As the face of IT, the support organization plays a significant role in the customer’s overall experience and perception of IT. In recent years, many organizations have found that their internal customers’ expectations have evolved; they now expect—if not demand—the usability, self-help tools, and responsiveness they’re accustomed to experiencing outside of work. These elevated customer service expectations are the key drivers motivating IT organizations to modernize their ITSM technology with cloud-based solutions.
I recently had an interesting conversation with Dr. Ellen J. Keohane and Rebecca Chickering of the College of the Holy Cross, about all of the facets involved in delivering an exceptional customer service experience and the role ITSM applications play. Their insights are particularly instructive for organizations seeking to implement ITSM applications and elevate the customer experience.
Changing End-User Demands
First, a little background: Located in Worcester, MA, the College of the Holy Cross is one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, serving approximately 2,900 students. The College’s internal customers include these students as well as faculty and staff in admissions, finance, student services, and other support organizations.
Until a few years ago, the support organization’s primary responsibilities included educating internal customers and addressing basic technical issues. Today, the support organization is dealing with increasingly tech-savvy internal customers. Dr. Keohane, director of information technology at the College, says that customers have changed the way they engage with the support organization. “When our customers encounter a problem, they attempt to solve it themselves through a Google search or by putting their question out on social media,” Dr. Keohane says. “Our customers come to the support organization if they can’t find the answer to the problem themselves and they need more advanced assistance to get unstuck and back to work.”
One way the College has been able to meet customer expectations is by offering an easy-to-use, customer-quality ITSM experience that makes both customers and support staff more productive.
The Increasingly Important Role of ITSM Self-Service
When internal customers come to the service desk for assistance, they demand self-service. “They want a self-service portal that can help them solve their own problem—for example, by offering knowledge bases,” Dr. Keohane observes. “If that doesn’t work, they’d rather fill out a form and submit it quickly before they get to a person. They only want to talk to a person about the most complex issues.”
Self-service portals must meet customers’ expectations for a customer-quality user interface. “The system needs to adhere to standards that make it easy on customers,” said Chickering, technology support director at the College. “Customers tell us that they want the interface to look like Amazon or iTunes so they’ll know what they’re doing.”
Some of the design elements that can make a self-service portal more customer-friendly include:
A beautiful design and a clean layout: The interface itself should be aesthetically pleasing. Studies have shown a strong correlation between users’ initial perception of a system’s aesthetics and their appraisal of its usability (regardless of the system’s actual usability). The interface should have lots of white space, minimal clutter, and no unnecessary elements. An interface with fewer visual details is easier to navigate.
Consistency: A consistent experience across the entire application allows users to develop usage patterns and helps them understand what various elements do in different contexts.
Clarity: The design should focus on what’s important; for example, by making the most commonly used options for a task visible. It should also guide users through the site so people can figure out how the application works without getting frustrated. According to Dr. Keohane, “The system needs to be organized in such a way that the user can easily get to the information they need without going on a wild-goose chase.”
Efficiency and responsiveness: Users should be able to use the system to perform tasks quickly. The system itself should perform consistently and reliably so users don’t have to wait for things to load. It should also provide feedback, such as progress bars, that lets users know what’s going on with the system.
Intelligence: The system should be able to predict what the user will need to do next and offer the solution before he searches for it. The solution should be smart enough to categorize and organize user data on the fly, making it easy to retrieve information when needed. It should also link user information together in such a way that when a new issue is reported for a specific device, the system returns all previous issues related to that device.
Mobile-friendly: According to Juniper Research, the number of employee-owned smartphones and tablets used in the enterprise will exceed 1 billion by 2018. This represents almost 35 percent of the total installed base of customer-owned tablets and smartphones. ITSM applications should, therefore, allow people to access the service desk from their mobile devices.
Convenience: Customers should be able to submit a trouble ticket in the manner that’s most convenient—email, for example. “Our ITSM system is integrated with Gmail, which makes it seamless to be in email and submit a ticket in a self-service manner,” says Chickering.
The Benefits of Helping Customers Help Themselves
The College of the Holy Cross has seen a number of benefits from providing its internal customers with a customer-quality self-service ITSM portal that lets them help themselves.
The most important benefit has been improved customer productivity. “It’s about getting students, faculty, and staff back to doing what they want to be doing, which is learning, teaching, and working,” says Dr. Keohane. “We’re successful when we get them back to working quickly and they no longer have to think about technology.”
The solution has empowered end users to solve more of their own problems, 24x7x365. “Our help desk is staffed Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” says Keohane. “Our ITSM tool allows us to extend our office hours, in a sense. The self-service portal gives users access to the tool in off-hours so they can get the information they need to solve their own problems or, if necessary, submit a ticket.”
Having an easy to use self-service portal also goes a long way toward ensuring that customers actually use it. As Dr. Keohane notes, “People want self-service ability to find a solution to their IT problems on their own time. To get people to use any tool, you need to give them what they want.”
Empowering People-Focused Problem Solvers
While self-service is important, there are many other important factors involved in delivering outstanding customer service.
As the College’s users have become more savvy and self-sufficient, the role of the service desk has changed. “End-user expectations and the availability of self-service capabilities impact the type of person we hire for our IT service desk,” Dr. Keohane says. “We used to hire friendly people who knew a little about computers. Now we want techs with interpersonal skills, people who are problem solvers. It’s not enough to have the answers in their head; it’s more about building the relationship with the customer and knowing where to go find the answer—for example, by pinpointing the right keywords.”
As noted earlier, when customers do come to the service desk, they want to solve their problem and get back to work quickly. Time is of the essence. “The system should allow the service desk to easily feed known issues into a knowledge base for future use,” Chickering says. The system should also have features that enable support staff to document and respond to customer requests quickly. “It’s important for techs to be able to enter the important information quickly with the minimum number of key clicks,” according to Dr. Keohane. It’s equally important that technicians have full visibility into relevant data about the assets referenced in a ticket (including related and past tickets). This helps them troubleshoot issues faster.
Analytics capabilities also play an important role in a support organization’s ability to deliver the highest quality of service. By giving the service desk the tools to discover important patterns and trends that may be affecting performance, IT can be more proactive, addressing problems before they become incidents.
Finally, mobile support is critical. “When service people are out in the field helping people,” Chickering says, “the ability to get the next ticket from their mobile devices helps them be more productive.”
Improved Customer Perception
By providing modern software for the service desk, the College of the Holy Cross has been able to stay on pace with its customers’ ever-changing expectations. An improved user interface that makes the application faster and easier to use, provides greater visibility into information about IT assets, and delivers access to the knowledge base allows the support organization to address customer issues faster.
Asset-tracking capabilities that allow the service desk to track every asset have enabled the service desk to deliver more proactive service. “In one case, the history log of a particular printer showed us that it had failed several times,” Chickering says. “We were able to replace the printer before end users brought the problem to us.”
And, finally, service technicians are better able to meet service level agreements. According to Chickering, “Easier-to-use software doesn’t get in the way; it makes it easy for our technicians to do their jobs, which enables us to more easily address our SLAs.”
Ultimately, the College of the Holy Cross has found that using a modern, cloud-based ITSM solution has improved its customers’ perception of the support organization. “Customers are increasingly interfacing with the service organization through the ITSM system, rather than phone calls,” Dr. Keohane says. “We want our service desk software to be as professional as we expect our technicians to be. A user interface that looks current, that functions well on mobile devices, that helps end users answer their own questions by searching on a knowledge base—these are the factors and features that make your support organization look more professional.”
Doron Gordon is the founder and CEO of Samanage. Prior to founding Samanage, Doron was a cofounder and VP of sales and marketing at Continuity Software, a leading provider of disaster recovery and availability management solutions, a senior manager at BMC Software, and the founder and CEO of Always-On Software, an innovative application service provider. Follow Doron on Twitter @samanage and on his blog.