Better metrics needed to put the help back into help-desks
Organisations are judging the effectiveness of their help or service desks on the wrong criteria - prioritising cost reduction over service and thereby negating the point of having a help-desk, which is to help people (agents) help other people (customers).
So says FrontRange Solutions (SA) managing director, Tracey Newman. "An exclusive focus on costs is reductionist in most circumstances, but particularly so in the context of a help-desk.
"A help-desk is the public face of an organisation. So loss of help-desk credibility can negatively affect perceptions about the organisation - and result in tighter help-desk budgets and longer approval cycles as management loses faith in help-desk effectiveness."
Help-desks have been steadily losing credibility, as a March 2005 Forrester survey focused on information technology (IT) help-desks shows.
While 2 138 technology users at US companies were generally satisfied with their company`s IT technologies - such as desktops and business applications - just 53% were satisfied with their help-desk support.
Courtesy of staff was not an issue but areas like time to resolve requests, timeliness of status updates, and help-desk expertise needed improvement.
These findings are mirrored in disciplines other than IT. For instance, the Kano survey, a tool used for capturing the voice of the customer (VOC) in order to provide critical information on products, services and levels of satisfaction from the customer`s perspective, when combined with Quality Function Deployment (QFD), enables organisations to understand the relationship between services and customer satisfaction.
The Kano model was used to measure the effectiveness of a non-IT help-desk against service level agreements established by the help-desk administrators. A turnaround time (TAT) metric was adopted for gauging internal customer satisfaction with the help-desk. However, in spite of highly favourable TAT results, various qualitative comments captured in customer surveys indicated dissatisfaction.
"The Forrester and Kano results are not surprising when you look at the aims and objectives of most help-desks - as expressed in their charters." Newman says. "They prioritise cost and operations, not people. And the lack of a people focus doesn`t end with ignoring the customer. Most help-desk management systems ignore the help-desk agents themselves."
Forrester says: "It is far easier for most managers to justify cancelling or deferring a training session that removes one or more of the staff from the call queue than it is to face potential short-term service issues."
Newman believes the way back to the original purpose of help-desks is through metrics that help organisations balance the cost and human elements. "Data collection is the first step to a systematic improvement process. With good data, you can identify trends, recognise star performers and intercept future problems. Without good data, an educated guess is the best that is possible.
"But, `good data` doesn`t mean purely operational metrics, such as first call resolution rates and number of phone calls taken. You also need to track the impact of your operations on employees with, for instance, number of incidents per employee and average minutes of downtime per employee.
"To do that you need an intelligent, purpose-built, off-the-shelf service management solution."
According to Forrester, 17% of organisations are using home-grown problem management solutions. "Moving to commercial software provides many benefits, including the ability to exploit industry best practices. Home-built applications likely just enshrine current practices, rather than best practices. Additionally, virtually all commercially available service desk offerings are either pre-configured or compliant with practice frameworks, such as ITIL."
Newman adds: "You also benefit from leveraged development and - on the integration front - off-the-shelf solutions can simply drop right into your environment."