About three years ago, I accepted a position as Sr. Technical Support Manager for a healthcare data analytics company. In this role, I was tasked with improving the service desk, well actually, completely overhauling the service desk and improving its image within the company.
I inherited quite a challenge, or should I say set of challenges. The service desk was failing. Customer service was lacking, processes and procedures were out of date or not implemented at all, and performance metrics were disappointing. As a result, customer satisfaction was at an all-time low, other technology teams lacked trust in our ability to perform, and our brand within the organization was beyond damaged.
I needed to quickly tailor a solution to address and correct these issues and build a world-class service desk. After all, my job and my reputation depended on that. I’ll explain how I overcame real-world challenges around people, process, and technology by implementing ITSM best practices, or as I would call them, solutions that work.
"I needed to address these issues and build a world-class service desk..."
These strategies helped to evolve an under-performing service desk group into a team of high-performing rock stars. They can be implemented on any service desk to enhance performance, build teamwork, and increase customer satisfaction. This information is ideal for new managers, supervisors, team leads, analysts, and even seasoned managers who want guidance on implementing ITSM best practices for service desk success.
Common Service Desk Challenges
The challenges I faced are common to many service desks. The challenges around people were:
- Insufficient staff to handle the volume of work.
- Lack of qualified staff who possessed strong technical support and customer service skills.
- Unprofessional atmosphere which was not conducive to productivity. Our co-workers complained regularly about the loud phone and non-work-related conversations, as well as general unprofessional behavior displayed in the service desk area.
- Poor customer service culture where staff weren’t encouraged to treat customers with courtesy and respect.
- Lack of collaboration and teamwork; no sharing of ideas and resolutions among agents.
- Analysts in different physical locations, which caused dissention and disunity in the team.
- Lack of motivation and enthusiasm amongst the team; poor performance and low morale.
The challenges I faced around processes were:
Lack of accountability. No standard was set as to how much time agents had to be in “ready” or available to answer phones resulting in high ASA and high abandon rates.
Poor staff scheduling. Staff weren’t scheduled to accommodate peak calls times which resulted in high ASA and abandon rates, customer inability to meet deliverables, and general customer frustration.
Inadequate call and ticket handling procedures. Inability to address customer issues properly, multiple tickets being created for the same issue, no documentation in tickets, etc.
No separation of roles and responsibilities for different service channels such as queue management, self-service, and email duty versus phone coverage. Poor distribution of tickets and long wait times for issue resolution.
No proper escalation process. Long wait times for less skilled analysts to troubleshoot, issues going unresolved resulting in customer dissatisfaction.
The challenges I faced around technology were:
No self-service technology in place to alleviate routine, mundane calls. High volume of unnecessary calls.
Underutilization of ITSM system capabilities (e.g., categories, templates, knowledge base, metrics reporting). No accurate reporting to recognize trends; no ticket shortcuts, and no centralized repository for knowledge.
Wired headsets. Kept agents stationary throughout the day and inhibited greater team collaboration.
Insufficient ACD programming/no wrap-up time. Not enough time to properly document tickets.
Insufficient notification of system failures. Long wait times during major incidents and increased user and agent frustration.
Implementing Solutions that Work
To address the challenges I faced around insufficient and under qualified staff, poor customer service, and lack of professionalism, collaboration, and motivation, I implemented these strategies:
Care about your team, get them motivated, make work fun, lead by example, get involved! If you don’t care about your team, that is your people, you will have a very difficult time implementing these strategies. I have found that bringing out the best in people requires you to take the time to get to know them, show genuine interest in and concern for them, and simply put, caring. Motivating your team, making their jobs enjoyable, and leading by example is an excellent recipe for success.
Determine staffing needs. You don’t have to be a psychic to determine how many people you need on your service desk or how to schedule them. If you’re a math whiz, you can use Erlang C formulas in Excel to determine your resource needs by entering your calls, AHT, breaks, and desired ASA, and it will give you hour-by-hour staffing/scheduling models needed to achieve your goals. If you’re not a math whiz, you can purchase software to do the same thing. There are many resource management software packages on the market.
Hire agents with great customer service, professionalism, and call center/technical backgrounds. Train and mentor those who don’t have call center or technical backgrounds. We can teach our employees skills, but certain personality traits that enable people to exhibit outstanding customer service can’t always be taught. People who by nature are helpful, humble, courteous and empathetic are great service desk candidates. Also, look for specific soft skill sets such as writing and interpersonal skills.
Rearrange staff seating to create a professional atmosphere and pair agents appropriately for mentoring and coaching to happen naturally. If you have people who tend to do a lot of talking, joking, or engaging in other unprofessional behavior, separate them. Seat agents who are less skilled next to their highly-skilled counterparts. Be sure to pair similar personalities. If you have a very quiet junior agent, pair them with an experienced but quiet agent. As the two work closely together natural mentoring with occur. This method doesn’t require that you ever make either agent aware of the fact that your intention was for one to mentor the other.
Create a customer service culture by always exhibiting great customer service. Celebrate and champion great customer service with Customer Service Week celebrations, customer service awards, praise boards, etc. Post customer service and motivational quotes throughout your work area. Have agents find customer service quotes of the day and forward them to the team via email. Invest in customer service training for your analysts. ICMI has a great online option.
Reward excellent performance with morale events: gamification, competitions, and HDI Analyst and Desktop Support Technician of the Year nominations. These are great ways to motivate your employees and show them your appreciation for all they do.
Promote teambuilding. Conduct teambuilding workshops and summits to encourage teamwork, reward team performance as opposed to individual performance, and purchase books with teambuilding games, both physical and virtual for those with agents in multiple locations. Myers-Briggs type testing and DISC activities are also great ways to encourage interaction and help agents get to know each other and work styles better.
Connect distributed offices. Invest in webcams, use Skype if possible, arrange office visits if possible, and conduct team meetings where everyone is tied in if you have technology that allows for this.
Create career development plans for your employees and help them achieve their career goals. This will not only let your employees know that you’re concerned about their future, it will help your company to retain good talent through internal promotions. Assign them alternate roles periodically. If you have other roles such as email or self-service ticket duty, rotate your agents periodically so that they can get experience doing other tasks.
Improve yourself by asking for feedback and accept constructive criticism if it’s offered. Perform exit interviews and make improvements based on suggestions you receive.
To address the challenges I faced around staff accountability, scheduling, and inadequate processes and procedures, I implemented these strategies:
- Research, study, and implement best practices in ITSM! Do your research and make sure that your policies and procedures are based on ITSM best practices.
- Require that your agents be in “ready” 75–85 percent of the time depending on utilization. This standard is very important and you want to be sure to strike a balance. You don’t want your agents twiddling their thumbs, but you also don’t want them to burn out. If agents are over-utilized, they will burn out quickly and your turnover rate will increase. Study your ACD reports to determine your availability and utilization rates and make adjustments accordingly.
- Determine call traffic throughout the day using ACD reports workforce management software, and schedule agents accordingly.
- Create procedures for call and ticket creation, documentation, and escalation, and train your team.
- Delineate roles on the team for alternate activities such as queue management, email duty, and walk-up counter, etc. Assign email duty in shifts (weekly or monthly shifts work much better than daily and hourly).
To address the challenges I faced around our underutilization of ITSM capabilities, self-service, ACD programming, and other call center technology, I implemented these strategies:
- Utilize technology, utilize technology, utilize technology!
- Implement self-service technology if your budget allows. Password reset software is an inexpensive and easy win.
- Utilize ITSM system capabilities such as categories, knowledge base, surveys, and templates for easily creating tickets.
- Use your metrics reporting to determine baseline and set goals. Measure and improve performance.
- Invest in wireless headsets for agents. This is another inexpensive easy win as it gives agents the ability to collaborate more freely when they are not tethered to the desk.
- Experiment with wrap-up time needed after calls and program your ACD accordingly. Note that every organization and every service desk is different. The amount of time that works for one environment may not work for another. I found our sweet spot to be 90 seconds. Yours may be more or less. But whatever the amount your agents require, be sure to have your ACD programmed accordingly so that agents will have adequate time to complete and close tickets. A few seconds to breathe wouldn’t hurt either.
- Program your phone system to create major incident announcements to notify users in the event of system failures. This will cut down on calls during those periods and provide greater customer satisfaction by reducing long wait times and customer frustration.
Brand Repair and Brand Building
Once we implemented these solutions, I made my customers aware that our team was making a concerted effort to improve service and build our brand throughout the organization. While improving your day-to-day customer service is great, there is nothing like telling your customers how much you care.
We advertised our new and improved services through customer outreach activities such as regularly scheduled roundtables and trainings/brown bag sessions. We also held week-long Customer Service Week celebrations where we involved our entire organization in the festivities. This allowed them to see how passionate we were about service. These types of celebrations are a big hit with customers.
I had the team create core values and mission and vision statements. The key here is to have the team do this. Once the team created these, I had them printed, and we displayed them throughout our work area. This made a great impression on our customers and helped to improve our brand reputation throughout the organization.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, these strategies can be implemented in whole or in part on any service desk. These solutions helped us go from underperforming to high-performing in 180 days. In addition to a having a world-class service desk, we:
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Saw great metrics, improved ASA, reduced abandon rate, and great survey scores
- Improved our brand throughout the organization
- Saw greater responsibility in the organization
- Found other teams began to bring work to the service desk
- Began taking on responsibilities for providing support when we acquired new companies
- Improved agent morale and motivation
In the spirit of continuous service improvement, we identified areas where we still needed to improve. My next area of focus was quality, improving the quality of technical support that we provided to our customers. Perhaps I’ll discuss that process in a subsequent article.
Monica Morrison is ITSM Process Manager for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. She has more than 20 years of ITSM experience, implementing industry best practices that improved service in large companies and nonprofit organizations. She has experience coaching, mentoring, and building cohesive teams. Monica is a high-energy, passionate leader with remarkable strategic vision and focus on customer satisfaction, process improvement, team building, and solutions implementation. She holds ITIL and HDI certifications, and currently serves as VP of logistics for the HDI Capital Area local chapter. Connect with Monica on LinkedIn.