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Enhance your service desk offerings by understanding your customer

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak)

In best practice service management, the services you offer to your clients are at the center of everything your IT department does. Start working with fewer processes, and a stronger focus on the customers’ needs. Does that mean you should do everything your customer asks? On the contrary: customer-focused service often means choosing not to provide some services, so you’re better able to deliver the services your customers really need.   

Best practice service management is based on a couple of principles: services as starting point, not too many different services and using the customer’s needs as guiding principle. Best practice service management is based on the services you offer your customers. This is driven by a desire to be truly customer-focused. To do so, you must focus on your services, of course. After all, the customers don’t care which internal processes are followed. They just want their problems solved. The question for an IT organization isn’t how to best implement processes, it’s this: which services do you offer your customers? 

Standardize the services you offer and record them in a service catalogue. Standardizing your services is an easy way to control your work. If you don’t know which services you offer, how do you stay in control of your team’s workload? For each question or request the operator has to ask himself: what should I do with this? Do I need to help the customer? Or is this not something we offer? We have seen many organizations where incoming requests demand a lot of time and energy from the team, making it difficult to move away from firefighting to focus on implementing long-term improvements. By standardizing your services, you improve the efficiency of your support. 

Best practice service management in practice 

How does it work: Your customer has a request. If the request is about one of your standard services, you can process it according to current agreements. You’ll need to maintain these services periodically to ensure you can keep offering them. If the request concerns a service that isn’t available, you can explain to the customer why you can’t (or can’t yet) provide the service and offer them a different solution. Requests you can’t solve through standard services can be a reason to adjust your current services (changes). If the customer reports a recurring problem that you really want fixed, for example. But you can also improve your services on your own (improvement), based on frequent disruptions, new technology or changed legislation. 

Define your services 

Defining the services you offer is the first step in best practice service management. How do you define your services? Start by creating a service catalogue. 

Many organizations aren’t clear about the products and services they offer. This isn’t just inconvenient for the organization itself, but for the customer as well. Granting more insight into the products and services you provide in a service catalogue ensures that your customers know what you can help them with. This improves your department’s transparency and communication with the customer. As a result, your customer satisfaction will skyrocket and you’ll save your department a lot of time. 

How to set up a service catalogue 

A service catalogue is a place where supporting departments like facilities, IT and HR can gather all the services they offer the organization. One important takeaway: make sure you involve your customer. 

Provide sufficient information 

When compiling your online service catalogue, make sure you provide all the information your customers may need. Always take the following into account. Provide a clear description for each service. A FAQ section for each product or service can help customers quickly find their own answers. Examples of common questions are: How do I set up the Wi-Fi connection on my telephone? How do I print on both sides of the paper? How do I adjust my desk? 

Indicate whether a service can be provided at various quality levels. For instance, you could explain which meeting rooms can be used for events like customer visits, or which assets are available in each meeting room. Explain the ordering procedure for a service. This prevents customers ordering a product or service incorrectly, or them not sticking to the request’s lead time. 

Specify the terms of delivery. Inform your customer about the delivery time for a service, and make it clear where the product can be picked up. Communicate the service desk’s availability. Grant your customers insight into when and how they can contact the service desk. 

Set up a reactive management process 

Once you’ve determined which services you provide, it’s time to set up a process to support them. One of the most important things to do may be to bring together several service management processes into a single comprehensive workflow: Reactive management. Reactive management concerns all questions about the standard services you support. 

But why would you want to switch from tried and tested ITIL, for example, to something that, while familiar, requires a new set-up, both in terms of processes and roles for your colleagues? Here are four reasons. 

Stronger focus on the customer 

First things first: Reactive management processes can be set up to provide the best and fastest possible service to customers. No more agonizing over process choices – after all, if you’re having a discussion about whether something is an incident or a request for change, does the difference really matter? Instead of working with complex definitions, the reactive management process simply asks: What does the customer want? 

A single, more effective process owner 

Systems to keep running, licenses to manage, items to order – with so much going on, it’s hardly surprising that some supporting departments forget what they’re doing it all for. Compound this with different process owners competing for resources, and you have an even bigger chance of missing the point, with processes turning into a goal in and of themselves. Reactive Management simplifies your service management, so you only need one process owner, who has one goal: keeping customers happy. This results in increased accountability and clearer goals for your work. 

Faster service 

With just one process and just one process manager, there are fewer details to keep in mind when processing requests. The result? Your team is able to process requests more efficiently and, therefore, more quickly. No more having to run through a convoluted process when a customer contacts you. The process can be just as straightforward as your customer’s request. 

Clearer KPIs and reports 

Having a request pass through several processes – and the all-seeing eyes of several process managers – doesn’t just result in a lot of work for your service management staff. This convoluted path also generates quite a paper trail and leaves a mark on several process KPIs. Consolidating your service processes not only makes them easier to manage, it also makes them much easier to monitor. Without single requests popping up in countless different reports, you create a clearer picture of your service department’s performance and take a more targeted approach to introducing improvements. 

Set up a relation management process 

Reactive management is all about providing standard services to your customers. But what if you have to say no to your customer? That’s where relation management comes in. It’s a process to handle requests for services you don’t provide (yet). 

What’s the best way to help your customer when they ask for a service that’s not in your service catalogue? The relation management process will differ from client to client, and from request to request, so there’s not a single script to tell you exactly what to do. But this process, too, can be standardized to some extent. Follow the steps below to provide more customers with the right solution. 

1. Find out what your customer really needs Imagine a customer asks for an iPad, but you only support Android devices. Ask this question: why does my customer want an iPad? What are his needs and why does he or she think that an Android tablet can’t meet those needs? Always ask your customer why. Maybe they just don’t know what Android can do and you can help him with some additional information or by installing an app. 

2. Propose an alternative standard solution As soon as you know the customer’s needs, it becomes easier to find an alternative from the standard services. Ideally you would have a different standard service that fully meets the needs of the customer. This makes the customer happy and saves you the extra trouble. However, it’s likely that you can offer an alternative that partly meets the customer’s needs. In this case you need to ask yourself how important the missing functionality is for the customer. If it’s not very important, steer them towards the alternative. 

3. Optional: propose a bespoke solution If you can’t offer a standard service that meets your customer’s expectations, check whether you can offer an alternative. Ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Is it technically feasible to offer the customer an alternative? 
  2. If the answer to the first question is “yes,” ask yourself the next questions: Do you want to offer this alternative? Does it fit the policy and strategy of the IT department? Will it take a lot of time to provide the alternative solution? What is the impact on security? Are you able to maintain the solution?
  3. When it’s technically possible and you believe it’s a good idea to offer an alternative solution we come to the next question: does it fit the customer’s budget? Can you send an invoice to the customer? Based on this the customer can decide whether they agree or not. 
  4. Decide whether you want to standardize your solution 

If the answer is “yes” to all questions above and the service is delivered, you need to think about another question. Do you want to add this service to your standard services? If so, add it to your service catalogue. 

Be prepared to say “no” 

Saying no can be hard for your IT staff. They want to help, and saying no makes it seem like they’re not trying. But sometimes you have no choice. You can’t create a policy for your department if you say yes to everything. Use the questions above to understand your customer. Even if the answer is still no, your staff has done everything in its power to help. It’s easier for your staff to say no when they need to, and your customer is more satisfied if they understand why you can’t help them and what other options they have. 

Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord is president of TOPdesk US (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock

Nancy Van Elsacker Lousinord is president of TOPdesk US, a global supplier of IT service management software. TOPdesk develops, markets, implements and supports standard user-friendly service management software.