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Is it Time to Reconsider the IT Support Walk-Up Channel?

By | August 29, 2017 in Service Desk

“Walk-up” is perhaps the oldest of IT support channels. In the late 1980s, if you had an IT issue you’d probably need to track down someone who could help. You could call someone you knew, but a far quicker way of getting speedy help was to walk into the IT work area.

Support Walk-Up Channel

Before companies had formalized their “catch and dispatch” IT help desks and then their more proactive IT service desks on the back of IT service management (ITSM) best practice, it was commonly acceptable for end users to literally walk up to local IT support personnel to seek help, as an alternative to calling. It was aptly named the “walk-up” channel.

Then many more access and communication channels were added to the mix, i.e. a greater investment in telephone (with all sorts of call management technology), email, web forms, chat, self-service portals, and even social-media-based options. But what happened to the “walk-up” route?

The IT Service Desk Evolution

IT service desks have become experts in dealing with the growing volumes of IT issues and how best to use scripts and IT support tools, with an optimal (although some would say “minimal”) number of support personnel employed to resolve end-user issues as quickly as possible (and within defined IT support targets) – all while, ideally, meeting a business requirement for a certain level of customer satisfaction.

It has been great in terms of performance improvement, with the walk-up channel replaced by seemingly more efficient, and more customer-focused, alternatives. But how much better are these other channels in reality? This is what I want to explore in this blog.

Consider Apple Genius Bars

Most of us have probably, at some point, owned an Apple product. And, as a result, needed to access Apple’s support capability – perhaps even the face-to-face, in-store offering called the Genius Bar. You do realize that this is a variant of the old-fashioned walk-up channel, right? This time, though, requiring the customer to pre-book a slot or, more recently, to book a slot when you walk in and then return at the allotted time (typically within an hour or so).

Apple Genius Bar


It seems to work for Apple. In fact, it seems to work very well for Apple – I mean, they’re way too smart to offer the service if it didn’t! In fact, it works so well that some corporate IT departments have chosen to follow suit with the reintroduction of the walk-up channel. Although in some cases, we’re seeing a more organized version of the old walk-up channel, for instance: a walk-up point, or counter, at the front of the service desk area (rather than “cherry picking” support personnel at their desks); or time-specific “IT support surgeries” in key business locations. The key difference is that these are no longer end-user “free for alls” that distract support personnel, rather they’re structured channels designed to deliver both speed and a better customer experience.

And given that walk up has traditionally been seen as an inefficient way of providing IT support, you might be surprised by the following statistics…

Rating IT Support Access and Communication Channels

Historically, it’s been hard to find multidimensional data on the performance of different access and communication channels – telephone versus email versus self-service versus chat versus walk up. The statistic-packed annual HDI Technical Support Practices and Salary report does offer some insight though – that 49% of HDI members offer walk-up as a channel. It’s probably higher than most of us would’ve expected.

The cost per ticket by channel varies too, but this is no longer reported by HDI – as discussions with members found this to be more of a guestimate than a calculation, with HDI now reporting a 2016 cross-channel median of USD 18.50. But we can assume that telephone is more expensive than email, which is more expensive than self-service/self-help. As to where walk-up fits, it’s open to debate, and really depends on how efficiently the offered walk-up capability is delivered. But let’s park the IT costs for now and concentrate on the quality of the individual IT support channels.

Measuring the Quality of IT Support Channels

So how about the level of end-user satisfaction with walk-up? It’s of course not only affected by the human-to-human engagement but also if the impacted end users get back up-and-running in a time that meets their expectations.

Until recently, this information wasn’t readily available. Especially information that wasn’t predominantly US- or UK-centric (because HDI’s and the Service Desk Institute’s members are predominantly North American and British respectively). Now, however, global IT support channel metrics are freely available to all thanks to a company called Happy Signals – with their website showing a six-month rolling average based on a sample of circa 100,000 end user engagements as per the diagram below:

Global IT support channel metrics



Looking at the walk-in/up figures, second from the right:

  1. Walk-in provides the best customer, or end-user, experience (+82) – and by a long way. Particularly when compared to self-service (+56), a capability that should be providing end users with a better, consumer-like experience.
  2. Walk-in delivers a quicker resolution (85 minutes) – even quicker than telephone and chat, with email and self-service a long way behind, which is reflected in their respective happiness scores. This speed is important to the end user but it’s also important to two other parties. Firstly, unless the end user is on hold for more than 30 minutes, it looks as though IT support spends less time working on the issue with walk-up rather than the telephone channel. And secondly, and most importantly, business operations are also disrupted for a shorter amount of time with walk-up.
  3. Sadly though, for such a high-scoring channel, walk-in/up makes up only 1% of end-user service desk contact scores.

It makes one wonder how well the walk in channel is offered and marketed in reality?

Walking the Walk Versus Talking the Talk

Any good IT service desk is focused on the following three things:

  1. Minimizing IT-caused business disruptions (and the associated financial and non-financial costs)
  2. Providing a great support experience
  3. Optimizing operational efficiency and costs

And surely, given the Happy Signals statistics, a well-organized walk-up channel would support all of these. I appreciate that walk-up is harder to scale than the more modern, technology-enabled support channels – especially with the increased adoption of automation – but why aren’t we hearing more about a renaissance in walk-up capabilities at industry events, in customer case studies, and white papers, or in the online forums frequented by ITSM professionals?

I’d bet it’s because the IT help desk and then the service desk processes were sold as “a better way of doing things.” But maybe this was better for the IT organization but not the end users and the business as a whole?

Is it time that your company reconsidered the power of the walk up channel?

Dena Wieder-Freiden

About Dena Wieder-Freiden

As SysAid’s Content Marketing Manager, Dena values most her friendships and daily conversations with the awesome IT service management (ITSM) authorities from all over the world! As they share their knowledge with her, she enjoys paying it forward to the IT community at large. Outside of work, she’s most likely at the gym, the beach, or at home watching a movie and spending time with her family.

One thought on “Is it Time to Reconsider the IT Support Walk-Up Channel?”

  1. Avatar Stu

    I have seen Walk-In work very well for collecting :
    Access Pass (and take photo)

    It seemed such a retro idea.
    And it works well in certain cases.


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