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Is Your IT Service Desk Training Keeping Up with ITSM Industry Changes?

By | April 30, 2019 in Service Desk

IT Service Desk Training

Appropriate and effective training is an important part of ensuring that IT service desk agents are up to the challenges of delivering IT support and meeting the expectations of the people they serve. But how well is IT service desk training matching the current and evolving needs of IT support? This blog takes an in-depth view of current service desk training practices.

IT, IT service management (ITSM), and IT support have always been about people helping people. And, even with the greater adoption of self-service capabilities, automation, and then artificial intelligence (AI) – it will still be people helping people. Even if there are potentially fewer people involved in scenarios that span:

  • People helping people
  • Technology helping people
  • People helping technology
  • Technology helping technology, and
  • The “people + technology” variants of the above.

I’m surprised that someone, probably a consultant or an industry analyst, hasn’t created a visual-quadrant depicting this yet!

But how well are organizations training their IT service desk staff to deal with the changing IT support and business environments?

Appropriate and effective training is an important part of ensuring that IT service desk agents are up to the challenges of delivering IT support and meeting the expectations of the people they serve. #servicedesk Click To Tweet

How the changing IT support environment impacts staff-capability requirements

The IT-support environment is changing – or should be changing – to reflect changes within the wider IT organization and business. For example:

  • More of the simpler issues and requests are no longer reaching the service desk thanks to self-service, automation, and self-help via informal channels (such as the Internet). Thus, a higher proportion of service desk staff workloads will relate to the more complicated and time-consuming of issues and requests. This requires problem-solving capabilities instead of script following (along with other factors such as personal motivation and customer-expectation management).
  • Consumerization means that employees are demanding more from corporate IT support based on their often-superior consumer-world support and customer service experiences (because consumerization is not just about better devices, apps, and cloud services). This thus requires capabilities and skills that are closer to those of external customer service agents, as well as understanding enough about technology and the business context.

As a result of these (and other change drivers), we should expect a change in IT service desk training patterns to be emerging, i.e. a change in the focus of training for new and existing staff.

But is this the case?

The Service Desk Institute (SDI) Service Desk Benchmarking Report provides us with insight…

The good news about IT service desk training

The SDI research shows that new service desk agents are, on average, receiving more training:

“There has been an overall increase in the hours of training that new service desk analysts receive, which has manifested itself in a wider scope of training offered by a higher proportion of service desks.”

This is great news of course. But is it the right type of training? From the basics of support to dealing with the impact of the changing IT support environment outlined above?

Lifting the hood on service desk training

Again, there’s more good news – customer service training has increased between the 2015 and latest surveys – from 44% to 54% of service desks (albeit with 2015 experiencing a significant dip relative to 2013).

There’s also a significant increase in telephone-skills training after a similar dip in 2015 – from 46% to 67% – maybe due to the early promise of IT self-service (back then) making it seem a less-valuable skill?

Plus, the increase in service desk procedure training is great too – as long as it’s not offered without any training related to how the procedures are best actioned in an optimal, perhaps customer-centric, way. For instance, the aforementioned customer service and telephone training.

As an aside, it’s also great to see the level of security-based training for service desk agents in the latest survey. Whereas it looks like social media never made it as a popular/legitimate IT service desk access and communication channel!

What type of formal induction training, if any, is given to new service desk analysts?

Source: SDI, Service Desk Benchmarking Report

But It’s Not All Good News for New Starters

Training related to problem-solving skills has dropped marginally, having stayed somewhat static for the previous decade.

What type of formal induction training, if any, is given to new service desk analysts?

Source: SDI, Service Desk Benchmarking Report

This is definitely heading in the wrong direction – and staying static should also be considered bad – because the issues and requests received by the IT service desk will definitely become more complex over time (due the reasons already mentioned).

It’s the evolution of what Rob England, the IT Skeptic, covers in his “Standard + Case” approach –which differentiates between two types of support scenario:

  1. “Standard” – these situations are the norm and can be addressed by laid-down processes and procedures. They are expected, predictable, and for-the-most-part solvable through known IT support techniques and approaches (often using scripts). These are the norm for IT support teams before self-service and automation success, for instance password resets.
  2. “Case” – these situations are the exception. They are unusual – often presenting unexpected symptoms – and cannot be dealt with through existing remedies. Each case requires examination and an understanding of the situation, with the appropriate action then determined. It requires a variation to standard procedures, often it needs the creation of a new solution. It also requires better communication and expectation management (where longer timescales are involved).

But this is just new-starter training, what about ongoing training for existing service desk staff?

Sadly, it’s a less-rosy training picture for existing service-desk staff…

SDI also asked the same question related to the training provided to existing staff:

What type of formal on-going internal training, if any, is given to service desk analysts?

Source: SDI, Service Desk Benchmarking Report

Some of the lower scores are to be expected, for instance service desk procedures – where this might only apply to scenarios where practices have changed or if existing processes are not being sufficiently followed in the real world. And the significant increase in telephone-skills training is mirrored here too.

But there are two obvious areas for concern:

  1. Customer service training has dropped from 41% to 29%.
  2. Problem solving training has dropped from 34% to 17%.

One could, of course, argue that there are reasons for this – that existing staff are suitably equipped with customer-service and problem-solving skills. But would this really be the case in a sample that shows 80% of service desks needing to provide ongoing training for service desk procedures, or 68% for products/services information?

And Looking to the Future?

The SDI data is great (and I can’t wait for the next version of the report in late 2019), but it looks at the “here and now.”

Businesses are changing, as are the available technologies and services plus the expectations of support. So, how does service desk agent training (and their skills) need to change to reflect this?

To help, last year my colleagues at SysAid created an eBook containing the views of 20 ITSM-industry influencers related to the “Skills and Capabilities Required of a 2020 ITSM Professional.” These include:

  1. An understanding of AI and Analytics and associated personal capabilities
  2. Knowledge Management capabilities
  3. Business Relationship Management (BRM) capabilities
  4. An understanding of what Business Valueis and how to create it
  5. Customer Engagementskills
  6. Communication and Collaborationskills
  7. Problem Solvingskills and capabilities
  8. A focus on Innovationfor better business outcomes
  9. A desire for Continual Learning
  10. Personal Flexibility and Agility, with the ability to deal with complexity

While these relate to a wide spectrum of ITSM roles, I’d still like to see many of these skills/capabilities as requirements for service desk agents and thus high on their training agendas. It might be wishful thinking but if service desk agents don’t stay relevant in how they work, then how will the IT service desk stay relevant as a whole.

Customer service training has increased between the 2015 and latest surveys – from 44% to 54% of service desks. How does your #servicedesk compare? Click To Tweet

Without additional information to correlate the training provision data to, such as customer satisfaction scores, we will never definitively know if current service-desk training focus-areas are missing the mark. But surely, it’s time to question whether your service desk agents are being adequately supported in meeting the demands that customers, and evolving performance management metrics, will place on them? IT support is evolving, and this also has to apply to your people.

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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