How to Get Bigger Budgets

Didier_Moretti_Headshot_5

This article has been contributed by Didier Moretti, VP/GM Service Desk Business at Atlassian Software


 

At the start of every year or quarter, senior managers across the organization get pulled into the tug-of-war of budgeting and headcount planning. And few feel the pain as much as IT. If your team is viewed as a cost center, as IT more often than not is, asking for a bigger budget or head count increase can be a daunting task. But not doing so is not an option either. If you don’t properly plan and make a compelling argument to senior management for those extra resources you need, teams that are stretched get even more stretched resulting in a decrease in quality of work and employee burnout; neither of which helps the employee, the IT team, or the company.

They say if you can’t measure it you can’t fix it. Equally true is, if you can’t measure it, you can’t justify it to management. It’s time for IT teams to learn a lesson from customer support.

 

Why Customer Support?

I don’t mean wearing a headset and wishing every one a nice day. Though your co-workers would probably like that. I am referring to the practice of building a strong competence in measuring how much work the IT team is taking on, how quickly they’re responding, and how satisfied are the people who depend on them. Sounds simple? It should be, but astonishingly many IT organizations are so mired in the day to day blocking and tackling that they don’t remember to remind everyone how much they’re getting done.

Customer support organizations for years have become masters of analytics. They live and die on measuring key performance metrics like average response time, number of requests solved per person per day, and customer satisfaction.

The benefit? Support organizations can tell you exactly what their team utilization is and how good of a job they’re doing. More importantly, they have the numbers and analysis to credibly ask for a budget and headcount increase when they need it.

Not just IT, but every internal business team could think of themselves as a customer service organization across HR, Finance, Legal and others. Though no one is closer to customer support than IT. IT is the internal customer service organization, troubleshooting software and hardware problems for employees. If IT is similar in many ways to the external support organization, then they also need to mimic support’s best practices on gathering the right data and using that information to show their value to the business.

 

Here are 3 steps internal teams can take to report the kind of performance metrics that executives understand and respond to.

Establish and Document Processes for How Work Gets Done

The biggest barrier to measuring anything is a lack of a consistent method of execution or in other words, a process. If all requests for work, be it in IT or outside such as reviewing a contract or updating an employee benefit plan are executed in an inconsistent manner with varying levels of efficiency, it’s hard to get a read on how long a task takes and at what rate it can be executed. Further, if all requests for tasks are received and responded to over email, it’s easy for teams and managers to lose sight of the total volume of work being serviced by the entire team over any one quarter and how that volume is either increasing or fluctuating in that timeframe. In the support world, processes are well documented and automated so customers get quality and consistent service. Requests for help from customers come through applications and systems that document not just when the request came in but the time it took for each step in the support process from inception to resolution. While many IT teams do use ticketing systems they rarely have the same sophistication as those used by external support. And if they are not user friendly and zero-effort to use, employees bypass them with email or fly-bys to the IT agent’s desk.

The common mantra for many teams is that no day is typical. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a process that accommodates flexibility. Often there will be an 80-20 rule; 80% of requests will follow a certain pattern while 20% might be outside the norm. By shying away from documenting and following a process at least for the 80%, IT departments are missing out on a crucial ability to not only better track their work but also service their stakeholders better by bringing increased consistency and quality control into their daily tasks.

 

Measure Everyday Activities

This might seem overkill at first but it’s the only way to truly understand how long it takes for you or your team to fulfill common requests. Even rough measurements will go a long way to give you an idea of how to plan your day or week. As teams grow and become geographically distributed, understanding how long tasks take is critical to planning capacity. Software developers often use a method called agile development where each task gets a number score that indicates how long the developer thinks that task will take. This allows a product manager to ensure a product release is adequately planned, staffed, and on track. Lawyers and consultants regularly clock their hours since they need to bill clients per hour. There are many examples of different functions bringing an increased measurement rigor in order to not only track progress more efficiently, but also help managers better plan and staff every quarter.

Best of all, there are many work management or task management systems that make it easy for employees to track time spent on a task, similar to the many apps for your smart phone that will help you count calories and track exercise routines.

 

Use Processes and Measurement to Build Your Personal Analytics Dashboard

Once you have documented the process and put in place steps to either manually measure time taken or in an automated manner through a tool, you’re ready to start building your own personal analytics.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could answer questions like:

  • Last quarter with 3 people we supported 342 IT related requests for help from employees and on average were able to provide a response within 2 hours.
  • The number of requests were up 12% from last quarter
  • For the next quarter we expect a 8% increase based on company wide headcount growth

Imagine the possibilities you have armed with those kinds of numbers?

Now you no longer have to say – “I think we need more headcount, because we’re swamped and working late most nights.”

Instead, you have real numbers, tied to measurable results, that executives love and respect. To further spice things up, you could add employee satisfaction surveys to demonstrate your successes.

So now your analytics read:

  • Last quarter with 3 people we supported 342 requests with an average employee satisfaction score of 77%.
  • The #1 issue many employees cited was the length of time it takes to get help
  • For the next quarter, we’re looking at a potential 8% increase in # of requests.
  • With an extra headcount we are confident we can scale to meet demand while boosting our overall customer satisfaction to our stated goal of 90%

 

While you may not get what you ask for, if you ask for it enough times in the right way, often good things will happen.

It’s time for IT teams to embrace the best practices that have led to customer service organizations becoming the lean mean fighting machines that they are. There is no substitute for good analytics, but that comes at a price; the need to follow a process for how work gets done and measure the time taken to perform the steps along the way. But the upside is huge. Not only are you able to build the type of reports and analytics needed to succeed, but the people who depend on you get fast, consistent service they can trust. There are many tools and systems in the market to help you on your journey.

So in 2015, think like a customer support organization. Your company will thank you for it.

 

 

Transforming the User Experience

4813041825_072902db4e_zWe often hear that we need to do more to transform the ‘experience’ of our IT Customers. Transforming what? Why do we need to do this?

Well because so many IT customers and users complain about the quality and level of communications and feedback when dealing with IT departments. This can vary from simply being too slow to respond, or slow to run projects, being negative or resistant to change, (the department that likes to say no). Also there is the need to keep up with new technologies and it seems that our internal IT departments can’t keep up. In the past IT users didn’t have anything to compare this ‘experience’ with, but now everyone buys IT in some way and this has (justifiably) raised much higher expectations.

Here’s some points I regularly find mentioned by IT Customers and business people about their IT departments

 

  • Not easy to ‘do business with’
  • Too much senior focus on technical detail and components
  • Defensive, over protective ‘old IT’ approach
  • Lack of relationship – need to get out and talk/listen more
  • Poor communications across  management and teams
  • Lack of valuable Management Information – or clear targets/service criteria to measure
  • Clunky horrible old tools that we are expected to use

 

For me the case for transformation is absolutely clear and there is right now a great opportunity to do this and win back hearts and minds around the skills and value of IT. We can change from the ‘blocker’ to be the enabler and the solution provider, simply by

 

  1. Realising we can’t do everything ourselves – so we need to use more automation and shared sourcing to free up our time and resources
  2. Using freed up time to focus on customer and business priorities
  3. Using new tools and innovations to improve the experience of dealing with IT – and beyond

 

We can’t keep up with all the latest trends and new tech, particularly if we are constantly firefighting and chasing our tails with inefficient processes and tools. There are areas that can be automated like request management and provisioning, password maintenance, procurement and standard implementation that can free up significant technical resources. In addition its no longer acceptable to get users to use old menu based and confusing, non-user friendly portal and tools – particularly if this is sold as being ‘progress’. Its vital to get colleagues and customers on board by offering a seamless and enjoyable experience when ordering kit or requesting new services – and the tools on offer really can help here.

If we also accept that we probably need to use some sort of shared sourcing model, then there is emerging experience and expertise in this areas – SIAM or Service Integration and Management provides the opportunity to really think through end-to-end service delivery and the associated supply and value-chain activities required. In the past it was too easy to simply outsource a problem, or an area that apparently wasn’t adding value –like a service desk. However it’s important to understand firstly the supply chain (i.e. what is done to deliver a service) and then the value chain (where the areas of value, cost and efficiency lie in this chain) – in order to identify what needs to be kept in-house and what can be outsourced, and still meet business objectives.

All of this requires IT organisations to get out and talk/listen to their customers, as well as building a clear model and understating of what they deliver and how it provides value – so service design and catalogue are key elements. However the real point is the need to first engage then deliver what is really needed by your customers. Sometimes this requires a first step of appreciating and accepting what the current ‘experience’ is like. It’s a good idea to try and use your own services and then listen to those that have to do this regularly – for feedback.

Overall we need to be able to ‘walk in our customer shoes’ and use this as input to drive the best possible experience when dealing with us. It’s easy to talk about doing this but a harder job actually getting out and doing it and also translating the feedback into something truly transformational and enjoyable for customers, and not just another IT-driven tool that is there to serve the IT departments way of working.  So, in order to transform the User Experience, we also need to transform the way that IT works and does business.

Ultimately we can use this approach to develop our service mantra beyond IT – and many are doing this, using portal and request management tools as a starting point to implement single tools and process across a number of internal and external departments – HR, Finance and marketing. As such many forward thinking IT organisations have managed to transform themselves as part of this into clear ‘value providers’ , rather than the guys who like to say ‘no.

 

So let’s say ‘YES’ to transformation – both the User/Customer experience and of course ourselves…

 


 

ITSM Review Transforming User Experience event – how can we help?

The event will focus on the underlying issues, opportunities and solutions available to help you make your transformation. The day will include expert guidance including output from recent ITSM review studies and the current ‘Self Service’ Review.

ITSM Vendors will be on hand to show how their solutions have been used in new and innovative ways to help their IT customers achieve success and value together with a selection of workshops facilitated by a mix of industry peers, practitioners, consultants and vendors to discuss and map out practical strategies to help make your transformation a success.

Click here for more information!

 

Image Credit

Support Provision & the Changing Landscape of the Service Desk

Graph With Stacks Of CoinsService desk teams provide support and service to company employees, helping them to make the most of the IT assets that the company provides. At least, that was always the role that IT Service Management teams saw themselves providing. The overall goal may not have altered, but how this is fulfilled has been changing.

The traditional methods that service desk teams use to demonstrate their value don’t effectively capture all that the ITSM function can deliver. At the same time, new initiatives like Bring Your Own Device, cloud applications and self-service portals are entering business IT. This means that key performance indicators (KPIs) have to be changed. However, are we changing our approaches to keep up, or are we being forced into this? As the service desk landscape changes, how can we take back control and demonstrate more value?

 

Where are we today?

Many service desk teams will still use first-time fix as their number one demonstration of value. However, while this metric is still valid, it’s very quantitative, and only one step above looking at the overall volume of calls being handled. Service desks today have to deal with a larger number of channels than before, so how calls are categorised is a good place to start thinking differently.

The key questions to ask here are: “How do my customers want to interact with me? Are they happy with more traditional email and phone requests, or would they like more options such as chat?” For many teams, answering these questions can be difficult, as options are grafted on over time rather than being thought through strategically.

For a service desk manager looking at all the different traffic coming in, it can be difficult to assign weighting on the requests that come in. Should social media or chat interaction be counted in the same way as a phone request? A lot of this will depend on the process that customers go through as their incidents are handled. This will also affect how success is measured in the future as well.

 

Where do we go from here?

There are two avenues open to the service desk manager here – one is prescriptive, and one is to allow more freedom in how incidents are handled. The first approach would be based on mapping out all the most common problems that are encountered by users, and then looking at the workflow for those incidents across different communication methods.

This can work well when you have a large number of service desk operatives and need to get consistency on customer support experience. Putting this together would provide both guidance on how to handle requests that come through, and also ensure quality of service.

However, there is one issue with this approach, it takes away a lot of the flexibility that service desk professionals can have in solving problems and ensuring that the customer is happy at the end of the call or interaction. Now, for regulated industries where security and compliance are important, this is something that will just have to be accepted but for other businesses, allowing more leeway on how calls and requests are handled can be both better for the customer and for the service desk personnel. Allowing service desk staff to help customers in the way that best suits them – and the customers that make the request – can help to provide better service, both in terms of quality and service levels.

 

Looking at a bigger picture

Thinking about specific targets for the service desk team also involves looking at how ITSM is incorporated into the overall business or organisational goals. Is the service team delivery part of external-facing, “paying customer” work, or more around internal customer or employee satisfaction and keeping users productive? Building up metrics around customer retention and satisfaction leads to a very different set of KPIs compared to this internal service delivery, where efficiency is paramount.

Setting out new KPIs involves looking at what the customer expectations are around service, as well as what the company or organisation wants to deliver. This is a very different approach to the quantitative approach that many service desks are used to. Instead, it has to be more qualitative. Often, there will be larger company goals that will help frame KPIs in the right way.

As an example, your company may provide a product with premium branding. Service delivery around this should therefore match that perception. Creating a measurement KPI around delivering “five star service,” with personnel encouraged to go the extra mile, would be more effective than simply looking at how many calls or requests were handled. Conversely, companies that pride themselves in efficiency would want the same approach to be reflected in their service strategy.

For public sector organisations, efficiency and call handling will still be important metrics to track as well. However, the growth of online and digital service delivery means that requests that might previously have been calls can be answered either through information on websites or email/chat requests. This will leave more personal interaction time for staff, providing a better quality of care for those that really need it.

Alongside these changes in KPIs, the way that service desk teams manage themselves may have to change as well. For too long, the tiered service desk approach has been less about dealing with front line problems and more about managing how skilled professionals can provide support where it is needed. The change from solely supporting phone and email over to using multiple channels should be seen as an opportunity to increase skills for everyone.

 

Managing service interactions more efficiently

It’s also worth considering how sessions are handled. For requests that have a technical or specialist knowledge requirement, playing telephone tag and having the customer explain their issues multiple times can be a painful process. Instead, it should be possible to use those with specialist knowledge in a more efficient way through collaborative sessions.

This approach involves letting third parties join calls securely – particularly if there is a remote access session involved. Rather than depending on the third party and customer to get connected, the service desk can manage this themselves, cutting down on time taken and providing a better experience for the customer. Bringing together assets in this way does mean that the front-line staff have to be aware of what challenges they may face that are intricate or require outside help, but that does not mean that they have to hand a call straight over to someone else.

The growth of online support and services is only going to go up, as more people prefer to work directly through chat or social channels rather than more traditional phone systems. The make-up of the workforce is changing as well. In the higher education sector, research by the Service Desk Institute found that 76 per cent of students preferred using the web form for raising a request rather than picking up the phone or emailing directly, while 37 per cent were happy to use social media channels to contact the service desk.

As these students move from university and enter the workforce, their expectations of support will be very different to what has gone before. Maintaining a consistency of approach when trying to keep all these options open is a real challenge, but it can be delivered by thinking through the problems that are due to come up.

Rethinking your KPIs so they are more aligned with the needs of the business is a good first step. From this, you can then look at how to work more closely with line of business teams, too. Ultimately, the service desk can start to think about changing the perception it has within the organisation, from one of only being there when things go wrong to providing more guidance about how to make things go right in the first place.

There seem to be as many choices on how to manage interaction with customers as there are service desks, particularly as customers want to interact in new ways. However many channels you have to support, the important distinction is around customer service, not just IT support. ITSM teams have to look beyond their role as IT professionals and think about displaying their acumen around other areas, too.

Setting out KPIs is one way to achieve this aim. By linking the aim of the business to the quality of service that is delivered, ITSM teams can look to demonstrate more of the value that they create for the business every day.

 

Image Credit

The service desk shuffle: Collaboration trumps hot potatoes

Stuart Facey, VP of international at Bomgar Corporation
Stuart Facey, VP of international at Bomgar Corporation

When things go wrong with technology, organisations rely on their IT support teams to fix problems and help out. The traditional method for dealing with problems sees calls (or email requests) coming in and tickets going into the queue to be dealt with.

If a first level support rep doesn’t have the skills to handle an issue, then it gets passed up the chain, essentially being put on hold for response and evaluation. The current ‘hot potato’ approach leads to responsibility being constantly shifted between teams or individuals, dragging out resolution times.

This method of problem solving is extremely inefficient from the end-user’s perspective.

Users get very little visibility over how long it will take to fix their problem, and they can’t find out who is ultimately responsible for resolving their issue. User frustration is high when they can’t get clarity on support requests or have to repeat the details of their problem to multiple technicians.  This process becomes even more complex as businesses outsource parts of their IT services to third parties, who often provide even less visibility to end-users.

Swarming issues towards resolution 

It is time for support organisations to break down the walls between tiers and embrace a more collaborative approach to support, pulling in the right people with the right skills when issues occur. This requires disparate teams to share responsibility for resolving issues and work together to swarm around issues in real time.

This is a significant challenge for IT service desks to consider. Alongside looking at new ways in which to give customers information and new tools to make support easier, there is a potential shift in IT support culture that will also have to take place.

NOTE: This will involve changing from traditional service desk management and becoming more collaborative in problem solving.

Obviously, collaboration is not a new concept. However, applying it in the IT service space does mean thinking things through, as there will be changes in both how problems and tickets will be managed when collaboration is implemented, as well as how metrics on performance are generated.

 The support concierge service

One approach to improving service through collaboration is to position frontline tech staff as support “concierges” who guide the end-user through the entire issue resolution process, versus handing users off to higher tier contacts. Higher level experts should be accessible and be pulled into support issues as needed, helping to resolve problems as soon as they occur and providing on-the-job training to lower level reps. Finally, support reps should be able to securely bring in external vendors and experts as needed to assist with end-user issues in real time as well.

Getting an expert to immediately jump in on an issue has two benefits: firstly, it can improve first contact resolution rates as more difficult challenges can be solved at the first interaction with the end-user. Secondly, it helps improve the knowledge and skills for first line support, as they can watch how the experts solve those more difficult issues first-hand. This makes it easier to improve service levels overall on both a qualitative and quantitative basis.

The third way

From a logistics point of view, bringing in a third contact with experience on the same issue can help fix a problem sooner than shifting a ticket to a “new” queue. However, it does mean re-organising workflows, which can be a big challenge, particularly for situations where support resources will be required from a different location or from outside the organisation. Instead of being points along a line between the user and problem resolution, the first line “concierge” remains responsible for a problem until it is resolved.

Under the traditional service desk approach, there are often no chances for first line staff to expand knowledge of wider problems except for specific training – something that is becoming harder to justify for investment under current economic conditions.

For them, collaboration becomes an opportunity to up their skills and increase their satisfaction levels too. This can also help with morale on the service desk as staff feel better educated and more valued.

Same-screen collaboration

This collaborative approach is obviously difficult to implement if your support organisation relies solely on the phone to handle issues. From a technology perspective, it requires you to look at remote support tools and how they’re enabled, as well as other methods for providing support like chat sessions. To support collaboration, everyone has to view the same screen, pass controls back and forth and invite additional techs (internal or external) to join the session. Bringing in third parties has to be done in a secure and controlled way, so that they can have access to resources that they require in order to provide support.

The main aim for collaboration around IT support is that it can deliver a significant increase in customer service levels. Users have a higher chance of their problem being solved first time, while satisfaction levels should also increase as they feel that every issue is graded as important, whether it is a minor problem or a major one that requires multiple support staff to deal with.

This change in approach has to be supported by similar evolutions in culture and technology on the service desk. Collaboration does involve some standardisation in approach and tools so that teams work in the same way and know what is expected of them.

Similarly, support and service desk management will have to think about capturing and measuring their performance in different ways. For example, metrics like time to resolution will become less important as initial support sessions may take longer, but that should be counteracted with an increase in first contact resolution. More importantly, user satisfaction should go up as people with problems feel their issues get solved in a more efficient way.

By modernising their technology and processes to resolve more issues upon first contact, support and service desks can prove that they are focused on users first and foremost, which will help them improve their reputation and justify the budgets spent on them. At a time when IT strategies in general are continuing to change, the service desk can use these opportunities to deliver more high-value services back to the organisation that they support.