A service desk team is (or should be) an enabled, competent, capable, confident, respected, and passionate team of people who are dedicated to helping other people be successful, realize value, and achieve results.Is yours?

by Doug Tedder
Date Published December 5, 2023 - Last Updated December 4, 2023

“To use the conventional term ‘IT Service Desk’ ignores the fact that it is humans who are ‘the desk’.”

I must admit, I'd never considered this until I read Katrina Macdermid’s book Humanising IT (you should read it, too!). A desk is a piece of furniture. A desk cannot answer a telephone or respond to a chat message. A desk cannot empathize with a consumer as she describes the issue that is impacting her work.

It's the humans who work in the role of service desk analysts that help provide the value and results needed from an organization’s use of technology. A service desk team is (or should be) an enabled, competent, capable, confident, respected, and passionate team of people who are dedicated to helping other people be successful, realize value, and achieve results.

Service Desk: Theory vs. Reality

Best practice suggests that the service desk function act as the single point of contact between an IT organization and those it serves. Procedurally, this provides the consumer with a clear path for resolving technology issues or getting questions answered. But for the service desk function to be successful, other parts of the IT organization must enable the service desk. And this is where the theory of best practice adoption typically breaks down. What should the rest of the IT organization be doing to enable the service desk?

  • Defining the (real) service catalog – IT services represent the operationalization of business strategy. An IT service enables business value by facilitating business results. The service desk benefits from having a defined service catalog by knowing what the organization is expecting from its investments in and use of technologies. Having this information helps the service desk agent in interpreting a consumer issue, categorizing and prioritizing that issue, and working that issue to a successful resolution.
  • Taking a holistic approach to knowledge management – Knowledge is generated throughout the entire IT organization. But in many organizations, knowledge is only captured and reused as a defensive tactic performed by the service desk team. Is the application development team documenting release notes for internally developed software? Is the security team producing knowledge articles regarding changes in security policies and architectures? Taking a holistic approach to knowledge management enables the service desk to meet consumer demand for timely support.
  • Following procedures to ensure that the service desk is enabled – Best practices have a better chance for successful results when the entire organization has adopted and uses those best practices. But that is exactly the challenge. Many organizations act as though service management best practices are something that only the IT operations organization follows – or even worse, just the service desk uses.

And that's the reality in which many service desk agents find themselves. Change schedules, if they are even maintained and published, aren't shared with the service desk. What's called a “service catalog” is actually a request catalog, which only discusses things like how to get a new laptop or get access to some cloud-based resource. IT teams outside of the service desk function ignore incident tickets that have been sent through the service management system.

Does anyone care about the humans working within the service desk team?

The humans at the service desk matter. Having access to a service desk team has long been an expectation of those working with the technologies provided by an organization. But often the humans making up the service desk team haven’t been setup for success. This makes the importance of having a good and enabled service desk even more paramount. Why are these humans so much more important, not only to the IT organization, but to the organization overall?

  • Increased visibility – In many organizations, the service desk is taking on responsibility for both IT and non-IT support issues.
  • Increased expectations – With the increased visibility of the service desk function comes increased expectations from the consumer. The (IT) service desk is now expected to deal with any issue or question within the organization, from deploying a standard application to how to reserve a conference room to handling the leaky faucet in the restroom.
  • The experience – The “experience” is more than just a hot topic. With every organization, large and small – using technology to drive business success – the human experience while using and interacting with that technology has become the differentiating factor for customers.

Humanizing the Service Desk

If you’re an IT professional not working within the service desk team, here are some things you can do to humanize the service desk function:

  • Observe – Have you watched a good service desk agent at work? I have long thought that watching a good service desk agent “in action” is a work of art. Watch how a good service desk agent diffuses an emotionally-charged interaction (it happens – a lot!) with a consumer. Notice how a good service desk interacts with multiple disparate technologies while working to resolve a consumer issue. A good service desk agent has the unique ability to quickly establish a human connection with a consumer while at the same time, identify and apply solutions to technology issues.
  • Empathize – Ask a service desk agent how you can make their job easier. Recognize that with the rate of change within an organization coupled with the volume of contacts managed by the service desk, agents simply do not have the time to read voluminous SOPs or the luxury of stepping away from the telephones to get an hour of training.
  • Promote – Promote the everyday, valuable contributions made by service desk agents. It’s because of a service desk agent resolving an issue that the salesperson won that contract, a shipping clerk got the product on the truck on time, and the executive was able to deliver that presentation to the board of directors. These small organizational successes add up, and these successes happen every day – thanks to a service desk agent.

Perhaps the first step toward humanizing the service desk is to stop calling that function the “service desk”. Unfortunately, the terms “help desk” and “service desk” are strongly embedded within our lexicon and will not fade away easily. But this group is a team of people, not a collection of furniture. So, what should we call that team? Something to think about...

Tag(s): supportworld, culture, employee satisfaction, employee engagement, people, service management


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