When I noticed an increase in our customers’ frustration with our ticket-closure process (via survey feedback), it was enough for me to feel it warranted further investigation. So I began with a review of our incident management and request management process flow and ITSM tool to see if I could isolate the failure point. Our tool’s detailed, integrated, and automated ITIL processes were nearly flawless in design and execution—but not perfect. Because the processes were designed from the inside out (IT to customer), our definition of “closed” didn’t align with our customers’ expectations. According to our customers’ survey comments, we were closing their tickets before their issues or requests were resolved or fulfilled to their satisfaction.
In following up with some of our customers, it became clear that they expected the service desk or the analyst/technician assigned to their ticket to reach out via phone, email, or instant message as a courtesy before closing their ticket. In my follow-up with my analysts and technicians, I asked if anyone had taken responsibility for contacting their customers to make sure the solution had worked and that they were satisfied with the results. Their blank looks answered my question. But this simple act would have resulted in a satisfied customer and a whole lot less aggravation and effort!
The Total Contact Ownership Solution
I proposed that we create accountabilities around delivering status updates and validating customer satisfaction with the resolution/fulfillment before closing the ticket. The service desk would also be accountable for:
- Resolving the issue/request on the first contact, if appropriate
- Collecting all of the required information, per a checklist supplied by assignment/subject matter expert (SME) groups
- Troubleshooting and diagnosing, as directed by assignment/SME groups
- Performing quality ticket documentation, according to defined standards/templates
- Completing the assignment in an accurate and timely manner, in accordance with the service level agreement (SLA)
- Managing the SLA and providing the customer with status updates
- Working with the responsible assignment groups to make sure they have everything they need to resolve and fulfill the customer’s issue or request, in accordance with the SLA
Ideally, the assignment group would have all the information it needed, based on their supplied template or data requirements, to resolve the issue or fulfill the request within the specified SLA times (as defined in the priority matrix). If not, the SME responsible for the resolution and fulfillment could make the decision to contact the customer either to negotiate a completion date based on impact and urgency or to obtain further information that might lead to the ultimate resolution or fulfillment of the customer’s issue or request. Either way, the customer’s productivity and satisfaction was to be our primary focus. If the service desk or the assignment group (or both) fail to manage this process, then IT as a whole will have failed the business in one of its primary responsibilities: adhering to agreed-upon service level commitments.
In the industry, this practice of validating a customer’s satisfaction with a resolution is known as total contact ownership (TCO).
The Supporting Culture: TCO and RACI
In today’s rapidly changing business and technology environment, customers want their IT organizations to be accountable. Building a service culture around ownership and accountability should be the top priority for all service leaders.
TCO aligns perfectly with the RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) matrix, which provides all stakeholders with a step-by-step picture of who does what and when they should do it. If you implement a RACI matrix, you’ll immediately see noticeable and measurable improvements in service quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. Quality of work will also improve once you clarify and communicate your team members’ roles and responsibilities. By holding team members accountable, measuring their performance, and recognizing consistent and outstanding service, you will create an empowered, engaged, and quality- and customer-driven culture, one that’s primed and ready for TCO.
The primary reasons for implementing TCO are targeted at “doing it right the first time” versus “doing it over and over again”:
- Ensuring a consistent, high level of customer satisfaction (CSAT)
- Improving SLA adherence
- Reducing effort around status updates, management escalations, customer contacts, etc.
Your customers want to know that IT understands the business impact and urgency of their issues and empathizes with them. They don’t want to be victims of the dreaded “black hole syndrome,” where, after their initial contact fails to yield a resolution, they never hear back from the service desk. This leaves them wondering whether anyone has been assigned their issue, whether the analysts/technicians have the information they need to resolve the issue, or whether the analysts/technicians have the skills and expertise required to resolve the issue at all. They wait to hear back from someone, anyone, just to plan their day and make arrangements to be at least somewhat productive.
The SLA clock should stop when a ticket’s status is changed to resolved (incidents) and fulfilled (service requests). Closed is merely an IT administrative function that officially takes the incident or service request out of the SLA queue. Disciplined adherence to the TCO process positions technical service and support organizations to continuously improve and realize several long-term benefits:
- Reducing support costs by focusing on providing quality resolutions the first time (delivering FCR while minimizing call-backs and reopens)
- Increasing FCR on repetitive issues by having the analyst who opened the ticket preview the resolution field and knowledge base article
- Improving service consistency by including an audit trail (quality assurance/quality review) for every ticket where the customer was contacted before closure
- Improving the problem management process by providing details that enable analysts/technicians to quickly identify root causes and solutions
- Improving the quality of ticket documentation
- Improving service delivery by making it seamless and transparent while building better relationships between the service desk and assignment groups
- Increasing employee engagement, empowerment, and job satisfaction
You Answer It, You Own It
Before you can successfully implement TCO, you will need all stakeholders—especially the service desk and assignment groups—to commit to building relationships with each other and with customers. As discussed earlier, the service desk and assignment groups must keep the customer in mind when they’re designing the integrated incident management and request management process TCO requires. To provide a customer-validated resolution and fulfillment, the service desk and all assignment groups must work together seamlessly and transparently on successfully completing all activities/tasks related to the process (per the RACI matrix), ensuring that all relevant information is collected during the first customer contact, setting the customer’s expectation, and providing regular status updates.
According to TCO, the first responder to the customer’s initial contact is the designated owner of the customer’s issue or request until it has been resolved or fulfilled to the customer’s satisfaction. This means the analyst must:
- Greet the customer in a friendly and professional manner
- Work through the process of gathering the required information
- Troubleshoot and diagnose using remote control (if necessary) or by instant messaging available SMEs
- Document symptoms, error messages, and troubleshooting results in the ticket
- Search the knowledge base
- Validate resolution or fulfillment before closing the ticket OR assign the ticket to the group responsible for handling resolution or fulfillment
- Provide status updates until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction (if unresolved)
But it’s not all up to your analysts. For your TCO initiative to be successful, your stakeholders must collaborate, communicate, and cooperate to:
Educate and train the technical service and support organization on why TCO and RACI are so important
- Create standard support narratives that include the integrated TCO, incident management, request management, RACI-driven activities, and customer service practices
- Gather all information with the intent to resolve on first contact
- Assign tickets accurately
- Minimize customer contacts
- Provide regular status updates
- Work towards SLA adherence
- Verify that the customer is satisfied with the resolution/fulfillment
- Close tickets upon receiving customer approval OR if the customer doesn’t respond in an established timeframe
Streamline incident management, request management, and TCO processes
- Integrate and automate all workflows into the ITSM tool
- Operationalize Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) and incorporate UFFA (use it, flag it, fix it, add it) into the incident management process
- Ensure SLA responses and resolution metrics are captured
- Measure assignment accuracy
- Monitor customer contacts for status updates and information gathering
Communicate with the customer
- Determine how best to communicate with customers throughout the incident and request management processes, especially as relates to assignment, response, resolution, survey, validation, and approval to close
Implement new performance metrics
- Update analyst and team metrics to include metrics that support TCO
Follow up on customer satisfaction
- Create a CSAT alert to tell you when you’ve failed to meet a customer’s expectations
- Review the notes in the ticket and, if possible, listen to the call recording
- Follow up with the customer for recovery purposes (or for praise)
- Resolve the customer’s issue
- Share the lessons learned with your analysts/technicians (e.g., coaching, process, app/ technology, knowledge article, assignment) so the same mistakes aren’t made again
* * * * *
Total contact ownership is a mark of business maturity for technical service and support organizations. It takes the best practices of ITSM and strengthens them with customer service resolve. TCO has always depended on the “one team, customer first” approach, as it requires the assignment groups to work with the service desk to focus on the customer. However, all of the effort you’ll put in to TCO, you’ll get back in measurable, visible progress toward becoming more business-focused and customer-minded. Remember, we are in the business of servicing the business; without the business, we are out of service. When it comes to our customers, we’re playing for keeps.
Pete McGarahan, senior IT director at First American Financial Corporation, is a thirty-year veteran of IT and business. He’s been blessed with great career opportunities, experiences, and acquaintances, and he enjoys sharing the lessons he’s learned in his published writing and his speaking engagements. If you have any questions about TCO, Pete can reached at