TV programs such as The IT Crowd and the Dilbert comic strips convey IT teams and service desks in a comical yet often negative manner. They are very funny, I know I laugh at them, but they are funny mainly because they are based on truths – truths that have been with IT and the service desk for far too long. Sadly, I’m sure that many people resist calling service desks based on the assumption that what they've seen and read is correct.
However, the humor is often based on generalizations or snapshots from a previous time in the history of the corporate IT organization. Many IT organizations have moved on from the 1990s and I’d like to think that most service desks definitely have. So in this blog, I’d like to challenge some of these IT assumptions and help you to bust some typical service desk myths...
We may work in secure rooms sometimes because of sensitive data and systems yes, but basements...rarely. In fact, in the future we are likely to see more and more service desk staff placed out amongst the other business employees, or in walk-in clinics and Genius Bars. Global analyst firm Gartner have been pushing this greater visibility and interaction for a few years, as employees start to expect what they get with their consumer technology from the corporate IT department. As for hating to interact, that just doesn’t add up, as a large number of support staff have chosen to work on a service desk because they love to help people, and providing great customer service is their passion. In my opinion, you don’t have to create a Genius Bar but please take a long look at how your service desk agents appear to end users, after all they are the business’ window into IT and a big influencer on employee perceptions as to how the IT organization-as-a-whole is fairing.
Just as any IT pro will not be completely conversant in all the systems and applications your organization runs, neither is the typical service desk agent. Most agents will have a good knowledge of common issues encountered on your organization’s most popular systems and software, but only some will have the necessary specialism in the more complex or obscure applications. And this is as it should be – just because a business team uses a piece of software all day every day, doesn't mean that the rest of the organization does. Service desk agents thus need to selectively build up their IT system (and business) knowledge using the Pareto principle – 80% of the benefit will come from just 20% of the possible knowledge. Ultimately, your service desk team should work like this to create the most value for the business, based on the difficulty of recruiting knowledgeable service desk staff (on the available wage) and to cope with staff churn levels. Service desk agents can function very effectively with just enough knowledge and, where possible, superior problem solving skills.
Service desk teams really are amazing sometimes (in terms of what they know and can do) but like all of us they have their limitations. They're not electricians, they can't help you if your microwave doesn't work and they can’t install an alarm system – but they should be able to handle requests that relate to these types of requests, routing them through to the appropriate team rather than just saying we can’t help. There is also often an overlap between the IT service desk/help desk and the facilities help desk, in particular, with the installation of network points a great example – facilities might install them whereas IT would maintain them. So make sure that the dividing line for responsibilities is clear, as end users don’t want to be ping-ponged between IT and other corporate service desks – they just want or need a quick solution.
In order to troubleshoot efficiently and effectively, a service desk needs the end user to be totally honest about their issue and how it came about. However, people being people, might just try to avoid saying what they did to cause the issue in an attempt to avoid blame and any punitive recourse. So try to create a blame-free approach at the service desk. There are caveats to this – such as an end user who loses three mobile phones in a year is negligent and it’s an HR, not an IT, issue – but make it easier for end users to honestly share what they have done even if they're not 100% sure what they've done. It'll make everyone's life easier and save everyone a lot of time.
Scripts benefit both end users and service desk agents. They should quickly get service desk agents to the core of the issue and to a swift resolution, even where the agent has a limited knowledge of the technology in question. Plus, if an issue has to be escalated to a more technical team then they need to know that all the basics have been covered. Most service desk agents will thankfully know more than just how to follow a script but they need to prove it. If they are blindly following scripts when they are inappropriate to the issue in hand, then this myth will never be busted. So set your service desk people free to use what they know, including their inherent problem solving skills. Empower your service desk agents to go off-script when needed – it will most likely lead to a swifter solution, and most definitely result in a better service experience for the end user.
It’s amazing how often restarting a phone, PC, or application will resolve an issue. It’s often a great first step, especially when devices and programs have issues that the service desk has not experienced before, and therefore don't know how to cope with. So a good old-fashioned reboot might be the best solution – there’s nothing wrong with that, but be wary of how it‘s offered. Don’t just say “please reboot your PC.” Better to explain that a reboot helps with a number of issues, and you never know – they might even try to reboot themselves next time before contacting you, thereby preventing an unnecessary service desk call (when the reboot works).
There is what seems like an infinite amount of IT support information on Google and, yes, some of it will help end users but a lot of it won't. Not only is Google an information firehose, but who knows how much of the information is inaccurate or dated? Plus how much of the advice is malicious rather than helpful – “install this questionable executable to cure all your woes”? Also how quickly can end users help themselves via Google? If it takes longer than via the service desk, especially with the involved people more senior, the cost to the business is easily going to be greater through this self-help route. In addition to this, if all end users went to Google instead of using your IT self-service system or logging a ticket directly, then a genuine problem could be missed. Thus any service desk that wishes to stay relevant needs to make IT support as easy to access and consume as Google; to do otherwise will always be a suboptimal solution from a business point of view.
So there you have it, a number of service desk myths that need to be busted. What do your end users think of you and what are you doing to change their opinions of your service desk where needed?