I’d like to share four help-desk horror stories from the darkest and deepest depths of the service desk department! Sit back! Keep the lights on! Enjoy the read!
Horror Story #1: Service Desk Zombies
One day, I came to the office and discovered that all of my team had turned into zombies! This zombie disease manifested when the service desk team lost interest in their work. The symptoms they exhibited included barely doing the minimum number of tickets, not interacting with other colleagues, not making suggestions, and not engaging with me (their manager) or other team members.
One day, I came to the office and discovered that my team had turned into zombies!
While the service desk team was infected with the zombie virus, I closely examined the culture, ethics, and behavior followed in the enterprise. Sometimes, the culture of an enterprise is to ignore the resources and focus entirely on the tangibles such as the cost, time, and scope when it comes to managing projects, delivery of products, etc.
As the service desk manager, I had to establish a clear relationship between their work and core competencies to drive service desk teamwork, quality, and compliance adherence. I established a clear roadmap connecting the service desk departmental strategic, tactical, and operational objectives with the related service desk metrics. After establishing this relationship, I linked the results of every metric to the relevant core competencies of the individual team members during their yearly performance review. This made me able to drive reliable results of their core competency achievements.
If the service desk department has a clear set of objectives, this is a very straightforward exercise. The example below provides some illustration and guidance.
Providing clear incentives and a rewards program was the cure I used to release my staff of their zombie infection.
|Type of Goal||Metric||Core Competency|
|Provide excellent customer service
Meeting SLAs for incidents reported during the year for support individuals
IT support satisfaction survey results
|Manage service desk operations
||Number of aging tickets by support individual
||Execution and results|
|Improve response times
||Number of reopened tickets by help desk analyst for the full year
||Judgment and problem solving|
Feeling of Accomplishment. Another important vaccine for the zombie disease was the feeling of accomplishment.
Other than the incentives, I started giving more responsibility to support personnel to keep them engaged. I assigned them to what I usually call mini-projects, projects with operational tasks in nature and that can be considered projects since they had a definite start, end, and a final deliverable. These projects varied in complexity. If the project needed more dedicated time, I moved the ticket triage between the analysts, depending on the availability of the other analysts, to allow time for the one handling the complex project to focus on their deliverables.
I kept them engaged with interesting projects and managed to inject some variety into their day-to-day operations. I had a monthly follow-up to review the progress of these projects and to keep them engaged.
Praise and Give Feedback. I collected end user feedback, in the form of surveys, after ticket closures and overall service desk performance surveys on a quarterly basis. Human nature loves positive re-enforcement. The support analysts work in a stressful and time-constrained environment, and so I give feedback and praise whenever I can. Sharing positive staff feedback, communicating weak performance areas, and giving examples for improvement help to build a better service individuals as well as a team.
Horror Story #2: Beware the Boogeyman
The Boogeyman is the employee who has no awareness or respect for the processes in place and believes their work should take top priority over others. They usually bypass the incidents queue and go directly to the IT manager, or the CIO, to give their issues or work priority over the tickets in the queue. This act diverts and distracts the support staff from their day-to-day support activities. This behavior affects the value that the service desk is trying to bring to the business by not allowing them to meet their SLA targets.
Let’s look at such a scenario. One of the executive team members has to present an important presentation to shareholders. In the morning, he tries to access his computer and is unable to log in due to a password lock after multiple attempts. He tries to reach out to the IT service desk through the phone as he does not have access to the service desk application to raise a ticket. He demands that his work takes precedence over the other tickets in the queue.
This solution has two parts: the user and the system. Some ITSM systems provide the ability for users to create tickets on behalf of others. A simple solution to this problem is for the executive to empower their employees to create tickets on their behalf.
With this example, the executive facing the issue with access can ask his administrative assistant to create a ticket on his behalf. This is just one example of how to handle people who don’t follow the process.
Looking at the problem from a broader scope, I noticed that there was no adherence to the service desk standard operating procedures. Many of the teams in the organization came up with their own way of approaching service desk (i.e., Boogeyman approach, making friends with the support team, forceful approach, etc.). After asking questions and meeting with different team members, I noticed that there was no clear awareness of the contents of the service desk standard operating procedure. My next goal was to take action, starting with making the service desk standard operating procedure available on the company intranet for easy access. The next step was to create a knowledge record in the knowledge base and make the process available for everyone so there would be no excuses for such behavior.
I took some user feedback about the process and called for a quick workshop that involved users from different departments and to get their feedback. I made changes, based on the feedback, to ensure that the service desk standard operating procedure was easy to understand and read.
Another approach I took was to constantly keep the alignment between the service management system and the service desk standard operating procedure to avoid confusing users. You do not want users to be trapped between what the service desk system processes are doing, while your service desk standard operating procedure is stating something else. An up-to-date process that is in alignment with whatever automated processes you have in place is a must.
Horror Story #3: The Day of 1000 Calls!
Every service desk analyst’s nightmare is to start receiving hundreds of calls all of a sudden. One day, our service desk team received a sudden call increase with ALL end-users asking about a new essential application that was recently rolled out.
The IT department had asked the service desk staff to handle training of end-users calling in to inquire about the recent self-service tool that was deployed. The aim of this self-help tool was to reduce the number of calls directed to the service desk. However, only a few end-users used the self-help tool, and the rest found it easier to call the service desk for the required help.
We had to determine how the IT department could encourage employees to use the self-help tool instead of calling the service desk. We needed to draw attention to the fact that calling the service desk for such an operation would take the end users more time waiting in queue or holding on the phone than using the self-help tool.
After digging deep into this issue, I noticed some of the call spikes that used to happen were event-driven due to the lack of coordination, specifically when there was a rollout or change. I had to revise the change management process flow to include a communication activity to update the service desk team of the changes in the queue and assure their full readiness when a change is being rolled out.
I dedicated a senior support analyst to do month-to-month analysis to identify tickets reoccurrences. We we came up with a plan to help us to tackle the issues related to these tickets, applying permanent resolution and closing the gaps along the way.
I also built a knowledge base for the tickets with the highest volume requests to both serve the support analyst team and the end users. (More details on this resolution are in Horror Story #4.)
Another method I used was to improve communication and ticket assignment by eliminating Tier 2 and Tier 3 assignment conflict. There was always a back and forth between the two teams when it came to who is supposed to respond to what. I updated the service desk standard operating procedure to cover a responsibility assignment matrix that illustrates the assignments and specialty of every team in the service desk. If we encounter any new issues, the service desk standard operating procedure gets updated.
Horror Story #4: The Slender Man
He appears from nowhere! He kidnaps the support analyst and keeps him in his office for hours and hours! Sometimes he comes to the service desk room and spends hours with the support analysts troubleshooting his own issues.
We can tackle the problem of the analyst who works in isolation by creating and supporting the use of a knowledge base. The availability of a knowledge base will reflect positively on the Slender Man and benefit other users who want to apply his insights.
First, we need understand what a knowledge management solution is and what we need to create it. We also need to determine how to make it convenient for end users.
A knowledge base is a solution that typically comes as part of an ITSM system and can be accessed by end users and technical support staff alike. It holds information such as do-it-yourself user guides and technical documentation. Adopting this approach might require changing the enterprise mindset, not only the Slender Man way of thinking.
By providing a knowledge management platform as part of your service desk system to end users, you can encourage users to search the available tips and tricks to resolve their own IT queries. To drive a successful knowledge base, we must take the following points into consideration:
- Establish user awareness about the knowledge base.
- Conduct training sessions and get end user suggestions about the best way we can deliver the information to them.
- Be careful when you design the knowledge base module, take tips from the end user experience, and make it friendly.
The knowledge management platform should be easy to access and searchable and contain up-to-date information that the end user can clearly understand. In some cases, we need to appoint a knowledge management administrator, maybe a senior person from the support team, to keep the information current and up to date. Otherwise, you will not get the required buy-in from the end users and they will simply ignore the knowledge base and will not adopt the new approach. Make it easy! Make all your routes lead to the knowledge base as the quickest and easiest place to find the answers to your questions.
Identifying the approach and creating the blueprints for the knowledge base was my challenge. I first had to build the structure of the knowledge base for the service desk operation. I conducted the knowledge identification and transfer program. I had to plan this based on the available tacit and explicit knowledge since the explicit knowledge was readily available, I had to focus on the tacit knowledge, which is difficult to extract.
The knowledge required had to be identified. I conducted knowledge identification and transfer interviews among the support staff to capture tacit knowledge. I even asked one of the senior support staff members to interview me as well! I created templates as a means to facilitate the knowledge collection approach and used them to ask questions to senior support analysts:
- Are you considered a super user for some of our key systems or applications?
- What strength do you have that you believe the others need to know about?
- When you go on vacation, what things are on hold until you come back?
- What kind of tickets do you get from users that ask for your direct assistance?
Once the tacit knowledge was identified and assessed, I compiled it in a presentable format and added it to the knowledge base as knowledge articles.
Moe Suliman has 15 years of extensive experience in IT service management and operations. Passionate about service management operation improvement, Moe is a hands-on ITSM professional striving to help organizations to reach operations excellence and to improve their service delivery and operations management practices. Moe has served in ITSM leadership roles in many large organizations in various industries, including investment, financial, retail, health, software development, and real-estate. Connect with Moe on