An ITIL Process Conundrum

A student brought me up short on a recent course when we were discussing the distinction between incident management and problem management. We had been talking about the need for Incident Management to resolve the user’s issue quickly and the purpose of Problem Management to identify the root cause and provide a workaround or a permanent solution.

The scenario surrounding this particular conundrum goes like this. . . .

• A user contacts the service desk and complains that a particular document he is trying to print fails when sent to his local departmental printer.
• The service desk asks the user to redirect the print to a different printer (different manufacturer) two floors down.
• This is successful albeit very inconvenient. The service desk agrees with the user that this issue has been resolved and the incident can be closed.
• The service desk agent believes that this issue needs to be investigated further and raises a problem record.

• The problem management team eventually identify that there is a deficiency in the printer firmware and ask the manufacturer to provide a fix.
• Meantime, based on the experience from the incident, a Known Error record is generated containing details of the workaround that was successfully employed by the originating user.
• This is used on several occasions in the following months to resolve further similar incidents albeit with considerable inconvenience to the users concerned.

• Eventually, the printer manufacturer comes up with an updated version of the firmware. This is tested, found to be a valid solution and a change request is raised to roll the new version out to every printer of this make and model.
• No further incidents are raised.

• Sometime later the original user, based on prior experience, is directing his printed output to the printer two floors down. A colleague asks him why he is doing this. “Because our departmental printer can’t cope with this particular type of document” he replies.
• Well, I don’t have any trouble says the colleague – prompting to original user to try the local printer which, of course, works perfectly.

The IT service provider has clearly let down its customers/ users. But whose responsibility was it to advise the user-base in general, and this particular user in particular, that the workaround was no longer necessary. What went wrong? How would you change processes to improve the communication flow?
Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk

Towards a Better Service Desk

As a member of an IT service desk team you have a responsibility to your customers. You’re there to help your customers find solutions to their IT issues. Your over-riding concern is to help resolve their issues quickly and effectively so that they can fulfill the vital business function that you are there to support.

Sadly, so many IT service desks make common mistakes that detract from the service offered but, happily, they are easy to address.

In this blog I’m going to look at 5 tips to ensure that your customer is happy with the service that you’re providing. It isn’t rocket science; it isn’t something that you’ll have to practice for months to master. It’s something that you can implement today.

Let’s get started shall we…?

Listen

First and foremost let’s get one of the biggest responsibilities of the service desk out of the way – to listen.

To resolve your customer’s issue you first have to understand what they’re telling you. Don’t prick up your ears at certain points, don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t let your mind wander – as they say “be in the room”.

Listen carefully to their issue and resolve it. That’s the job.

Treat them with respect

Just because a customer is asking a question that you think has a very simple answer doesn’t make him or her stupid. Not everyone is well versed in IT and so, at times, they may need a little help. When you pick up the phone, reply to an e-mail or head out to conduct repairs – play nice, be professional, don’t patronise.

React and respond

When a customer turns to the IT Service Desk for assistance, they expect assistance. Once you have listened to their query you should strive to find a resolution. Even if you aren’t able to provide a direct resolution straight-away you should look to offer a way of working around their issue. Remember that customers need your assistance to run the business that returns the profits that justify your salary.

Keep them informed

If you’re conducting work for a customer that requires taking something ‘offline’; or you anticipate some length of time to elapse before the work will be completed; then let them know. Remember, they have to make decisions about how best to run the business despite their issue, give them time estimates as best you can.

Get feedback

Nothing helps you develop a service desk like feedback. Ask your customers what’s working and what isn’t. Ask what you could do better. The customer isn’t always right as they say, but the customer is always the customer. They are running the business, not you, so never ignore them. Get them on-side and you’ll find their criticisms helpful and constructive.

An IT service desk thrives on communication, efficiency and the ability to heed and act upon criticism. If you apply all of the above to your IT service desk then I guarantee that you’ll see a marked improvement in customer satisfaction.

Making the Service Desk Count

Here at Sysop, we have spent a great deal of time in and around Service Desks of many shapes, sizes, skills and geographic dispersions. Distilling all of the feedback, It seems to me that creating a good Service Desk is all about understanding what the business needs from the desk and creating a function to support that need.

A Service Desk can be shaped to provide any type of service the business wants,  but it’s this very level of detail we need to be clear about and there are some vital steps that will help us to create the type of service our users expect.

We know that front line support is largely a thankless task. It takes a special kind of person to really do it justice. Resilience is certainly a vital quality, and something that most support people internalise and continue to develop of as a consequence of the day to day experiences of being in the front line. Resilience though is but one vital quality.

There are a number of very important factors that will help us in our pursuit of great staff and ultimately an acclaimed Service Desk. When we recruit and select Service Desk staff we must surely choose them because they demonstrated an appropriate level of skill, common sense and probably because we quite liked them. Yes, Likeability is an essential quality! So what else is needed?

Commitment—the Key

As either a stakeholder or user of Service Desk, we tend to expect a lot and give very little. I know the old adage “it’s better to give than to receive”, but the poor old Service Desk would have to be superhuman to have any sort of chance of be getting it right in many organisations.

The key is commitment – commitment from senior management, and commitment and passion from the line managers most closely involved

Heard it all before? Probably, but, let’s face it: if you don’t choose the right people; pay them the right salary; give them appropriate training; provide them with the correct tools for the job; and, most importantly, give them the autonomy they need; how can they ever provide the kind of service our users expect?

Walk the Walk

By management commitment I mean more than funding the desk. After the initial investment, it is imperative that senior managers continue to ‘walk the walk not just talk the talk’ on behalf of the Service Desk function. They need to: support the Service Desk; understand and respect their remit; back their decisions; extol their achievements; and conform to due process like all other users.

The Service Desk will fail to be successful if senior managers (and their PA’s!) don’t respect its position. The Service Desk should have: a defined remit and agreements to conform to; priorities to commit to; and a host of activities to complete to keep the wheels in motion. Senior managers must not be allowed to ‘jump the queue’ for non-critical requests.

It is essential in developing and maintaining a good desk that they too commit to and support the agreements that govern the Service Desk. If the Service Desk is delivering service in accordance with well thought-out SLA’s then they should be meeting the needs of all parties, even the senior management team.

Gaining the buy-in and commitment is probably the most exacting challenge facing IT service managers. It’s certainly the most common weakness we come across when helping customers improve their services. It helps when a third-party advocate makes the case to senior management. It’s easier for a Sysop consultant to challenge senior management attitudes and behaviours than it is for an in-house manager. Give us a call, we can almost certainly help.

Stuart Sawle

Thanks to Michelle Major Goldsmith for her contribution to this blog