Are your service desk agents functioning as bots?
If the bulk of the work being done by your service desk agents consists of tedious, repetitive tasks, then your service desk agents are being bots. If your service desk agents are provided with little opportunity to innovate or leverage their knowledge and talents, then they are functioning as bots. And that means your “bots” are drinking your coffee.
Are your service desk agents functioning as bots?
I think many organizations do not realize the value and potential of their service desks. In fact, many organizations treat the service desk very much like a collection of bots; they are given a set of limited tasks to do, and that’s all they get to do. Good service desks are capable of so much more—if they’ve been properly enabled. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for a bot at the service desk.
What Is a Bot?
A bot is a basically a program—nothing more, nothing less. A bot is software that runs automated tasks that are simple and repetitive. Some bots have additional capabilities, such as natural language processing, machine learning, robotic process automation, or adaptive learning, which makes interactions between an IT service consumer and the bot more conversational and human-like.
Bots come in many forms, from chatbots to virtual assistants. A chatbot typically interacts with IT consumers via text messages. A virtual assistant typically is able to interpret human speech and respond via a synthesized voice. It is exciting technology that is rapidly permeating society and has become part of the norm of daily life. Whether it is asking your smart device to adjust the thermostat in your home or engaging in a chat during an online ordering session, hardly a day goes by without many of us engaging some sort of bot.
So, it’s only understandable why IT organizations would want to incorporate the use of bots within daily operations, especially with the service desk.
Will Bots Take Over the Service Desk?
Yes. And no.
Yes, bots could take over the service desk. Why?
- A bot will answer every call or contact. There will be no dropped or abandoned calls, no contacts that won’t get a response. With a bot, users do not have to wait for someone to answer a phone or respond to a chat message.
- A bot can be used to automate repetitive tasks, such as resetting a password or answering frequently asked questions. And a bot can do those things with far greater efficiency than a human at a service desk can.
- A bot can quickly look for the right answer in a knowledge base. Let’s face it, end users typically don’t have or don’t take the time to look through knowledge articles to help themselves.
But bots will not take over the service desk. While bots can augment the service desk, bots will not replace a service desk.
- Bots have no understanding of the user community served by the service desk. Among the most valuable qualities of a great service desk team is that team’s innate knowledge and understanding of the community that they serve. A good service desk agent not only has a good understanding of the technology and systems used within the organization, but also understands the “bigger picture” of the organization as a whole.
- Bots may not be accepted by users who prefer a “personal touch.” The fact is that some people prefer only to deal with people. Many bot providers have given their solutions human names in an effort to change how the bot is being perceived, and even though the bot may provide great capabilities and advantages over a human service desk agent (see above), it’s still a bot.
- Bots lack the creative and innovative troubleshooting capabilities of humans. Bots can only do what they’ve been designed to do. While some bots do have the capability to “learn” based on data patterns, that learning is only as good as the programming used to design the bot.
What Service Desk Agents Could (Will) Be Doing
If you’re thinking that investing in and implementing a bot is a way to cut costs or reduce staff, then you’re thinking is all wrong. In fact, the need for good service desk agents will only be increased.
The right way to think about and leverage the use of a bot is to consider how a bot can augment the work that the organization is doing. If the introduction of a bot does nothing to augment the service team or provide a cost-justifiable improvement to the employee experience (both the service desk team and the consumer), then why would you do it?
If the introduction of a bot makes sense, what will service desk agents be doing?
- Teaching the bot. Service desk agents have unique knowledge of the user community. That knowledge and wisdom is great input into configuring the bot.
- Checking for "drift." Organizations are continually evolving in response to business demands and market pressures. This evolution impacts the IT systems used by the business, which ultimately impacts the service desk. Does the bot’s current configuration meet the needs of the business, or has drift occurred? Like with any other technology, implementing a bot is not a one-and-done activity.
- Monitor bot responses, ensuring the bot is taking the appropriate actions or identifying opportunities for improvement.
- Advanced troubleshooting. Service desk agents will apply those uniquely human qualities of curiosity and creativity to resolve issues that the bot cannot.
Making Your Bot Feel Welcome
The fact is (and always has been) that there will never be a one-to-one ratio of service consumers to service desk agents. Yet, every IT consumer relies on the services provided by the IT organization to do the work that the company has asked them to do. If the consumer encounters challenges with the services provided by IT, they need the capabilities of a good service desk. And, in the digital era, a good service desk is a mix of technologies, like bots, as well as people.
How should IT organizations prepare for introducing bots at the service desk?
First, assess the health of your service management environment. If your practices are not delivering the expected (or needed) returns, if your processes are not delivering the needed outputs, then the introduction of a bot is not going to magically make everything better. In fact, introducing a bot will only make the bad situation worse; your practices and processes will simply return the current bad results you’re getting, but much faster! Critically evaluate your service management environment and determine where improvements are needed so that when (not if) you introduce a bot, you’ll have better chances for success.
Invest in training service desk agents in configuring and maintaining the bots—and get the best of both worlds. Not only will you gain the efficiencies of having a bot take over operation of those tedious, repetitious tasks that are landing in an agent’s work queue, you’ll also leverage the collective wisdom of the service desk agents maintaining the bot.
Model everything. A model is a pre-defined way of handling types of requests, incidents, changes, and more. A key to offloading those repetitive and tedious tasks from the service desk agent’s workload onto a bot is that models are (actually) defined for the bot to execute. If the model for resetting a password isn’t defined, the bot can’t reset passwords. If the model for distributing software isn’t defined, the bot can’t distribute software. Well-defined models are critical for exploiting the capabilities of a bot.
Doug Tedder is a strategic, innovative, and solutions-driven IT service management professional with more than 20 years of progressive experience across a variety of industries. He’s a resourceful and hands-on leader with track record of success implementing ITSM and IT governance processes. Doug is a certified ITIL Expert and ISO/IEC 20000 Consultant Manager and holds many other industry certifications. In addition, Doug is an accredited ITIL Foundation trainer and HDI Support Center Analyst and Support Center Manager instructor. Follow Doug on Twitter @dougtedderand connect with him on LinkedIn.