Bu Andrew Vermes, Kepner-Tregoe

The service desk is the hub of interaction between users and service provider organizations. Users contact the service desk when they need something and their business productivity is dependent on the service desk providing effective and timely assistance. In order to provide that assistance, service desk staff often rely on a network of other teams to provide them useful information and to follow up on problems to drive overall service quality – this is a part of a much broader problem-solving process. While most service desk staff have some understanding of how problem solving works, here are 5 facts about problem-solving that they may not know that can help improve your service desk performance.

1. Not all problems should be solved – There’s a tendency for technically proficient people to want to solve things; what’s important is to respond to what the users and business need. The rise of first point of contact resolution (FCR) as a metric can sometimes drive this behavior, when all the users want is to be able to complete the important task they started, which can sometimes be done more elegantly and speedily with a well chosen workaround.

Problem management and risk management share a lot in common including a strong focus on Return on Investment (ROI). Each problem that is identified as a part of the problem-solving process has a projected impact to the organization and some estimate on the likelihood and frequency of the problem happening in the future. Each problem investigation has a cost, to which we can add the cost for implementing the solution (the investment). Many Problems require investments that outweigh the potential return; these are problems that should not be solved.

2. Systems have problems when they go-live – When a service desk takes on support for a system that has either recently been released or that is being transitioned from another service desk, one can assume that the system will bring with it a set of existing problems that are already known to someone. For new systems (or recent releases), the development team likely has lists of design decisions, engineering assumptions, issues, risks and defects that were identified but not fully resolved prior to release. If the system is transitioning to the service desk from another support team or service desk function, FAQs, Troubleshooting Guides and problem management records provide lists of known problems. All of these represent potential problems that the service desk may encounter. As a part of the knowledge transfer to the service desk, service managers should capture these known problems so the information can be retained and not lost.

3. Self-service incident management does not make problems go away – There is a common practice of using self-service and automated support capabilities to enable users to resolve requests and incidents without incurring the human resource costs of service desk staff. While this may be an effective operational cost avoidance technique and save money for the service desk, self-service support does not cause the problems to go away or enable your ITSM function to make the services better for the user. On the contrary, self-service incident resolution encourages the service desk and service owners to ignore underlying service issues that ultimately lead to lower service quality and increased overall cost to the organization.

4. The service desk may be missing or corrupting data critical to solving problems – Information can be ephemeral: sometimes existing on in the memory of the user who saw what happened; or .log files and other monitored data persists for just hours or minutes, or is deleted by a reboot. Yet Restart, Reboot, Reload and try-again later are some of the most common incident resolution instructions given to users by service desk staff. While these techniques may be effective in mitigating the impact of the incident and restoring service quickly, the un-intended impact is often the destruction of environmental conditions, context data and system log information that service as essential diagnostic tools for identifying and resolving underlying problems. Before making any of these destructive recommendations, service desk staff should pause for a moment and consider whether there is any diagnostic information that could and/or should be captured first to aid the problem-solving process.

At the same time we should make some effort to capture information that will be hard or impossible to get later: the exact time the user first saw the issue, and just as important, the last time the user was able to use that function successfully.

5. Every call to the service desk is a problem for someone – Service desk calls all represent an impact to normal operations of users and business processes and therefore problems that should be captured and addressed. Whether the call is regarding an access request, instructions on how to do something, a request for change, report of a bug or alerting support staff to a system outage – the user has stopped their normal work activity to engage with the service desk. Problems are not just related to incidents, they exist anytime a user has to stop what they are doing and follow a separate process before they can resume. Mining every SD interaction for improvement opportunities is already happening as companies bring together the information from each channel (email/chat/social media/phone) together. It’s going to be even more important that mediated interactions (ones where there’s a dialogue with the user) are governed by best-in-class approaches. This will mean much faster progress toward automating what should be automated: Access requests that can be built into business onboarding processes; user interfaces made more intuitive and not require instructions; feedback and change request mechanisms embedded into systems; and better monitoring that eliminate the need for users to report when a system is broken.

The Service Desk in many organizations is an undervalued resource, used for routing and routine queries. Their role in helping to capture data that aids in diagnosis and resolution must be recognized and enriched; even understanding how the service desk adds value with each accurate piece of data can help drive increased performance.

 If you are interested in problem-solving training for your service desk, Kepner-Tregoe can help! The problem-solving experts at KT have been working with companies just like yours for over 50 years to improve their employees problem-solving skills through training, consulting and facilitation.

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