12 Pieces Of Advice For IT Service Desks – From A Customer!

Following the recent announcement of Forrester’s Voice of the Customer winners and while we wait for the release of a new Forrester book on Outside-In thinking, it seemed an opportune moment to look at the IT service desk from the perspective of its customers (or end users if you are still that way inclined). So the main body of this blog has been written by such a customer – they don’t work in IT they are just heavily dependent upon IT to do their job. This is how they feel …

Pre-service desk - old skool IT support seemed to work

It feels as though life was much easier before the service desk was introduced into my life. One “IT guy” supported circa 100 staff and was accessible via phone, email, IM, and by simply walking across the office floor.  Times change, businesses grow, and technology becomes more complex and so we have to move on.   The local (and friendly) “IT guy” gets replaced by a faceless IT team, usually locked-up in the basement floor, and suddenly we have to jump through a series of hoops to get our IT queries answered.  There are incidents, requests, catalogs, and tickets, and all my colleagues and I want to know is “Why can’t I log into my email?” and “Can you fix it quickly, please?” 

Thinking bigger picture

That said in reality does it really matter to a customer whether:

  • Their IT support is run by one “IT guy” or via a service desk?  
  • They have an all-singing, all-dancing IT service management tool from one of the Big 4 vendors or a somewhat more basic platform from a vendor new to the market?  
  • There are five service desk staff or 100?

The chances are that IT’s customers really don’t care about any of this.  No, all that really matters is that:

  • Their day-to-day technology works sufficiently enough for them to be able to do their jobs.
  • If they have an issue they can easily and quickly contact somebody to fix it.
  • They receive good customer service (or are least treated cordially).

It’s important to remember that IT is not just about the technology, but that it is about the people.  Customer service is an integral part of any job, specifically in IT, and it shouldn't be considered any less important than the technology itself.  

A customer’s view on a service desk’s commitments to the business and customers

Anybody associated with the service desk should be committed to providing good, if not outstanding, customer service and should consider the following 12 areas:

  1. Never put the service desk before your customers.   Don’t implement strict procedures whereby you will only deal with issues that are submitted as a ticket and confined to the service desk.  Instead take in requests/incidents via every method of communication available to you and your customers – make yourself more widely accessible. It’s about helping people work not following IT-created processes.
  2. Always listen to the customer and their issues. It’s important that you don’t just hear the words but that you understand the tone of voice (and where appropriate body language), and most importantly that you don't rate the severity of the issue against the IT manual you have in your desk drawer. The customers’ problem may not be of high importance to the IT department but it's important enough to the customer for them to have taken time out of their precious working day to seek advice and help.
  3. Respond to customer needs. Nobody wants to hear the word “no” or “we can't help.” Even when you cannot meet all customer needs or fix all their issues there will always be something that you can do to make their IT (but business-affecting) issue easier to deal with.
  4. Anticipate needs. Don't make a decision based solely on how it works for the IT department. You need to think about how it affects the people in the organization. Remember that if IT fails business people cannot do their job properly, and chances are these are the people making money for the business. Remember that they probably pay your wages – you are their overhead. Put yourself in their position in the context of IT and support.
  5. Treat customers as human beings. Know who they are (including their names) and what their IT needs are.  Do not regard them simply as a “ticket number.”
  6. Help your customers understand life on the service desk. Maybe if your customers better understood the issues you are facing (and the larger corporate IT issues) they might be less inclined to complain about service and IT as a whole? Also ensure that your customers are familiar with the service desk – you may have the best IT service management tool on the market but if your customers don't understand how it works the chances are that they’re just going to get confused, impatient, and angry.
  7. Learn how to apologize.  You need to know how to say sorry for IT mistakes regardless of whether you caused them or not.  Your customers are probably not concerned with who caused the issue; they just want somebody to take responsibility for it, to acknowledge that a mistake was made, and to help them fix it.  
  8. Value your customer complaints. You may not like them but ultimately they may help you. When a corporate machine wipes itself clean owing to a virus don’t tell the customer it’s their fault due to something they downloaded when corporate IT security has failed to do its job properly (I’m also sure I don’t have the rights to download stuff anyway).
  9. Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions on how you can improve IT support, this will help prevent future issues with support and also help you better understand your customers.
  10. Provide regular communications to the business.  Let your customers know what work has been done (and is being done) to improve IT service delivery and keep them informed of potential upcoming issues/downtime. So don't let the good work you are doing stay hidden in the background, and don't expect customers to guess when you're performing maintenance that will prevent them from accessing corporate networks or services.
  11. Ensure that you can support all employees.  You need to appreciate that not everybody works in the same office as IT Support staff - you may have global offices or remote workers.  Informing external staff that you will “fix the issue when you are next in the office” is simply not good enough.  These employees are just as important to the company as those based in your office and their IT issues are no less critical. 
  12. Don’t treat your ‘customers’ like five-year-old children.  Everybody appreciates the concerns around security but putting machines into complete lockdown to the point where they probably need an admin password just to fire up Microsoft Office is not acceptable (I jest here).  Significant working hours are lost due to minor issues that could have been quickly and efficiently fixed by the employee themselves had they had the appropriate access.

To summarize

I’m not trying to “preach to the choir” here.  I’m not claiming to be an expert on the service desk.  I don’t have a professional qualification on “how to provide excellent customer service.”  Perhaps I don’t even understand the basic concepts of IT service management.  However, what I am is more important than any of this because I am a CUSTOMER.  

You can learn more from me then from any number of books, Google searches, or team meetings – because I live the life of a customer and I know what I want and need from my service desk and IT as a whole.

Some of you may be reading this thinking “why are you stating the obvious?”  If you are then good, perhaps you are already keeping your customers happy.  There again just because you know all of the above doesn’t necessarily mean you are implementing it, does it? In the words of Goethe: "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough we must do.”

Final thoughts from me

So that is the view of a service desk customer, I was going to highlight my favorite commitments but then realized that it would be most of them. This anonymous customer might not be indicative of all IT service desk customers BUT have you taken the time to check? Do your metrics highlight such IT failures or are you happy that your IT support is absolutely marvelous? It probably isn’t – ask your customers.

Finally, thank you to the anonymous person who wrote 90% of this blog and, as always, your comments are appreciated.

Follow-up blog: http://blogs.forrester.com/stephen_mann/13-01-31-is_your_it_service_desk_customer_experience_up_to_scratch 


If you enjoyed this, please read my latest blog: http://blogs.forrester.com/stephen_mann  


Yes, some are thinking that

Yes, some are thinking that you are stating the obvious, but like so much in life, sometimes the obvious is missed.

I seem to remember that when I was first introduced to ITIL, I thought it was just common sense written down (ok there were / are gaps, but I speak as a generalisation). At the recent itSMFnz conference, many people went away from listening to speakers commenting that it was common sense and obvious, yet all were really glad to have it re-iterated.

No matter who we are, or what we do, we quite often forget the obvious stuff and try too hard to do what we think is right, rather than what we know is right.

Thank you

The most valuable thing that a customer can do is to give us honest feedback, this is one of the most valuable inputs to continual improvement or the services we offer you.

Your points may be obvious to some of us who have been around for a long time, but it is important to repeat them as often as is needed to get the point across to everyone who is involved with delivering IT services.

Thank you.

In any business the most

In any business the most important thing for a businessman should be the satisfaction of his customer. It is so necessary thing. If he earns the trust of customer then the money comes automatically...

Sadly, the rest of us live in reality

The old "IT guy in the corner of the office" model did work fairly well for most problems but, when you're viewing IT as an overhead rarher than a value delivering service, it looks very expensive. Why, management ask, should they pay for an IT guy for every 100 staff when they can introduce an ITIL style service desk on the cheap floor (i.e. in the basement or in some out of the centre tin shed type building) and have the IT guy support 500 or even a thousand staff. Or maybe they can just outsource IT to an external company who will offshore everything that doesn't need a physical presence at the desk (pretty much everything these days) and replace most of the IT guys with people who have no IT skills but can read a script?

If you have a negative experience with IT support then 99 times out of a hundred the person you need to be taking out to the car park for a good kicking and introduction to Mr Hitty the scaffolding pole is in your own management. They have decreed how much they are prepared to spend on IT support and the supplier (whether that be an external company or internal department) has geared up to provide support that costs that little. To change this management in the business need to be educated to see IT as a service that delivers value through enabling the business to do their job rather than as an overhead. What are you doing to educate them?

I like the sound of Mr Hitty ...

I totally agree that funding can limit IT support. However, I think the real issue is that the IT organization gives the IT support it wants to (or can) give rather than what is actually wanted or needed, and that they support the IT not the people dependent on the IT. The scripting (or dumbing down as I like to think of it) of the help/service desk also comes into play here as you suggest. We still focus too much on the process and technology elements of ITSM and not enough on recruiting and enabling suitably skilled support people to support people (customers) not devices.

I think that people need to

I think that people need to acknowledge that service desks and IT support are constantly hammered to provide the most value for the least amount cost. Kicking the management, as stated above, is the right attitude. I've negotiated and walked away from several contracts because management only views IT support as an overhead. As such, they come to the table with rock bottom quotes from vendors and then......internal staff complain about the support and service. Surprise? No, not at all since you generally get what you pay for in this realm. I've rescued a number of org's from the grips of these service providers once they had figured out that they need to spend money for quality IT support. By doing this, they empower their employees to work better and be more productive. It is a service, or better yet a utility, and if they want they can pick a provider for electricity that has brown outs everyday. The same is true for the support service.

In conclusion, lots of people like to think they can totally remove any need for on-service support. However, it does work but removes any ability for the support staff to produce and engage in meaningful relationships with the internal employees of the org. It is worth the extra $1k a month to talk to someone in the flesh who can respond and understand the problem. Don't like the script? Harass the management and not the person on the phone. Also, if you haven't worked on a service desk before....we generally refer to it as a "hell desk". It is not an easy job, if you CARE about the people you are helping.

Also Help the Support Agent as well

This works the other way as well, common sense but we are human therefore:-

There are many things you can do to Help the Agent taking the call, when we ask for your full name please do not get upset with us especially if your surname is unusual and we have to ask you to spell this out. Please do not blame us if we cannot hear you, this can be a two way thing, it could be your line not just our line. Likewise calling us to discuss an issue whilst travelling in a car on a mobile even with a hands free kit on loud speaker is not pleasant especially when you break up and go under a tunnel and we miss every 4 words out of 10 you are saying. Please consider pulling over and speaking to us when you are not driving it does not save any time because we often have to ask you to call us back when you have the laptop in front of you or ask you for information which you do not have when driving along the road. It is not nice having people in the car continuing their conversation whilst we try and listen to what you are saying to help you or even kids in the back screeching away, we have to listen to every single word we can make out of the conversation before you break up.

Also consider that calling us in a conference with the noise of 20 other people in the room when on hands free is not very easy to hear you, understand what you are saying and asking us to reset your password and provide the password is not a good idea when on hands free and everyone can listen.

We have to log your call under your name, your password is also under your name. If we need to get back to you we have to ask for your phone number, our call system may have a landline but it is no good if you are in another office.. we we will not have your personal phone number so please do not rattle it off so we cannot type or write it down and expecting us to have the details already. Please do not demand we call you back with the issue fixed in 10 minutes, we are often not the people going to fix your problem we cannot make this statement when you call, we may have to speak to a Team Leader in another Support Team to see if they have a resource avaiable, if that Team Leader is not there we have to run around and find another person. Remaining on the phone whilst we run around like a headless chicken puts more pressure on us and this is why we say we will call you back to see what is possible, demanding, swearing, complaining you will be late for you meeting and making our life difficult by saying you will wait on the line is not going to make us want to try and do everything possible to help you.

When your printer does not work please consider the other 30+ printers that do work that you could use this is not a P1 issue it just means you have to walk to the next printer whilst we fix your printer. Please do not get upset at us when you are not happy with using the version of software or it isn't as good as the Software you use at home, we have no control over this no matter how much quicker you could do your job this is made by the Company. If you need a piece of software ask for your Line Manager to submit a Software Approval request to request instead and to build a business case.

Please do not threaten to drop the machine out the window unless we get someone to fix your problem within 10 minutes, this is not our fault we have 2000+ employees and only 6 staff full time if everyone did this we would have no machines left! (I am being serious this has happened)

If you pop up to our desk and we do not know you are coming and we are on the phone talking please do not start trying to speak to us at the sametime or pace up and down behind our desks and tutting or slaming your equipment on our desk. Just call us or contact us so we know you are coming and we can arrange to be available.

Please remember we are also allowed lunch breaks the same as you are and when we are eating in a kitchen away from our desk.. we are on lunch.. and entitled to have just that a lunch by law.

And above or else please remember we are people just like you we do not deserve to be sworn at, spoken to in a manner you wouldn't even speak to your family dog. We are not here to be abused when you have a bad day, we also have bad days and have to deal with it and the IT equipment put in place by the company to do our job just like you. Our printer breaks, we forget our password, our computer breaks we are not unique or any different we too need our equipment to work as otherwise we cannot work or be available for you either. And finally you have only have 1 or two people who have upset you and moan at we can have 50+ per agent and have to just deal with you taking things out on us that is not our fault in the majoirty of cases. We are not a punch bag.

Great points Louise ...

... That's a blog in itself :)

The 3Rs of the Service Desk

Stephen, what you wrote here may not be rocket science in the world of Service Desk (I think you made that point yourself in your closing comments) - but what resonates for me is your remark about how "I am a customer .... listen to me ..." (I'm paraphrasing here).

That is a useful reminder for those engaged in service to remember what's most important.

I read your post soon after I had written something myself where I posited that we often get caught up in the weeds and don't remember the most basic criteria for success. (If you're interested, the blog post I'm referring to is here: http://blogs.pinkelephant.com/index.php?/president/comments/Whats_The_Fi...

For the Service Desk, there are 3 key success criteria. I call these "The 3 Rs" - Response, Resolution & Respect.

1. You have to be able to Respond to the customer, when they need you.

2. You have to Resolve their issue (whether it's an Incident, Request, Question, whatever!)

3. You have to do all this in a Respectful way.

Most of what you wrote, Stephen, fit's into R3. But the whole reason the Service Desk exists is because of R2.

And R2 & R3 are meaningless if we don't get R1 right first!

Food for thought!

I agree with your points ...

... and BTW this was written by someone far smarter then me.

More Rs?

David, Stephen

Might there be a few more Rs?

I thought the concept of a Help Desk and Service Desk represents a style of operation and that it does not mean one is superior to another, or that one is more relevant and the other redundant. Both are characteristics of a service support function.

A service desk operation implies more outbound communications but I've found it works best when its scenario sensitive (some situations get more customer hugging!).

As for the other Rs, any support operation must also 'recognize' the customer and their situation, and 'reconcile' this with other active situations and response work efforts, as well as 'recover' customer satisfaction should it be dented by a situation.

I'm sure others can continue this useful play on the3R theme - thanks David...

Don't you owe me a blog Ian

Don't you owe me a blog Ian ;)

A dream of mine

I sometimes think that if each employee could work the helpdesk for one day, just one, maybe after orientation, where they just have to be polite and acuratley collect ticket information and submit it using a basic script. Maybe when they become the 'customer' they would have a clearer understanding of the hundred of systems and the number of possible problems that can occur.

Wish List

1. Call when you have time to be helped.
2. Have information ready. Specifics are of great value to us.
3. Be willing to try a few things
4. Be willing to utilize a work-around
5. Understand that we want to help, but that we need your help to do it.
6. We don't know everything. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE.


Helpdesk is like a paramedic.
- Stablize and Collect Data. Fix if solution is known.
2nd Level Support is like an ER Doc or General Practitioner
- Run tests and diagnose. Treat where applicable.
3rd Level Support is like a Brain Surgeon.
- Speicalizes in a narrow field but is an expert in it.

Do you know if you need brain surgery? Probably not.
Do you expect a paramedic to know brain surgery? Probably not.
How many specialties are there in the medical field? A ton.
How many are there in technology? A ton.