by Roy Atkinson
Date Published December 1, 2016 - Last Updated October 31, 2016

The legendary Steve Jobs, it is said, often would approach someone at random on the Apple Campus and ask intensely, “What do you do for me?” It is also said that he was known to fire the person on the spot if the answer was not to his liking.

While the Steve Jobs story is a harsh one, quite often senior executives want to know exactly what the support center does for them—or rather for the organization as a whole. The main questions are:

  • Is the support center (help desk, service desk) simply a cost center?
  • If the support center has value, how is that value created and measured?

Until we have a firm grasp on how to show value (i.e., how and what the support center contributes to the organization as a whole), it’s very difficult to obtain approval for any substantial improvements the support center needs.

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Showing the support center’s value has been a top priority for several years. Back in 2013, HDI asked survey takers, “Is your support center currently feeling pressure to prove its value?” 51 percent of respondents said yes, and another 36 percent said “somewhat,” so that 87 percent of support centers were then feeling some pressure to show value. When the question was asked about IT departments as a whole, the numbers were very similar. If anything, the desire for IT and specifically support to show real value has increased over the last few years.

Review the Metrics You Report

For far too long, support centers have been focused on reporting operational metrics such as average handle time (AHT), speed to answer (ASA), and others. These metrics—primarily activity based—do not produce the type of answers Steve Jobs would have accepted as an answer to his question, “What do you do for me?” They are also not likely to be the kind of information your senior managers are really looking for. Operational metrics are important for items like staffing level calculations, but they do not contribute very much to showing business leaders how valuable the support center is.

For far too long, support centers have been focused on reporting operational metrics.
Tweet: For far too long, support centers have been focused on reporting operational metrics. @HDI_Analyst @ThinkHDI

Focus Point: Ask Management

Conduct a review of the metrics you are reporting up to senior managers, and start by asking them what they want and need to see. Do not be shy about asking them why they want to see those particular numbers. “We’ve always done it this way” is not a good answer. There should be sound reasons for producing and analyzing data every month or every quarter. Your leadership team knows what they are looking for, but may not have shared that with you. Ask, and keep asking. Here are some suggestions:

  • Number of incidents for the reporting period (reduction is good)
  • Number of service requests for the reporting period
  • Knowledge base article usage
  • Knowledge articles added
  • Number of items referred to Problem Management
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Analyst/technician satisfaction
  • Mean Time to Resolve
  • First Level Resolution Rate and/or number of escalations to Level 2/3
  • Percentage of resolutions meeting SLA


Plan Your Plan

Before approaching senior management to ask for more staff, budget, or anything else, know these things:

  • What you intend to improve
  • How you intend to improve it
  • How you will measure the improvement
  • How the improvement benefits your organization as a whole

In a recent article for SupportWorld, Selling the Service Value Proposition to Your CIO, Peter McGarahan said:

…a past mistake of pursuing world-class SLA commitments (at any cost) that did not resonate with business executives. Our recommendation was denied and the reasoning simple, the company needed a world-class business operation, not a world class service desk. Point taken; never forgotten!

Yes, it would be great to be able to have spectacular metrics, but that’s not what your organization runs on. Make sure that you are asking for improvements that will contribute to the attainment of the mission and vision of the organization of which your support center is a part. When executives lay out their goals for the year, think carefully about what the support center could do to assist in the attainment of those goals. If the focus of the organization is on increased sales, for example, consider how the support center would be able to help make the sales team more effective. Focus improvements where improvements are wanted.

Focus Point: Set Goals

It’s not new, but it bears repeating: Set SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound (or Timely)

If your proposal meets these criteria, you have a far greater chance of success. Instead of saying, “We will improve customer satisfaction,” say, “We will increase our customer satisfaction rating by two points in the next quarter.” Or perhaps, “We will increase the usage our self-service knowledge base this year by using the Level Zero Solvable metric, and also adding messaging (i.e., marketing) to our web pages and email signatures to raise awareness of our improvements. We will track the increased use of the KB and also the reduction in year-over-year contacts to the support center on issues covered in the self-service KB.” Achieve it, document it, and present it.

Work Your Plan

Whether or not your proposal is accepted on the first try, make the improvements you can make. Capture the data about the improvements and include that evidence in your next proposal. Showing progress is always a good way to win over someone who isn’t sure you can deliver on your goals.

Let’s say you are interested in implementing a better way to gather feedback from your customers—perhaps by purchasing a new customer survey tool that integrates with your ITSM suite. Your leadership declines the purchase because they are skeptical that the feedback will have real value. Without spending any money, you use a free survey tool—or one that you already own—to solicit specific suggestions from your customers and users. Some of their suggestions are valuable, and you can make small improvements based on these. Your customers feel valued, and the changes help them to be more productive. Have conversations with customers and users about what they’ve been able to accomplish now that their suggestion is in place, and include their stories in your next attempt to get the improvement implemented. When you (support) ask for an improvement, that’s one thing; when you partner with your customers and show results, that’s something else again.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.—Theodore Roosevelt

Think about these possibilities:

  • Is there a useful feature you are not currently using in a tool that you already have? The vendor might be willing to allow you to use it on a trial basis.
  • Is there a free alternative that meets your minimum requirements?

Make Your Case

Now that you have selected targets for improvement, laid them out as SMART goals, and gathered supporting evidence for your business case, you need to find the suitable venue and delivery method for your leadership. Building a complex and detailed slide deck might seem to be the obvious method, but might not be as effective as another way. The best method for determining how to present your case is to ask. You may wish to have some alternatives to suggest when you do. Instead of a one-person slide presentation, consider a panel made up of support staff and customers, for example.

Follow Through

Once you are given the opportunity to make the improvements you believe will be beneficial to your business or institution, make sure that you are gathering the data you need to prove that you are accomplishing what you set out to do. Plans seldom go perfectly when they become implementations, so build some flexibility into your project. If you are meeting or exceeding all your targets, let the data tell your success story. Then it will be time to move on to the next set of improvements.


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Roy AtkinsonRoy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. He is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.

Tag(s): focus series, supportworld, support center, business value, business alignment


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