by Kathryn Howard
Date Published - Last Updated February 25, 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a priority 1 incident! Commissioner Gordon fires up the Bat-Signal and the big guy with the cape and the utility belt sweeps in to restore Gotham City to a state where its citizens can go about business as usual.

The Traditional Approach

For the service desk, such calls are rare these days. Service desks have seen a decrease in incidents and problems; calls are down, monthly states are green, no one is yelling at the change advisory board meetings, and the CIO hasn’t demanded any explanations recently. Surely this is an sign that all is well in Gotham City. Is Batman’s approach a thing of the past?

We all know what ITIL says: the service desk is the single point of contact, and good processes enable it to both identify and resolve reoccurring incidents and fulfill standard service requests efficiently. That’s the theory, anyway.

People are individuals, and individuality is naturally resistant to process. We have tried and failed to train people to use the service desk as the single point of contact, and that was before there were so many alternatives for requesting service and resolving incidents. In reality, Google is most people’s first point of contact, followed by asking a colleague or neighbor.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy and demanding. Does your corporate policy say no to BYOD? Is there an app in the cloud that meets your business needs? If it’s more efficient to download an app to your iPad and get on with your day, do you care what IT says? IT is increasingly being seen as the Department of No, something to be avoided at all costs.

Today’s workforce also wants speedy delivery, and IT has a history of taking a long time to deliver and often getting it wrong. The service desk is the last place customers will go, and only then when they’ve run out of alternatives—most will do anything to avoid calling the service desk.

Before we take a look at the modern approach to technical service and support, let’s take a quick step back in time. Remembers typing pools? In the past, all of an organization’s correspondence was handwritten and submitted to the typing pool, where it was speedily and accurately formatted and typed. The ladies of the typing pool worked in shifts to ensure their services were available when needed, and they adhered to standard corporate formats to provide consistency and protect the corporate brand. There was no autocorrect, which made errors difficult to fix, and poor products had to be redone. As they were measured on speed and accuracy, it was a specialist job. If this sounds familiar, it should—it’s the premise the help desk was based on.

Who remembers when the typing pool disappeared? Why did it become obsolete? For the same reason the help desk became obsolete: technological advancement gave us the tools to do for ourselves, and we made good use of those tools. Once every job had some IT component, we no longer needed the help desk to fix everything.
Under ITIL, the help desk became the service-oriented service desk. But this didn’t make us less reactive; we still expected our customers to come to us with their problems. We would then swoop in like the Caped Crusader and solve those problems.

The Modern Approach

Batman’s reactive approach worked in the past, but what we need today is Catwoman. Agile and adaptable, Catwoman is proactive, focusing on desirable outcomes.
According to Accenture, 93 percent of CEOs believe sustainability is critical to the long-term success of their businesses. However, sustainability is no longer just about high performance, lower costs, and increased social responsibility—we’ve done that. Today, increasing sustainability and revenue means building strong customer relationships and being agile. We need to be seen as a strategic enabler for our customers’ outcomes.

Customer service and support are the keys to building these relationships. The service desk is the face of IT, regardless of what technology resources and capabilities are ultimately deployed to deliver services, and we need to change the way we deal with our customers, who are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and demanding more adaptable business solutions. We must partner with our customers to become strategic enablers that support their business objectives and deliver business value. If we don’t, the service desk will go the way of the help desk and the typing pool before it.

The service desk needs to become a trusted advisor, providing technology and support where, when, and how our customers expect it. This is what’s known as “concierge support.”

So, how do you unleash your inner Catwoman and embrace concierge support? The first step is to gauge your customers’ perception of your service. This doesn’t mean you send them a twenty-page survey from which you’ll be lucky to get a 15-percent response rate. We don’t need to be asking our customers if their agents were professional, polite, and punctual. Those traits are an expectation today, and you’ll know fairly quickly if your agents aren’t meeting those expectations.

Instead, start by asking about what you really need to know. This is the Net Promoter Score, and it’s a simple survey that consists of just two questions: On a scale of 1–10, what would you rate the service you received, and why did you give it that rating? AND Would you recommend this service to others? Why or why not? Those who give your service a score of 8–10 are your Promoters; those who give your service a 0–6 are your Detractors. Your NPS is the difference between your total Promoters and total Detractors, and you want to improve that rating over time. Asking “why” will give you the information you need to understand what your customers like and don’t like. You can then make decisions about what you need to continue doing and what you need to either alter your customers’ perception of or eliminate entirely.

Once you have a baseline, you can start to get a little more sophisticated. You may think you know your customers, but do you really? ISO/IEC 38500, the standard for IT governance, identifies human behavior as one of the six fundamental IT governance principles. This principle provides guidance around profiling both customers and service providers, acknowledging the needs of all the people in the process. Profiling can help you understand your different customer communities, as well as the resistance and attraction factors impacting the delivery and acceptance of your services. Once these are understood you can start to develop a tactical plan for influencing those communities in positive ways to drive desirable behaviors. Without a targeted plan, you’re stalking the rooftops of Gotham City without backup—you might rob the Joker and make a clean getaway, or you could get captured and sent to Blackgate Penitentiary. Do you want to take that chance?

Once we know which groups we want to influence and in which ways, generational diversity becomes increasingly important. By 2020, there will be five generations in the workforce. Veterans (over age 75) will represent 1.3 percent of the workforce, either by choice or because they can’t afford to retire. The first Gen-Zs will enter the workforce in 2015—they’re already serving you at fast food chains!—and they’ll comprise eight percent of the workforce by 2020. Gen-Y will make up the lion’s share of the workforce in 2020, at 50 percent, with Baby Boomers and Gen-X duking it out over the remaining 40 percent.

According to the prevailing stereotypes, these generational groups are predisposed to particular styles of communication, owing to the influence of differing environmental conditions, community values, and technological influences. The latter is particularly interesting: veterans saw the rise of the fax machine, and Gen-X saw the widespread adoption of the cell phone. Meanwhile, Gen-Z has an app for everything and is hyperconnected.

Communication is an important factor when it comes to influence, and it’s closely tied to generational diversity. Communication falls into two distinct groups: tangible and flow of transmission. Those who are disposed to tangible communication prefer the mechanisms of print, physical mail, and face-to-face and telephone communication. Flow of transmission communicators prefer texting, email, and social media.

Are your customers Baby Boomers who like to call the service desk? Or are they from Gen-Z, where social media is the preferred approach? Regardless of whether or not your customers fit the stereotypical model for their generations, profiling them will help you make decisions regarding your services and where to channel your communication efforts.

Now that we know what our customers think about our services, who they are, and how they like to be communicated with, what do we communicate? Usually, that starts with SLAs and metrics. Traditional service measures, like X% availability, mean something to IT but mean very little to the customer, particularly when the X% of time your service was down was when they really needed that service to be available.

Meeting an SLA is not a measure of quality customer service. If the SLA is the goal, you’re only measuring the efficiency of your processes. And if that’s your only source of communication, this can create a state of “quality delusion” that can easily devolve into a penalty and blame culture when perceptions differ. The relationship can then become adversarial as your customers experience IT as something done to them rather than a service provided for them.

Governance via SLA is an important aspect of service measurement, but don’t let rigid processes hamper your ability to provide quality services. Instead, open up a constructive dialogue with your customers, focusing on intentions, progress, and outcomes.

Service charters can bridge the communication gap. As part of a customer-centric engagement model, service charters should be written in language appropriate for your business, and they should be two-way communications that set clear expectations regarding the rights and obligations of all parties involved in delivering and consuming a service. They should be something both provider and customer can relate to and agree upon. The intention of the service should be transparent, and there should be clearly documented goals and objectives regarding accountability, fairness, and reliability. Metrics can then be applied against resources, both people and technology, to address the stated goals and objectives.

This isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution. The old service desk model is fast becoming obsolete. What we need is a fundamental change to the engagement model. The service desk must be agile, responsive, and innovative—our customers already are.

To become a trusted advisor and strategic partner, we must connect, communicate, and collaborate both internally and externally, within IT and with our customers. Use the Net Promoter Score to find out what your customers think about your service, profile them to identify their preferred method of engagement, and then tailor your communications to those styles using meaningful metrics and service charters.

The service desk must embrace concierge support. Start by asking yourself, What would Catwoman do? 


Kathryn Howard is currently the NSW State Branch Chairperson for itSMF Australia. As an IT professional in ICT service delivery/management, Kathryn has experience in improvement policy/process assessment and change programs. She is an ITIL Expert, certified in COBIT, and an international speaker, and she believes strongly in enhancing business objectives through commitment to IT governance frameworks and social media channels.

Tag(s): ITSM, service desk, SLA, service level agreement, service level management


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