The state of the service desk in 2018: What do you need to know?

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Customer experiences are getting transformed. New technologies can enable novel experiences that transcend both work and life. Our expectations of the companies we buy from are greater than before, while the expectations placed on us within IT are growing too. So how do businesses ensure they keep up with the competition? Richard Branson of Virgin said: “If you look after your staff, they'll look after your customers. It's that simple.”

At the core of great customer experience is great employee experience; to achieve this, you have to provide the right tools to do the job. More specifically, this involves working on how you provide proactive and innovative services that can aid employee productivity.

To find out the current success of service desks within the enterprise, their best practices, the challenges they face, why some organisations are struggling and what would help, we carried out an independent study: The State of Service Desk Report. The study evaluates data, insights, and interviews from over 12,000 global service desks and service desk professionals across multiple industries to understand how the service management community can learn from the best and make simple changes that can create a lasting impact on employee experiences.

Why digital transformation is more than a buzzword

IT teams today are being asked to help drive business outcomes. Rather than supporting the business, many companies are using IT to change how they operate. For some, these requirements will be business as usual, met with cries of “But this is what we have always done!”. Others will have to approach their jobs in new ways. Either way, this will require a consistent level of service.

Digital transformation encompasses all the ways that companies have to change their business models to remain competitive. Today’s service desks can help by providing real-time support to employees even before they request help from IT. This can be through better management of IT services – spotting problems and solving them before they affect everyone – and through more efficient self-service channels from online knowledge bases through to chatbots and portals.

But how do service desks predict incidents even before they occur? Such a transformation entails collecting data at every stage of the IT service management lifecycle, then converting this data into action. For example, new technologies like machine learning can be employed as part of chatbots to solve simple problems or provide answers to obvious issues. However, this can also learn to determine where problems are more difficult and escalate them intelligently to the right person within the IT service management (ITSM) team for the right solution.

As more business services move over to digital, so the business itself will rely on getting issues fixed faster. Just as companies try to sell in ever more frictionless ways, so internal operations will have to improve in order to keep up. Without this same approach internally, people will become the biggest roadblocks to success.

The modern IT service desk: doing more with less

For ITSM, “doing more with less” has become an overarching principle. While this should be a positive goal, in some circumstances it has narrowed the vision for ITSM to focus on smaller, unit-level metrics rather than overall business outcomes.

Today, service desk professionals rely heavily on ITSM tools and techniques to serve their customers within the business. The volume of support requests has continued to grow, while the budgets available for ITSM and support have remained static or even shrunk. Today, our research corroborates this with the following findings:

  • There is an average of 15 agents for every 1500 employees
  • The average time to resolve a ticket is 10 hours
  • The ratio of tickets to technicians is 120:1

What can ITSM teams do to get ahead of this problem? By looking at the wider issue – rather than at the simple problem of more tickets – ITSM teams can look at how to automate more activity. Automation and versatile workflow configuration have improved the service desk efficiency of our research base by 25 per cent on average. It has also reduced the issue of how to manage interactions outside the realm of IT – now, only seven per cent of these organisations’ service requests require approval. This removes one of the major blocks on delivering better service.

Proactive versus reactive 

Today’s IT service desks need to be aligned with core business outcomes and critical success factors in order to be able to operate efficiently. Unfortunately, we’ve found that 52 per cent of service desk professionals aren’t satisfied with their current service desk solution. Furthermore, fire-fighting problems attribute to the most amount of time spent by service desk professionals. Around 69 per cent of service desk professionals spend the majority of their time sorting out issues due to heavy workload and inefficient problem management processes.

While incident management aims to resolve incidents and restore service back to normal, problem management is more proactive and looks to identify the root cause of these incidents. During our research, we found that service desks that used third party problem management systems managed to reduce the volume of incidents by 40 per cent. These service desks have identified recurring incidents, highlighted them as problems, and been able to reduce their overall incident numbers - thus, improving their efficiency.

By taking a proactive approach to finding and solving problems, ITSM teams can take huge strides towards meeting their efficiency targets. While automation can help improve efficiency by a quarter, this proactive approach can offer far more.

The age of online: collaboration and self-service

In our research, the top three priorities for service desk professionals are as follows:

  • Improving service desk performance
  • Increasing their value to the business
  • Using more automation

In our findings, we’ve found that collaboration is a key success factor for the service desk. New technologies like chatbots and instant messaging channels are contributing to twice as fast ticket resolution for users. However, despite this, email continues to dominate as the preferred method for raising tickets in the service desk, followed by a service desk portal and mobile apps.

Online self-service is also playing an ever-larger role in improving ITSM performance and increasing overall customer satisfaction. It helps accelerate time-to-resolution, and enriches service desk value and customer support on an ongoing basis.

Our research base has found that deploying self-service can have a huge impact. Successful self-service installs cut down L1 tickets by 15 per cent and reduced costs by 20 per cent per ticket, on average. These service desks have helped customers reduce the number of tickets with the help of a knowledge base - by populating it with helpful articles, customers find the solution to their problems right away. Due to workflow automation and self-service, around 20 per cent of the time previously spent on solving basic tickets has been cut.

The future

Improving service is the number one goal for ITSM teams and service desk managers. Delivering this improvement requires both time and effort. You can create time for yourself through smarter use of automation and self-service technologies.

However, knowing where to put effort is more difficult. By looking at where your company is trying to change its approach, you can see where processes are going to be needed and where more support will be required over time. While companies look at digital transformation, they should also look at service transformation too. Helping employees help themselves can earn you the time to look ahead and plan for the future of service across the whole organisation.

Simon Johnson, General Manager UK and Ireland, Freshworks
Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee