Managing a successful service desk through the service management office

Governance, Operations

The service desk is the interface between the business and IT and is in many cases the only IT representative that an end user ever comes in contact with. It is the focal point for end-users, wishing to request IT services or have an IT problem they need resolved.

Unfortunately, all too often the relationship between end user and service desk can be one of frustration and uncertainty – end users complaining when the problem is not resolved in a timely fashion or to their expectation, and service desk agents complaining that end users are not interested in responding to their queries or are repeating the same mistakes.

Critical to any successful IT organisation, is getting the service desk right and the service management office (SMO) plays a key role in ensuring a successful service desk delivery.

It’s all about customer satisfaction

There are many ways to measure the performance of the Service Desk and the various functions it performs. Some performance measures are contractually driven while other measures may be for internal governance purposes.

But how do we know when the service desk is performing well?

Is it when the service level agreement (SLA) report shows green (no SLA breaches) or when the incident report shows a decline in the number of serious incidents? SLAs are invariably contractual measures that may not match customer expectations. It is not uncommon for SLAs to be satisfied whilst IT management receive complaints directly from the business about ongoing issues of poor performance or perceived poor performance.

While SLAs are necessary performance measures for governance purposes, ultimately it is customer satisfaction that will determine the relative success or failure of a service desk. This measure is usually captured via an end-user survey and as we all know, customers tend to be satisfied when their expectations are met.

Therefore, understanding the end users expectations is essential to deliver services that lead to satisfied customers. What we want to avoid is a situation where the relationship between a service desk and its end users is one of ‘Us and Them’ – where the end users feel like they are misunderstood and that reaching out for IT support is an acrimonious experience.

Ultimately, all that matters to end users is that IT works well enough to do their job and when it doesn’t they can contact the service desk quickly and easily to have the issue resolved. This can prove to be challenging at times and does often require the participation of end users.

In order for a service desk to be in a position to understand, manage or meet these expectations there are certain essential elements that need to be in place.

Essential elements to a well-functioning service desk

There are many characteristics such as size, complexity of IT environment and sourcing strategy that will influence the make-up of the service desk. Of course, these characteristics will vary from organisation to organisation. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental elements that are essential to all service desks in order to not only meet end user expectations but consistently exceed these expectations:

  • Qualified Staff – good customer service requires the right competence. Not everyone is cut out for a service desk (customer service) role. The requisite skills include patience, being a good listener, politeness and of course IT knowledge.
  • Effective communication – communication is essential and should flow freely among service desk employees, users, and management. It should be clear and transparent, especially when implementing changes that effect end user. There should also be a clear escalation process and effective posting of notifications.
  • Motivated and positive people – with a clear and well communicated definition of their role. Open and positive culture, self-awareness, development and improvement opportunities. For example, improving first line resolution capability by transferring knowledge up from second line support not only reduces cost but can also stimulate the service desk.
  • Well defined processes & procedures – in order for the service desk, or any other part of an IT organisation for that matter, to function effectively there must be well defined policies, processes and procedures with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. In the absence of this, there will be confusion, delays in handling tickets and invariably mistakes.
  • Continuous service improvement – although the idea of continually improving is commonly understood and expected, there needs to be an established process for capturing, analyzing, implementing and measuring these improvements on a continual basis.  That is, by way of survey results, feedback or service desk personnel, patterns emerge that identify areas of improvement. These issues should then be captured, analysed and an improvement identified and implemented. Lastly, established metrics are then monitored to determine whether or not the change resolved the issue.
  • The right tool set – a well-functioning service desk requires a tool set that provides the necessary support for all underlying service desk processes such as incident management, problem management and request fulfillment. For example, a decent ticket handling system, a structured self-service portal in order to get the right information to the service desk when reporting incidents and sending requests, whilst minimising the need for e-mail communication with the service desk.
  • Effective reporting – there should be sufficient reporting capability in order to follow up on key performance indicators (KPIs) and SLAs, so that you can keep track of the quality of the services provided by the service desk.

Governing the service desk through the service management office

Governance is essential throughout any IT organisation; however it must be relevant, coordinated and integrated. The SMO provides this necessary governance over the ‘running’ of IT services, just in the same way as the PMO provides the necessary governance over the ‘building’ of IT services. Essentially, the SMO covers service analysis and reporting, service assurance, service and process improvement and services integration (e.g. operational level agreements).

Therefore, the SMO would be responsible for providing the necessary drive and control for the maintenance and development of the service desk. The relationship between the SMO and the service desk should be clear with a common understanding of goals and objectives and how to achieve them.

Although the ability to govern effectively is dependent on the process and organisational maturity, effective service desk governance would typically include:

  • Performance based – establish metrics that will provide an assessment of how well the service desk is meeting customer expectations and also will help to monitor improvement progress. Conduct a baseline assessment against which to measure progress.
  • Established communication – ensure scheduled meetings where issues are discussed, actions identified and assigned and unresolved matters are escalated.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities – define roles and responsibilities clearly to ensure that there is no misunderstanding as to who is responsible for what and who is accountable. That is, the service desk is responsible for maintaining and improving the delivery of service desk services whilst the SMO is responsible for driving the performance of the service desk.
  • Collaboration – it is important that the SMO convey both internally and externally that we are working together to deliver the best service desk possible. There should not be an ‘Us versus Them’ mentality.
  • Solution oriented – develop a pragmatic and solution oriented mind-set.

Internal or external service desk

Whether a service desk is internal (insourced) or external (outsourced) will also have an impact on the way in which it is governed.

An external service desk requires additional supplier governance including a dedicated service manager for the service desk with the right expertise and mandate. Also there is the need to understand the underlying contract to ensure that these obligations are being fulfilled. The requirements imposed by an external service desk include contractually defined SLAs and a defined escalation structure within supplier management.

Although in theory an external service desk may provide the ability to align resources to the customers’ needs, the fact that there is no affiliation between the business and the service desk, means there is a higher risk of an ‘Us versus Them’ mind-set. The obvious advantage of a service desk provided internally is that it possesses a certain degree of business core competence. There is also a sense of belonging to the organization, meaning that the service desk is more integrated with the business.

Either way, effective governance is essential to ensure that the service desk is able to deliver services that not only meet customer expectations but consistently exceed these expectations. This is what the SMO can provide.

It’s important to get it right

Whether sourced externally or provided internally, running the service desk well is vital in ensuring satisfied customers in any organisation. A successful service desk, one where end-user expectations are consistently met, where staff are well qualified and motivated, where processes and procedures are well defined, and reporting is targeted and relevant requires effective and coordinated governance. All of these essential elements can be provided for by an effective SMO.

It’s important to get it right and an effective SMO will ensure it is done right!

About the author

Luke Croome is a senior IT management consultant at 3gamma, with 18 years of experience from a wide variety of leadership roles and management disciplines within IT and finance.


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