How well does your service desk communicate?

 SDI metrics and measurement

I delivered a presentation on Metrics and measurement at the Service Desk Institute conference in the UK, this week. This event saw many hundreds of service desk professionals gather in a large hotel in Birmingham to learn about, and share experiences of, all aspects of running a service desk. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event.

In my session I talked about the best way to approach setting metrics for a service desk. I shared lots of examples of CSFs and KPIs that have worked for some of my customers in the past. I have written about some of these in previous blogs, so I won’t repeat myself now; but here are some links if you want to follow up on this topic.

I was lucky enough to have a very enthusiastic audience, resulting in lots of discussion about various aspects of service desk metrics. After we finished, I found the parallel discussion on Twitter. I thought this was fascinating, so although it makes for a slightly longer blog than usual, I’m sharing a selection of the tweets, to give you a feel for the content…

Don't confuse critical success factors with KPIsUse KEY PERFORMANCE indicators! Not EPIs (everything performance indicators)If your customers phone and ask what's happening, you've already failedIf you're using email to sned updates and customer isn't using email...There are 2 parts to meeting expectations. Setting them, and meeting themA good dashboard shows what the customer cares about when they want to see itDo you know if your customers read the reports you produce?Our reports didn't run for 2 days and no one noticedNever use a report to prove service quality. Customer already knows that.Every report should lead to actionsDon't close a ticket to meet a metric. Close a ticket when user agrees.Your metrics are not your goalsTargets drive behaviours

There were two specific topics that generated particularly lively interactions during my presentation. To my surprise, both of them were more about how well the service desk communicates with end users, than about metrics.

Setting expectations

The first lively debate was based on a KPI, that one of my customers uses:

“Less than 3% of calls to service desk is users asking for status updates”

I explained that this organization expects the service desk to proactively provide users with updates, and that if a user phones the service desk to ask for an update then this indicates poor communication by the service desk. A few people objected, explaining that users often just don’t read emails they’ve been sent, and that this is not the fault of the service desk agent. I found this objection very surprising. It felt to me like saying “We communicated, but they didn’t listen”. Readers who are familiar with the communication principles described in ITIL Practitioner guidance will recognise that this sentiment breaches a very important principle: “Communication is a two-way process”. If we know users aren’t reading the emails we send them then what we need to do is to find out why. Maybe we need to find a better way to communicate in future. Perhaps we could find some way to improve the emails we send, or find a different communication channel, or even some way to reward users for reading our emails. In any event I think the KPI itself is probably quite a good way to find out if a service desk is effectively communicating with its users.

Closing incidents

The second lively debate was about what happens when a service desk agent thinks that an issue has been resolved, but the user doesn’t respond to their request to confirm this. Many organizations have a process which automatically closes incidents after a fixed time, or a fixed number of attempts to contact the user, even though there is no evidence that the user is satisfied with the resolution. People in my session explained that “it’s not fair to keep calls open just because the user doesn’t respond” and “it’s demotivating to have lots of open calls”. I think this is another example of poor communication between the service desk and their users. I know that there isn’t an easy solution, but I also know that if I went on holiday, or off sick for a few days, or I was working on a site where use of phones and the internet is not allowed, then I would be very upset to discover that my incident had been closed without my knowledge. I once surveyed a selection of users at a large organization and found that many of them had experienced this, and that it was a significant source of dissatisfaction.

How well do you communicate with your users?

These discussions led me to think about communication between a service desk and its users. How does a good service desk communicate effectively? And what can a service desk do when it knows it needs to get better at communicating?

One part of the solution may be to simplify the emails that we send to customers, so that the information they really need is clear and easy to understand, and there is not too much extraneous content.

I think that another part of the solution must be to encourage users to use a service portal. This should provide access to high quality updates about incidents whenever users look for them. To achieve this, you need three things. Obviously, you need a great tool, that is easy for both users and IT personnel to use. You need a great process. This must ensure that every significant status change is described in terms that are easy for the user to understand, that content actually relevant to the user’s concerns isn’t hidden in a mass of detail they won’t want to read. You also need great people who understand the importance of regularly and reliably updating the status of the incidents they are working on.

What ideas do you have for improving communication with your users? Maybe you could start by asking some of your users what kind of communication they like and redesigning how you communicate with them based on their needs and preferences.

Remember “Communication is a two-way process”.


Title photo credit: @SDIScarlett

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