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Turn your service desk into an operational asset

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Your service desk should be driving productivity and helping to establish an organisation-wide customer focus rather than lurking sullenly among your cost centres. By Sandra Galer, consulting director at Merchants
In an era in which efficiency and customer experience are so closely linked and, jointly, fundamental to sustainability, it is remarkable just how many organisations leave their service or help desks to fumble through the day without any sense of the strategic contribution they should be making.
No part of an organisation should be allowed to run inefficiently. And every part of an organisation should be helping it to achieve its goals. Yet most service desks are a law unto themselves, responding sluggishly and erratically to logged requests and treating users as a nuisance.
The irony is that the service desk plays a key role in keeping users productive. When technology malfunctions, people can’t work. The service desk’s role is, therefore, mission critical.
Also, a service desk that is not customer focused erodes any attempt the organisation makes to have its employees deliver customer satisfaction. So, the service desk has a strategic impact.
It is an accepted maxim now that if your employees are happy, they will keep your customers happy. It’s hard for employees to be happy, however, when their own service desk needs are not being met and they are being treated with contempt or disinterest. More to the point, what message are you sending your employees if you allow the service desk to ignore their needs as customers? Are you applying double standards by insisting that everyone but your service desk be customer focused? And, are you telling your service desk that you really can’t be bothered with it?

It’s always been like this
As with everything else in a business, there are historical reasons for the service desk functioning in its own bubble. For one thing, it’s always been part of the IT department, rather than marketing, sales, or service. So, its orientation has naturally been primarily technical. Employees are recruited for their technical rather than their people skills. In fact, it would probably be safe to say that their people skills have never been assessed.
Also, IT priorities must, by definition, be the maintenance of enterprise-wide systems and platforms. Most of this work, these days, is automated, technical, analytical, and conducted through the medium of computer and video screens. The metrics applied to success have to do with data volumes and network speeds.
The poor old service desk, which should be the human face of IT, has just never been set up to be human. Its focus is on stuff, not people. Which means it’s not doing its job.
It is, in fact, a blind spot through which the organisation leaks vital operational energy.
The good news is that it’s not difficult to fix.

Measure it, so you can fix it
The place to start is by putting in place certain of the customer service metrics that have proved their worth in contact centres. The basics, such as time to call (ticket) resolution and percentage of first call (ticket) resolutions, are obvious.
Effective time management is also a great tool. You should be able to see at a glance which of your service desk employees are doing most of the work and in what time frame. You should know when they clock in, when they leave, and how frequently the entire team is absent from the office. Because productivity is rarely measured in a service desk environment, it’s quite normal for everyone to be out during lunch times or late on Friday afternoons. Trouble is, user problems don’t magically disappear at those times. In any case, an attendance roster ensures that the service desk’s workload is addressed consistently and that fire-fighting is kept to a minimum. It also enables the service desk manager to allocate the most appropriate resources to particular user issues.
Both the metrics and an attendance roster will boost accountability by individual service desk operators to both the organisation and users. And they will give management a far better idea of whether the salaries being paid are commensurate with the desired output.

Go for the smile
Recruitment is the final component needed to bring your service desk into the era of customer experience. Yes, a service desk needs technical skills. But, why not recruit for people who also have an instinctive customer focus? It’s much harder – and more costly for you – to try and train customer sensitivity into someone who loves the technical work but is not particularly sociable.
If necessary, recruit first for people skills and then add technical training.
The strategic and operational advantages of emphasising people skills are considerable. You can graduate customer or service orientated people from the service desk into the parts of your business that face external customers. In the process, you deepen your organisation’s customer experience ethic. Eventually, that ethic will be seamless throughout your organisation.
Also, you can attract a better quality of service desk operator. If people know that they can grow inside the rest of your organisation and are not limited only to the IT department, they’ll beat a path to your door. Managing your service desk as a customer experience delivery centre rather than an irksome cost centre actually makes you a preferred employer.
It’s not often that an organisation can add such fundamental internal and external value for so very little effort and no cost. Ensuring that your service desk actually does deliver service – with a smile – may be the easiest organisational performance improvement you ever achieve.