My leadership team gathered in the conference room waiting for the CIO to join us. We anxiously waited for the opportunity to share our story and present a business case for adding service desk staff. It was time to address the gap in our supply of frontline resources relative to the increased demands for our services and our ability to service our customers in a timely manner—service level agreement (SLA) adherence. Our customers were telling us, "Love the service; can’t stand the wait." It is very challenging to add headcount anywhere these days, especially onshore and here in California. However, we were giving it our best shot! Our CIO walked into the conference room a little distracted. We waited for him to settle in, and we began to walk him through our progress update in implementing our initiatives supporting our shift-left service strategy.
In the preceding six months, the results of our focused efforts on continuous improvement were on fire! The improvements included SLA adherence, customer satisfaction scores, self-service adoption, cross training staff, introduction of our chat channel, and expanding our 24x7 coverage with our offshore India partner. He was patient, asked very good questions, occasionally nodded affirmatively until we arrived at the slide requesting additional service desk staff. Our business justification reasoning was simple; based on call volume demand, current over utilization of service desk staff, and the business impact on our customers, it was time to alleviate the suffering of elongated wait times.
The Business Impact
We had not added staff to the service desk in five years. During that time, we had experienced a 30 percent increase in contact volume year-over-year and an increase in priority 1 and 2 service outages. We expanded our service offerings and saw our average handle time (AHT) increase because of our pursuit of KCS methodology to increase first call resolution (FCR). Our recommendation was to commit to a new service level of a 1 minute and 30 second average speed of answer (ASA) with less than 10 percent abandons. In terms of industry standards identified in the 2015 Support Center Practices & Salary Report, 75 percent of the survey participants were committed to delivering faster response times than the SLA goals we set. Our intent was not to be world class, but to satisfy a business expectation. This was purposeful based on 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!
We had not added staff to the service desk in five years.
The Moment of Truth
After we delivered our business case justification for additional service desk staff, there was an awkward silence in the room. The CIO looked at my boss and then looked at my team, almost waiting for us to continue to defend our position. We said nothing. About 30 seconds later, he suggested that we try our offshore resource partners. I stated that the cost deferential was minimal and that our on-campus resources could be on-boarded, trained, monitored, managed, and coached by our managers, team leads, and star performers, increasing their performance, success, and retention. The long-term commitment of contracted offshore resources was 12 months. I did not want to have to go through the search, interview, and on-boarding process every year. We had implemented a hiring profile and process that over time had proven successful, and we wanted to continue to leverage it for all new hires on the frontline. More silence. More glances. He waited for us to surrender or compromise our recommendation. He then looked directly at us interrupting my train of thought back to where our service maturity journey began three years prior.
Perspective and Preparation
The first time I journeyed from the 12th floor elevator on the executive floor to present my first business case in “The Boardroom” was the longest walk of my career! Before you take that walk, it is important to prepare for that journey by taking the time to gain the perspective of your business, customers, and stakeholders. You should know your business, your marketplace, your customers, your competitors and how your company makes money (e.g., revenue less expenses equals profit). Most importantly, you should know what is important to the business, as it will provide you with insight and perspective as you design your service strategy. Business value is derived from your ability to be transparent with your IT service costing and business-relevant performance measures.
From my perspective, I saw the frontline service desk team as the face of IT and the aggregated voice of the customer. We were the single point of contact (SPOC) model with an EZ-2-DO-BIZ-WITH mantra for handling all IT-related issues, requests, and questions. We were persistent in always looking for opportunities to optimize our support model by extracting repetitive call types, non-valued inefficiencies, work effort, and costs. We watchfully monitored ASA/abandons, FCR, and customer satisfaction index (CSI). We owned the end-to-end SLAs for timely resolution and closure based on priority (business impact/urgency) especially when assigned to other IT groups. In essence, our service strategy was shift-left, focused on moving issue resolution and request fulfillment to the lowest cost level, closest to the customer. In the tiered-model service organization, with a focus on “one and done,” we had to find creative ways to provide the customer with resolution at the service desk (level 1) or self-service portal (level 0).
Gaining Senior Executive Confidence
When I arrived at First American, I knew that our first priority was to gain the attention, trust, and support of the CIO. There were rumors of business reviews hijacked by horrific IT customer service stories. Then there were the people in the service desk and desktop teams who were feeling unappreciated and over-worked. After a few months of intense review, interviews, and assessing key support areas, it was clear to me that we needed to redesign our services from the customer perspective. We needed to hold management accountable in the delivery of end-to-end service ownership with the expectation of producing consistent results (performance measures) that were timely in both response and resolution meeting the customer’s expectations. Our operationally focused reporting never made it past the director level and didn’t state the current situational story, namely where we were relative to where we wanted to go.
Priority 1 was to establish our service strategy aligned with the business objectives, assess our current operational practices compared to industry best practices, and create our continuous improvement roadmap (via a gap analysis). Industry best practices are overwhelming in their volume and complexity. You should know the industry best practices that are relevant to your service structure and services portfolio. It is important to understand how other companies have implemented these best practices and what results they are delivering. A service leader will need to prioritize the best practices that will return the most value to the company for the time and effort invested.
Our multi-year goal was to transform our service organization from our current order-taker role into more of a partner and trusted advisory role to the business. We needed to confirm business expectations, requirements, and priorities while establishing a balanced scorecard approach to KPIs (e.g., customer satisfaction, knowledge and innovation, process efficiency, and financial discipline). We also needed to create a marketing/communication plan for stakeholders outlining what we were doing, the reasons for doing it, and the timelines for getting it all done.
Welcome! Now Get to Work
The service desk and desktop teams were not working together as one team to handle roughly 80 percent of the 300,000 contacts—incidents, requests, and Installs/Moves/Adds/Changes (IMACs). The incident management approach was disjointed, which led to inconsistencies and mixed results. The service desk was based out of Dallas, the campus desktop team in Santa Ana, the offshore team in India and everyone else was remote, either working in a local office or out of their home. We had managers, technicians, and analysts that were either in the wrong positons, in their positions too long, or just not happy about the positons they were in. This situation was affecting the team’s behavior and performance and was certainly felt by our customers.
Once we decided on a business-aligned shift-left service strategy, our second priority was obvious, fix the people. I had just reread Good to Great by Jim Collins and was reminded of the importance of getting the right people on the bus in the right seats. We created the “People Plan” to evaluate our organizational roles and the people currently occupying those positions. As we saw it, our options were to coach them to improve, put them on a performance plan, move them to a new position, or hire new for the position. Our goal was to have all team members in a position of strength, development, opportunity, and value. More importantly, we wanted them to be passionate about what they did at First American and actually look forward to coming to work every day!
The People Plan
The results of the people plan were quite successful! We were able to move current service managers into other non-people management roles where they successfully applied their skills and passions to their new positons. We promoted star performers into newly established team lead roles; created performance plans for eight individuals who chose not to step-up, work the plan, and succeed; and hired new talent with increased expectations. We created a new service-based hiring profile purposely designed to identify highly motivated, talented, and skilled individuals. We continued to foster a one-team culture with the intent of leaving behind the limiting regionalized support model in favor of a more disciplined, process, and SLA-based service delivery model.
We staffed and organized the teams in a follow-the-sun model based on demand, analyst capacity and capability, and SLA commitments. We would hold all managers and team leads accountable for delivering the same level of service and performance. The team leads managed the work assignment queues by assigning the right work to the right people for the right reasons (e.g., priority, skill/experience, region, relationship, and bandwidth). The game changer was having the right management team in position to empower, mentor, and visibly lead the team. Our decision to physically locate the service desk on campus in Santa Ana and hire all new service desk analysts to work there was another very impactful decision. The service desk felt and acted more as a team in their daily interaction with one another and our customers. This became evident in what our customers were telling us in their survey responses. It was also much more effective and simpler to be able to leverage the same trainers and training plan for their successful onboarding and continued training, quality monitoring, and coaching.
The Performance Plan
The next tactical part of our plan was to identify relevant individual and team performance metrics that would be measurable, achievable, and reportable. We wanted to approach it from multiple perspectives and believed a balanced scorecard would help us communicate our progress, performance, and value to multiple stakeholders. We determined that our service desk analyst and desktop technician scorecards would measure:
- SLA response and resolution to incidents and fulfillment of requests
- CSI scores
- Workload/capacity (tickets processed/per day)
- Quality Assurance (QA) scores
- Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) adherence—Use, Flag, Fix, Add (UFFA)
We would measure daily and report weekly and monthly. Our Unified Call Center Manager (UCCM) reporting gave us important phone channel data, providing us with operational statistics as well as key indicators on speed of service (ASA). Our ServiceNow ITSM tool gave us incident, request, SLA, chat volume, and employee self-service (ESS) catalog requests. Our implementation of FALive IT Help Center (Employee Self-Serve Portal) was telling us about customer adoption, views, followers, and likes. We improved our speed to answer from an average of 4 minutes to under 1 minute and 50 seconds. We thought it would be a good time to step-up our business outreach to see if what we were doing was noticeable and making a difference. The response was, “We love the service desk.” When we shared this feedback with our CIO, he stated that he no longer received escalated complaints from senior business executives about another IT service delivery failure. From where he sat, this was a huge win and success story. For now, he was able to turn his much needed attention to important matters like continuing the IT/business value-add partnership.
The Customer/Business Plan
Next, we needed to know what our customer and business needs and expectations were regarding our services portfolio and delivery. We needed to translate them into operational practices and performance expectations, namely SLAs and our commitment to meeting them on a consistent basis. We looked at the important aspects of the service delivery: availability, timely and quality resolution, accurate assignment, service ownership and accountability, and customer service. We broke down the overall end-to-end service delivery components into the key activities and tasks that our customers expected with the associated timeframes, levels of responsibilities, and desired end-result. We planned to deliver a customer experience that was seamless and delivered against our stated service level expectations and, if not, trigger a management escalation (CSI Alert process). The purpose of this was to quickly recover the customer experience, resolve any outstanding issue, and investigate the root cause of the failure to correct it through coaching or process improvement. We were now able to confidently know and report on the voice of the customer in terms of their experience. We tracked customer satisfaction with a consistent 25 percent survey response rate and average score of 4.9/5.0. This strongly positioned us to transparently report on both positive customer testimonials, the service failures, and what action we took to resolve–earning yet another credibility card.
The First American ITIL and ITSM maturity journey was in its fifth year with more than 500 ITIL certified professionals, a highly functional and impactful ITSM process management team, and a ServiceNow (aka ServiceFirst) implementation that has changed the way IT does business. We approached our multi-level service desk and desktop structure, our call flow, incident and request management processes, and our ServiceFirst modules from the outside (our customers) in (our SPOC service desk) like a giant funnel handling almost 300,000 contacts a year! We knew between the service desk and the desktop teams we handled and resolved 80 percent of those contacts and assigned out another 20 percent to the security, AppDev, and infrastructure teams. As we categorized our call types based on who was calling, why they were calling, and what it took to resolve their issue, we created an action plan for enabling our shift-left strategy focused on shifting level 2 (desktop) resolutions to level 1 (service desk) and level 1 to level 0 (self-service portal and catalog). This effort was well worth the investment of our time because it provided us with the credibility of aligning our projects, people, process, and tools to our service strategy. We were working hard to get CIO approval for increasing the service desk staff by an additional six analysts, but we weren’t sitting idle waiting for this approval, we were planning the work and working the continuous improvement plan. Some of the highlights of this effort included the following:
- Improved the Open Call form used for the initial documentation period allowing us to easily create a new incident or service request, update an existing record, or potentially add a child ticket onto a parent major incident. We extended this enhancement out to our customers to self-serve themselves by viewing the reported major incidents on the IT Help Center portal and adding their child ticket to the parent for reporting and status update purposes.
- Synchronized the IT Help Center Alert page for the reporting and service recovery updates for priority 1 and priority 2 outages to our telephony front-end messaging, providing our customers, independent of contact channel, real-time information. We now can replay the emergency message to all customers who were in the queue before the posting of the message. They now can make a decision to either abandon, hold for a service desk analyst, or check out our new self-serve features on the IT Help Center versus calling. After implementing this feature, we experienced a service outage causing 500 customers to call in before we posted our emergency message. When we posted, it replayed the message to those 500 customers; 400 of them decided to abandon after hearing the message. Success!
- The desktop team leads reengineered the regional desktop assignment queues for all desktop-related incidents, requests, and tasks according to priority, time zone, workload, skills, and experience, having a dramatic improvement on our SLA response, resolution time, and customer satisfaction scores. For 2015, they were at 89 percent SLA adherence, an 860-1 device-to-technician ratio, and a 4.9/5 CSI score with 25 percent response rate and managing 130 office openings, closings, relocations, and M&A onboarding.
- Implemented our chat channel via our IT Help Center staffed by our FA India team 12 hours/day, 5 days/week, and this has proven to be a most successful contact channel for our younger employees.
- Implemented a new self-serve password management tool enabling registered customers to both reset and unlock their password. The password issues remain at a high 20–25 percent of our call volume and we have seen a 30 percent reduction in the first two months of usage. We plan to continue our marketing, education, and awareness to all 16,000 employees, citing the benefits of taking one minute to self-serve themselves to unlock and reset their password as opposed to calling.
- Lastly, we manage the IT Workplace Services Allocation for all employee PC hardware and peripherals, and we found out that the business did not understand any of the policy and procedures associated with their $300 per-employee-per-month donation. We presented four workshops and recorded and posted one of them on our IT Help Center portal. The results were amazing. The open and honest communication with financial transparency was a big win for us! It opened the door for the PC hardware and peripheral refurbishment and redeployment program, which has saved the company $5 million in avoiding new equipment spend by having the business return terminated employee PC hardware and peripherals for possible refurbishment and redeployment.
In creating the continuous improvement roadmap and working to implement this plan over a 24-month period, we left no stone unturned and questioned everything about what we did, why we did it, how we did it, and the value of the results versus work effort. As you move forward with a plan, you will identify various teams you will need to work with to implement your targeted areas for improvement. Some teams will be more willing and cooperative in enabling the new and improved solution. Others, well, will not be so ready to step-up to assist you. My recommendation is to wait patiently for a related crisis, emergency, or service failure that will get management’s attention. Then approach them on prioritizing this initiative across the organization, holding you accountable for its successful delivery and results.
The biggest, most impactful lesson for us was that we were poor at project management! Our project management experience and discipline was nowhere near the level of competency needed for us to manage both the day-to-day and the continuous improvement initiatives. We needed experienced oversight to manage our timeframe, the right resources focused on the right things that would in the end deliver the desired results. In hindsight, we probably should have had a PMP project manager assigned to our team to manage this project; we did not, but we will most definitely next time.
The Impacting Decision
Back in the conference room, we continued our wait for the CIO to make that decision on our request for additional service desk analysts. "OK, Pete,” he said, “go-ahead and place the order for six contractors for the next six months, and then we can convert them to full-time First American service desk analyst positions. Let’s meet again in six months for a progress report, and great job, keep up the good work." He was gone. We looked at each other, smiled, packed-up, and left the conference room.
As you continue delivering against your success story and maturing your service offering, having senior management’s respect, confidence, and support in you, your service organization, and your service strategy should be priority one! It will grease the road to success for you, your team, and your customers and allow you to spend your most valuable time getting it done rather than always being in a position of asking permission.
Peter McGarahan is senior director of IT for First American Financial. Pete received the 2015 First American Excellence Award in IT, continuing his role as an industry thought leader and expert in the field of IT Service Management. He is also the founder of McGarahan & Associates and offers 30 years of business, IT, and service leadership. Pete has received HDI’s Team Excellence Award for his work with the Taco Bell support organization, the “Top 25 Professionals in the Service and Support Industry” from IT Support News, and the “Legend of the Year” (twice) at the HDI Conference for his endless energy, mentoring, coaching, and contributions to the service and support industry and community. You can reach Pete by email, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on LinkedIn.