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Everything You Wanted to Know About IT Self-Service but Were Afraid to Ask

By | June 19, 2018 in Service Desk


IT self-service continues to be an in-vogue capability for overstretched IT support organizations and a key IT service management (ITSM) area of interest. But how much difference will the introduction of self-service make to your organization? The answer is: “It depends.

IT self-service “does exactly what it says on the tin” and it should mirror the consumer-world capabilities already available to people in order to support or “serve” themselves. Although, it’s worth thinking of self-service as a spectrum of capabilities, not just access to a service catalog and the ability to log issues online. For instance, self-help or even self-care in the form of knowledge bases, application/software downloads, or asset auditing (where end users can agree or disagree with a list of the IT or business assets assigned to them), say.

However, the growing consumer-world adoption and exploitation of self-service is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes end users/customers more amenable to using self-service – because they already use it. But, on the other, it creates a high benchmark for corporate self-service capabilities to live up to. And, unfortunately, it has commonly been too high a benchmark for many corporate IT organizations – with service desk institute (SDI) survey data showing that only 17% of companies have realized the promised return on investment from their self-service initiatives, in the main due to low adoption levels.

Looking Forward to a Brighter Self-Service Future

Thankfully though, things are looking up for IT self-service due to:

  • Organizations learning from the failures and successes of others, and
  • Better self-service capabilities offered within ITSM toolsets

Both contributing to a rise in self-service success on the back of new ITSM-tool implementation projects.

Please read on to understand the benefits of, challenges related to, and tips for succeeding with, self-service. But first, let’s look at the state of the self-service nation.

The IT Self-Service Status Quo

Self-service should be a key part of the IT support ecosystem – helping end users/customers and IT staff alike. But the IT industry as a whole needs to get better at getting it right.

Industry research by both HDI and SDI repeatedly shows that IT organizations continue to struggle with self-service. For instance, the 2017 SDI report “A View from the Frontline,” had two questions that highlighted the need to do better:

  1. “During the last twelve months, where has your service desk spent most of its time?
    The second-placed answer was “Struggling with self-service end-user adoption” at 50% of respondents (where circa 75% of respondents currently have some form of self-service capability in place)
  2. “During the next twelve months, which of the following do you expect to see?
    The joint-top response was “Greater use of self-service and self-help” at 73% of respondents.

Sadly, corporate IT self-service initiatives have unfortunately suffered from a number of misplaced assumptions, including that:

  • Self-service can totally replace one or more existing access and communication channels, e.g. the telephone.
  • Just implementing self-service technology is enough for people to use it.
  • Any ITSM suite’s self-service technology is good enough for success.
  • Employees will use self-service because they already use consumer-grade self-service capabilities in their personal lives.

All of which are unfortunate impediments to an organization achieving self-service success – and there’s more barriers to self-service success detailed below.

There is good news though – the benefits that can be reaped from self-service (when you get it right) – and these I’m going to share first.

Check out SysAid's Self-Service Portal

The Key Benefits of Self-Service

Self-service offers IT organizations a wealth of benefits – at a time when they really need them – including:

  • Cost savings and increased efficiency. Saving IT money by letting the end user do what the service desk previously did.
  • Delivering an improved, consumer-like, customer experience. Employees now expect to use consumer-grade capabilities in the workplace, including self-service. For instance, issue logging, service request catalogs, and knowledge availability for self-help. Plus, anytime, anyplace, any device access to these.
  • Increased support availability. Especially for service desks that aren’t staffed around the clock. Self-service will also provide support for multiple languages and time zones at a far-lower cost than employing native-language speakers in different locations.
  • Easing the pressure on IT service desks. Deflecting calls away from the telephone channel can have a significant effect on service desk workloads. With the service desk able to work on self-service-created tickets at less-busy times of the day (priority levels and service-level targets permitting).

There’s an important “but” here. These benefits are available if, and only if, employee self-service usage is high enough to make a tangible difference to the status quo. It’s why I like to repeatedly use the phrase: “getting self-service right.”

The Key Barriers to Self-Service Success

The biggest barrier to, and mistake with, self-service success is probably viewing self-service as only a technology, rather than a people, project. While the technology plays an important role in delivering self-service capabilities, the implementation of self-service capabilities and the encouragement of their use instead requires an investment in organizational change management (OCM).

Then there’s the quality and suitability of the delivered self-service solution (if the IT organization has done enough to encourage employees to at least try the new capability). Consider, for example, these scenarios:

  • If an end user/customer can’t quickly find what they need, via the available capabilities or knowledge, then they will revert to calling the IT service desk – and probably continue to do so, never returning to the sub-par, self-service capability.
  • If an end user/customer’s logged issue doesn’t get a same-day response (and hopefully resolution), then they will also call the IT service desk to chase it – and similarly probably won’t use the self-service route again.
  • If the self-service technology isn’t intuitive and easy to use (like consumer-world self-service usually is), then the end user/customer is likely to stick with what works (for them) – the service desk’s traditional telephone channel.

Thus, the IT self-service capability needs to be as good as, if not superior to, existing service desk access and communication channels; plus, consumer-world self-service equivalents.

3 Key Self-Service Success Drivers

There are many elements that make for a successful IT self-service capability, including the avoidance of the common self-service barriers and pitfalls – so start by making self-service about people change and using newer technology that matches consumer-world self-service capabilities. Then:

  1. Involve end users/customers early. Allow them to input on scope (the capabilities and outcomes that will really help them rather than the available technology features), requirements and design, through to testing and go-live. Ultimately, the delivered self-service capability needs to be viewed as the best IT access and communication channel with the caveat that, sometimes, other channels will be more appropriate based on needs. Choice is important.
  2. Getting knowledge management right is key. Why? Because an employee’s first use of a new self-service capability is likely to be an attempt to self-help. If there’s no relevant FAQ answer or knowledge article, or if there is and it can’t be found or is unusable to someone without an IT qualification, then they will instead call the service desk and are likely to not try self-service again.
  3. Exploit automation. While both the above points will help with raising self-service usage levels in terms of acceptance and having enough traction to deliver an acceptable ROI, there’s also the need to use automation as much as possible. Why? Because using self-service solely to replace end-user phone calls (to the service desk) is suboptimal in terms of improving costs, speed, and quality of service. The use of workflow and automation is ultimately where much of the workload reductions, efficiency gains, cost savings, and service improvements lie.

So that’s my whistle-stop tour of many of the key things you need to know about IT self-service. If your organization has succeeded with self-service, what advice would you share? Please let me know in the comments! 

Check out SysAid's Self-Service Portal

Sarah Lahav

About Sarah Lahav

As the company’s 1st employee, Sarah has remained the vital link between SysAid Technologies and its customers since 2003. Current CEO, former VP Customer Relations. Always passionate about customer service! Mother of three adorable children – she juggles work, family, and zumba classes with ease.

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