Do people in your company complain about the IT department? It’s not uncommon, but there is a silver lining: Those comments may be misdirected.
I recently spoke with someone who told me her IT department was “the worst.” That’s a pretty strong statement, so I asked her to tell me more. What made her IT department so bad? Her answer consisted of their relative unresponsiveness to issues she and her people had with their computers, how poorly software upgrades were handled, printing problems, and a slew of other “issues” that, when looked at collectively, fell into the service desk realm.
No matter how great the IT department is doing behind the scenes, it’s the frontline service desk that everyone sees.
Her issues—and many employees’ internal issues, more generally—aren’t with the IT department per se, but rather with the quality of assistance provided by their service desk. Unfortunately, an overall opinion of the service desk translates into an opinion of the entire IT department. So, fair or unfair, perception of one becomes the reality of the other.
No matter how great the IT department is doing behind the scenes, it’s the frontline service desk that everyone sees. So, when level 1 and 2 service desk tickets start backing up, people get angry and frustrated. Smart CIOs know that keeping internal customers happy is priority one, and even the biggest back-office IT success can pale against the complaints of a couple of frustrated VPs who can’t email or print.
Service Desk Success
The first step to service desk success is in identifying a manager who not only has experience leading an IT service desk but who can also take on related responsibilities. Depending on the size of your organization, the service desk manager can do more than simply oversee level 1 employee efforts, manage the service desk software, and meet monthly metrics. In some organizations, the service desk manager is also responsible for server stability management, phone and email network management, IT asset management, and IT vendor negotiations. In addition, many bring with them knowledge and experience with ITIL processes and frameworks, including incident management, knowledge management, and other related service desk processes.
In addition, the service desk manager needs to be a part of the IT leadership group and made aware of all upcoming changes that will impact employees. Advance notice is necessary so the manager can update and provide training to their level 1 employees who will be providing phone/desktop support, troubleshooting employee issues, and discussing level 2 issues with IT. Think of it this way: If a room full of generals creates a strategy, starts rolling the tanks out, but forgets to tell the infantry, the situation would be disastrous. The same holds true here.
Internal or External
The service desk manager and service desk staff don’t necessarily need to be internal employees. However, I would caution against sending your service desk activities offshore. An offshore or even offsite third-party service desk won’t know your people, processes, culture, or products, and quite honestly, they aren’t paid to care. They simply have space in their service desk or call center to answer and log your employee’s calls, attempt simple fixes (such as password resets), and escalate other issues to level 2 (which means they end up back at your internal IT department). Although offshoring may provide lower level 1 costs, shifting tickets back to higher, more-expensive levels of support quickly consumes any savings.
Traditional Service Desk Activities by Level
If you don’t believe managing and addressing service desk issues should be a core competency of your IT team, and yet you know of the employee dissatisfaction issues around outsourcing it, there’s a third option. Some IT service companies offer the ability to create a boutique service desk solution which will place a manager and service desk personnel inside your organization. This allows you to set service desk metrics and oversee the operation of the team without having to manage it on a daily basis. The IT service company takes over the issues of staffing, recruiting, training, acculturating, and, if necessary, terminating employees. These individuals don’t show up in your company headcount, they don’t receive benefits from your company, and you don’t need an act of Congress (or HR) to remove them.
If you do this, it’s important that these individuals understand the culture of your company and are held to the same standards and guiding principles as any full-time employee. They shouldn’t wear company shirts from their IT service company but, if possible, wear your company’s logoed shirts. These individuals should blend into your company, not be apart from it. In cases where this has been successful, I’ve seen external individuals receive internal company awards and individual recognition from senior management and their peers, many of whom didn’t know the external staff were from another company (“I always thought he was one of us”).
When people feel valued and recognized for their contributions, regardless of whether they’re internal or external employees, they’ll want to do more.
Challenge Their Creativity
After a few months of successful metrics and positive comments, challenge the service desk team to come up with ways of being more proactive within the company. You’ll be surprised by what they come up with. When people feel valued and recognized for their contributions, regardless of whether they’re internal or external employees, they’ll want to do more. In one case, a service desk team implemented “Tuesdays on the Floor,” where they would have someone from the service desk walk each floor, stopping by cubicles and offices asking about any current issues. In another case, a service desk held a once-a-month “Apps and Appetites” pizza lunch where they would go through features or enhancements to standard software, present new applications, etc.
The service desk is the face of the IT department to the company. That face should have a smile on it, be familiar and helpful, address issues quickly, and keep everyone productive.
Tony Streeter is the chief marketing officer and SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc., in San Antonio. Over the past twenty years, Tony has led product marketing, new product development, e-commerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe, and RR Donnelley. Currently, he directs marketing and branding initiatives for Y&L Consulting, a comprehensive IT services and solutions company specializing in internal help desk services, BI services, IT consulting and development, and social strategy.