Understanding the Service Desk Culture

In these series of articles where cover REAL PROBLEMS in the REAL IT WORLD, I wish to look at the evolution of the Service Desk and the Work Culture that surrounds it.

In an era where keeping a server with its associated services up and running 24/7 is a given, a true perception of IT begins at the Service Desk. Running one requires not only good technical but also people facing skills given the amount of interaction needed with the employees also known as (aka) the end-users to meet their high levels of expectation.

Imagine yourself to be an end-user in a reasonably sized office of a hundred employees and you have a problem that needs to be fixed NOW which is as usual :-) “What are your options?”

1.Would you prefer to Google a solution or refer to your company’s self-service portal?
2.Would you raise a ticket & wait patiently for an IT person to respond or for them to show up?
3.Would you pick up the phone and call the Service Desk? or
4.Would you just walk across the floor or down to the basement where tech support sits?

A recent conversation with a Senior Manager from one of the largest Banks in the world summarized the situations quite well. He said rather vehemently “When my system breaks, I don’t quite understand why I need to make a call that gets routed to the other end of the world, wait in the queue, be asked a bunch of questions ultimately for an IT guy sitting four floors below me to come and fix it?” He continued to say “In banking, the small banks get bought by the big ones and they in turn get bought by the large ones and so forth and we hope our IT services will get better but nothing like it seems to happen.”

It is quite true that life was much easier before your Organization grew and one “Tech Guy” supported circa 80 employees and was accessible via phone, e-mail, IM or by simply walking across the office floor. This approach though user friendly is not scalable. The expectation of having support on demand and being easily accessible cannot be sustained.

Imagine an office where multiple users walk up to tech support, all with urgent technical problems, requests flying in through e-mail, IM and the phone all leading to absolute chaos. Impatient and dissatisfied users complain and now, management wants to know why there are so many problems, what’s taking so long to fix them, how is IT prioritizing their work, demanding justification for their time spent at work and so forth.

This might seem like an extreme example for offices that are always staffed with 50-70 employees to 1 tech support executive but it gets closer to reality as the ratio gets towards 90:1 and thereafter. It also depends on a number of factors such as the stability of the infrastructure and applications, users familiarity with systems, culture of the organization and others.

I believe the secret to successful IT Service Management is in being prepared for a high tide while you sail the calm seas.

Well, a short answer on how best to handle the above situation and put a method around the madness from day one is to have a Service Desk tool aka a Ticketing System that would enable one to 1. analyze the incoming service requests for patterns and trends
2. be able to tell from where most of the problems originate
3. if permanent fixes can be put in place for some to prevent recurrence
4. provide self-help instructions for a few known issues
5. prioritize the support staff work
6.provide details of how much time the support staff have spent on each problem and find ways and means to make it lean
7. analyze the work accomplished during the course of the day justify the need for additional support staff
and much more……………...
Service Desk more than anything else needs to be systematic no matter how large a user base as suggestive in the below diagram:

IT's Behavioral Aspect - It is the number of walk-in requests that make tech support chose an innocuous corner or shut themselves away in a basement from the rest of the office employees. The outcome of this is the tech support staff becoming inaccessible and not easily available from an end-user perspective. Another concern the tech support staff often bring up as a consequence of the first is their inability to walk across the office floor without being signalled over by employees at times akin to a waiter in a restaurant to address a handful of "adhoc/on the fly" requests. Given the tech support staff's inaccessibility, it is only natural that the sight of him seems to jog the end-users memory of their IT issues that need to be fixed and a need to grab hold of him. While quite a few IT Managers turn a blind eye towards such practices, taking constructive measures is essential. Failing to do so would affect both parties. The tech support staff would tire out in the long run and their quality of service will suffer while the end-users will remain unsatisfied. An amicable solution to fixing this issue would be for all requests to be strictly routed through a Service Desk tool as mentioned earlier followed by the provision of a scheduling facility so employees with not so urgent needs can set up an appointment based on their convenience.

This scenario is typical in a Remote Office Branch Office (ROBO) and ties in with my strategy in the article “Managing IT at the Branch Office”.

It is an accepted fact that tech support personnel are not primarily hired for their customer service skills but they do make an effort to deliver their best but there also needs to be a streamlines process for overall IT support from day one. If you feel this above scenario is exaggerated, give a tech support personnel a seat at the center of the office floor and observe what happens.
As the Organization grows, so do the number of systems and applications used by the employees resulting in different types of issues. At this point, the tech guy round the corner is no more the one stop shop for all your IT needs and problems. His skill sets are not adequate enough to address all of them. Hence, based on ITIL best practice recommendations, the Service Desk and its tool to register service requests should be your Single Point of Contact (SPOC) through which the Service Desk will ensure the best person available will resolve your problem.

Having written quite a bit in favor of IT support staff, I advocate every tech support person to remember some of the best quotes on customer service put forth by Mahatma Gandhi:

Having quoted the above, I believe the statement “the customer is always right” should be amended to “the reasonable customer is always right”.

Following are tips on how to be a reasonable customer:
1.Remember the 80:1 ratio of IT support staff to employees and be fair in playing by the rules. A wait for a fix should be acceptable.
2.Include the “5 Ws” in all of your requests (Who, What, When, Where & Why) to provide clarity. Be honest if you messed up.
3.Don’t find yourself a favorite tech support person and always ask for him.
4.Take no more than 10 minutes on your personal device (ex: home PC) questions.
5.Support staffs have the right to a peaceful coffee, a lunch break and a life after work.
6.Identify if the problem will leave you “dead in the water” or you can still “stay afloat” in order to be able to decide whether you wish to call Service Desk immediately or schedule a session with tech support based on your convenience. Give sufficient notice period for new requirements too.
7.Don’t start your call by blaming IT for the problem. You don’t go to a doctor and do that!! Be a good customer to receive great customer service.
8.If you have several issues on your device, be sure to put them all in one ticket so tech support can get a better picture of what is going on just as you do when you go to a doctor but leave the fix of some for another day. There could be others waiting with more pressing needs.

In my next article, I will turn the tables on IT and focus on what the end-user expects, best practices to manage end-user support, talk about the ideal service scenario, the importance of OLAs and SLAs, which service metrics matter and much more. So fast

About the author:

Four other articles written by me and related to Service Management worth a read are:


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