated service request web forms that can be completed and submitted online. The forms should have an automated workflow that routes service requests to the appropriate resolver groups and automates approval processes. Service requests typically represent approximately 30 percent of all service desk contacts. Automation eliminates the need for manual service desk intervention and can significantly reduce the volume of contacts received by the service desk.

Service requests are often the most time-consuming requests because the service desk must manage multiple contact points for successful completion. Service requests are virtually risk free and can be kept under strict, well-defined procedural control. Consequently, service requests are excellent opportunities to use self-assist.

Certain types of service requests are easy to set up and offer immediate, measurable cost savings. More-complex service request workflows require more time to develop and can even include automated fulfillment. Assess the cost of developing more-complex automated service requests and focus on those that have an expected positive ROI.

A few examples of automated service requests are: 

  • Requesting a new laptop 
  • Requesting a change in benefits 
  • Adding a new employee to a department

Requests that require approval can be routed to appropriate service-level managers, and other processes necessary to fulfill the request can be swiftly completed. The end user may later return to the site to check on the status of the request or view overall metrics on how well the organization is delivering the services it provides.

Step Six: Roll out your robust knowledge base.

While you’ve been working on the preceding steps, the knowledge base has been marinating. Using the KCS methodology, knowledge—generated by people solving problems—should be growing daily. Test your readiness by closely monitoring specific metrics that will indicate when the knowledge base has reached a level of maturity that signals its readiness to move forward. You’re now in a position to implement the knowledge base search capability. (Note: Rolling out the search functionality prematurely can have disastrous results because if end users try it and don’t find it useful, they will not return. It is paramount that end users have a successful experience the first time they search the knowledge base.)

Step Seven: Implement a marketing plan.

Once the metrics have been achieved, implement a marketing plan to successfully roll out the knowledge base search capability and encourage end-user adoption. Here are some proven ideas that lead to successful adoption: 

  • Get executive buy-in—it is essential to success 
  • Increase the SLA for phone answer time 
  • Conduct open forums and focused marketing campaigns to excite employees 
  • Personally follow up with every person who provides feedback 
  • Offer incentives or prizes for frequent users in the early stages 
  • Send a subscription-based email that highlights new content 
  • Enforce strict rules for adding content to the knowledge base 
  • Have service desk agents guide people through searching the knowledge base

Step Eight: Garnish with data.

Garnish your self-assist portal by continuously mining incident data, especially tickets that leave the service desk. Ideally, do this daily; at a minimum, update weekly to keep the knowledge relevant and the adoption of self-assist continually growing.

Step Nine: Enjoy!


Meg Frantz is the vice president of eKnowledge at CompuCom Systems, Inc., where she is responsible for an innovative support concept that enables and empowers CompuCom’s clients to solve their own support issues while simultaneously enabling support organizations to gain efficiencies through the improved use of knowledge. With more than twenty-five years of experience creating and building service desk and help desk organizations, Meg is a recognized leader in the industry. She is presently an active member of the HDI Strategic Advisory Board.

Tag(s): practices and processes, knowledge management, self-service tools, KM


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