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9 Guiding Principles That Can Help Improve Your Service Desk

By | February 6, 2018 in Service Desk

The ITIL Practitioner Guiding Principles aren’t just for management. Here are some examples of how service desk agents can use them too.

ITIL Practitioner’s Nine Guiding Principles

I often talk to people about the ITIL Practitioner’s Nine “Guiding Principles,” which are helping many IT organizations move from a process focus to a more business focused view of how to manage IT. If you’re not yet familiar with these principles, I highly recommend you first read my blog Back to ITSM Basics: The 9 Guiding Principles of ITIL Practitioner.

What I’ve noticed recently is that some people think these principles are just for management, that they are about how to design a management system. This is true, but it’s not the whole story. In the same way that IT service management (ITSM) processes are intended to guide everyone in IT, so too are these guiding principles. Everyone involved in delivering services can use the principles to help them focus on the things that really matter, and so do a better job both for their customers and for their own organization.

So, what practical implications does this have for service desk agents? In this blog, I want to bring you some real-life examples.

Examples of the 9 Guiding Principles in Use

1. Focus on Value

If you take this guiding principle seriously then you know that everything you do should be based on maximizing value for your customers and you act accordingly. And if every single person in your IT organization does the same, then your customers are going to notice, because it will affect their entire experience of IT.

In one organization that I worked with, a service desk/help desk agent received a call from a customer saying that a printer wasn’t working, and they needed a document within minutes. The agent followed the pre-defined procedure, logging the incident and arranging for an engineer to repair the printer. But the agent also heard what the customer was saying, understood how important the document was to the business, and went one step further. He offered to print the critical document and bring it to the user’s desk. This wasn’t part of the normal procedure, and, obviously, if the agent did this every time there was a faulty printer then it would cause issues for the service desk. But by focusing on value, the agent was able to recognize the right thing to do this time; and since focus on value was part of the service desk culture, was also empowered to do it.

2. Design for Experience

This principle says that you should think about, and manage, how users and customers experience the service and their interactions with IT. For managers, this is about the design of services and service interactions, but everyone in IT can have an impact on the user experience.

For service desk agents, it means remembering that users are human beings. You can have a huge impact on user experience simply by interacting with users empathically, showing that you understand the impact of incidents on their day, and conveying any information they need accurately and reliably. You can find some examples of how a service desk agent affects user experience in my blog How to Help an Angry User in 5 Easy Steps.

3. Start Where You Are

This principle says that you should build on what is already in place.

For managers who are designing a new service or process, the key message is that it’s much better to take what you already have and improve it than to begin by throwing everything away and starting from scratch.

‘For service desk agents, the key message is about starting where the users are.’ - @StuartRance Click To Tweet

When you interact with a user, don’t expect a non-technical person to understand lots of IT technical jargon. Start where they are, with the business problem that needs fixing, and help them proceed from there. Listen to the things they have already tried, so you don’t waste their time asking them to try the same things again. Then describe, in terms they will understand, what they should do next.

For more on this principle, please read Back to ITSM Basics: Start Where You Are.

4. Work Holistically

This principle says you should think about the whole value chain, not just the one process or activity you’re currently involved in. When a user contacts the service desk with a specific issue, think about how this affects their business, and the impact your solution might have. Don’t just offer technical fixes to technical issues, think beyond that. Ask yourself whether the fix will help the customer to achieve the outcomes they require, and if it won’t, whether there is anything you could do to change that. The case with the printer in tip #1 (Focus on Value) above is a great example of this.

5. Progress Iteratively

This principle says you should make a series of small improvements, rather than creating enormous improvement projects. But if you think that continual service improvement is someone else’s job, then you need to think again. It isn’t only about improving IT services, and processes, it applies to everything and everyone.

As a service desk agent, you need to think about your own personal development. Don’t wait for someone else to plan your development, think about the things that you would like to feel more confident about, and things that interest you, and ask yourself what steps you can take to work on them. Maybe you could read some ITSM blogs, or even read the ITIL Practitioner Guidance publication. Or you could ask your manager if you can spend a ½ day shadowing some of your business customers, to gain a better understanding of what they do. There are always lots of opportunities to improve if you look out for them.

6. Observe Directly

This principle is intended to help management focus on how things really happen, rather than trusting the documentation. It says that if you really want to understand what’s going on in a business you need to look at how things work for yourself, rather than trusting reports and statistics. And it applies equally well to service desk agents. When you’re helping people, you can’t always rely on what you’re told, so try to see what’s happening for yourself. Even if everything you’ve been told is completely accurate, you may notice something that the user forgot to tell you.

I once logged a call with a service desk, and I was quite irritated when they asked me lots of routine questions. Surely they knew I was a very experienced and qualified systems engineer. I was confident that I had rebooted my PC since the issue had started, but a quick check of the system logs by the agent showed that my memory was at fault, and sure enough a reboot solved my issue.

7. Be Transparent

This principle says that you should make sure everyone knows what’s happening, and not hide things from them. Service desk agents need to be transparent with their users. If you know there’s going to be a delay in resolving an issue, then be honest and make sure that users know what to expect. Over time this transparency will pay off, because it will help to build a relationship based on trust.

8. Collaborate

This principle says that if different teams collaborate then they will do a much better job than if they work in silos. There are many different people service desk agents need to collaborate with, including technical support teams, vendors, users, other agents. If you build up collaborative relationships with the people who can help you succeed, and with the people you can help succeed, then everyone will be better off.

9. Keep It Simple

This principle says that you should eliminate everything that you don’t need, so that you can focus on things that are important. For a service desk agent, this means having a very clear focus on the user you are helping, and the issue they have. It also means making sure that your communication and advice is simple. Your users will get much more benefit from clear, simple, advice about what they can do than they will from long complex explanations of why the technology is letting them down.

For example, maybe you completely understand why the finance application has a memory leak, what causes memory leaks, which library has the bug, which module in that library is used by the application, etc. But all the user needs to know and hear is: “If you run the finance application, then you need to reboot your PC every night, otherwise it stops working after a few days.”

In Conclusion

I have given a few examples of how the ITIL Practitioner Guiding Principles might apply to someone working on a service desk. I hope you can see that these principles apply to everyone working in IT, whether they are senior management or the most junior member of staff. If we all think about these principles then we will deliver much more value to our customers, and to the organization we work for, and ultimately that must be good for us too.

Please let me know if you try following this advice, and how it works out for you.

Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

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