State of the Service Desk Part 1: Executive Summary

Ben O'Loghlin
Ben O'Loghlin
September 3, 2021
This blog series explores the topics discussed in servicely.ai's State of the Service Desk report. More details at the bottom of this blog article.

Executive Summary

Service Desk Performance

Common metrics cover areas like customer satisfaction and NPS, call handling performance, service level agreement compliance, and load and capacity.

Many service desks are experiencing an increase in demand leading to degradation of service levels, in the absence of further investment.

These are being addressed by negotiating budget vs performance with the executive, bidding for budget for transformation activities, improvements in product quality, and continuous service improvement.

Transformation, Consolidation and Integration

Digital Transformation is increasing the number of service catalog items and the associated demands on support.

There is an increasing trend for IT’s service desk to take on Enterprise Service Management, the support of digital workflows across the whole organization.

Some organizations are needing to consolidate service desks across departments, geographies, subsidiaries and acquisitions.

Increasingly service desk software is being integrated with other tools to facilitate enterprise service management and automation of workflows across different platforms.

Shift Left

Shift left is an industry term used to describe the desired change of shifting workloads from higher cost resources to lower cost resources. This topic was widely discussed in almost all interviews. Implementation of this strategy is key to overcoming many of the challenges highlighted in this report, but implementation of shift left has its own challenges.

Automation and Orchestration

Automation refers to workflows that can be performed without human intervention in a particular platform, where orchestration refers to the automated coordination of workflows across different systems (enabled by integrations) to produce an outcome.

Automation is necessary to shift left, and orchestration is necessary to reduce the requirement for operators to “swivel chair” and perform repetitive actions in different platforms.

Some organizations reported having automation teams; many reported the tradeoff between putting resources into automation vs into maintaining service levels with the status quo service desk.

Knowledge Management

Essential to the shift left strategy is the ability to shift knowledge left as well, so it is the hands of less skilled and lower cost resources, including the customer themselves. Each level of support should have the knowledge and tools appropriate to their role in the support process. In the absence of this knowledge issues will be shifted right to more expensive resources.

There is a variety of strategies being used to generate and propagate knowledge; many of them relate to the need to liberate specialist and “tribal” knowledge from highly skilled and experienced staff, and put it in the hands of Level 1 analysts.

People Management

There are a number of challenges inherent in service desk personnel management, particularly relating to Level 1 analysts. It is an entry level and potentially transient position, often characterized by a lot of repetitive tasks. There are often few opportunities for ongoing learning and growth, and career development opportunities sometimes require moving on to another organization.

The costs of lack of development and staff turnover are significant. Lost productivity means higher ticket handling costs, and lack of training and experience sends tickets to Level 2/3 that should be resolved at Level 1. This ultimately increases the cost of the service desk, starving it of resources for automation, orchestration and continuous service improvement.

A number of strategies were being used to improve staff capability and retention, from higher than average compensation, internal promotion opportunities, training and certification, involvement in internal projects, and supportive management styles and coaching for culture change.

Support Channels

Fifty years ago support was done by telephone and by the postal service. Today the three mainstream support channels are telephone, email and self-service portal. Despite the effort being put into knowledge and automation at the self-service portal level, customer uptake (and resulting deflection of issues from the service desk) has for many been disappointing.

Others have experienced impressive levels of deflection.

Newer channels such as Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, WeChat and others have the advantage that they meet the user “where they are”, and increase the level of engagement with channels that are lower cost, however unless carefully managed issues can be resolved without tickets being raised, or without the tickets having the level of intelligence required to give good data to the service desk manager.

Chatbots are seen as having enormous potential to satisfy customers at a low cost, however in practice experience is mixed.  

Data Quality

"Data is the new platinum", one of the contributors said, but data is only useful if the quality is high enough.

Request and Incident data needs to be high to support continuous service improvement activities, but this is sometimes a challenge because analysts are often incentivized on how quickly they can resolve issues, and this has an inverse relationship with creating the requisite verbosity and accuracy in the ticket records.

Issues raised in some channels, particularly email, social and collaboration tools, often require multiple round trips to collect enough data to solve and issue. It is also often reported that customers don’t want to put in the effort to sufficiently and accurately describe the issue to the service desk analyst, which makes it hard to respond quickly and effectively.

Finally, asset management and CMDB completeness, accuracy and currency are still an area of challenge for some organizations, relying as they do on manual processes.

Tools

There are a plenty of options for service desk tools, and one contributor broke them down into two categories:

  • More simplified SME tools, where the website has a free trial, just pick a plan
  • Enterprise-grade tools, very flexible and customisable but very expensive

Not surprisingly larger organizations and organizations with a more mature service desk function were using tools in the latter category.

Next - Part 2: Introduction

In late 2020 servicely.ai conducted 23 research interviews with service desk executives, managers and practitioners, to explore the State of the Service Desk in the post-COVID19 world.

The interview results were synthesised into a report that covers the following topics:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Service Desk Metrics
  4. Increase in Demand
  5. Transformation, Consolidation and Integration
  6. Shift Left
  7. Automation and Orchestration
  8. Knowledge Management
  9. People Management
  10. Support Channels
  11. Data Quality
  12. Tools
  13. Conclusion

This blog series will serialise the topics listed above. The full report is available for download at www.servicely.ai/sotsd.

If you would like to discuss any of these topics please get in touch via the website or book a meeting at www.servicely.ai/calendar.

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