14 ways to streamline and improve your customer support

For many corporate IT service desks, budgets are under pressure while end users and customers demand both increased efficiency and a better quality of service. Thus the streamlining and improvement of the service desk, and IT support overall, should now be a crucial part of any IT organization’s service desk strategy and roadmap.

However, finding ways in which to streamline and to improve the service desk can be difficult – especially when operating with limited funding and people. Thankfully though, innovations (and not necessarily new innovations) in the way customers communicate with IT or access its services, and new support technologies can provide an easier route to tangible service desk efficiencies and customer-facing improvements.

Many service desks already know they need to “do more with less”

A recent survey by the Service Desk Institute (SDI) – a professional body for anyone working in the IT service and support industry – highlighted the range of challenges that service desks are likely to face within the next 6 to 12 months.

Among these challenges was “facing a reduced budget and workforce,” but by far the most pressing concern for those surveyed was “facing the challenge of doing more with less.” This was the primary concern for 44% of respondents, scoring highly along with “updating current processes” and “embracing new ways of working.”

Addressing these challenges through customer-focused change

Streamlining customer support (i.e. making it work more efficiently as well as easier to access and use), along with taking a more customer-centric approach, is a realistic and viable way of facing these challenges as well as improving the customer experience service desks deliver.

There are already many approaches and technologies available to help corporate service desks in this endeavor, with many having their origins in the consumer support world. However, while these approaches and technologies are well-developed, and have been available for a considerable time, they are not as widely adopted by corporate service desks as they could or should be. As to why, well that’s probably a blog in its own right.

14 ways to streamline and improve your customer support

Below I list a high-level overview of 14 service desk opportunities. Subsequent blogs will dive deeper into each area – being written in the following order, unless readers post comments about the opportunities they would like to see blogs on first.

So here are the opportunities, and yes you’ll probably already be aware of, or even using, many of them but it’s good to see them as part of a bigger-picture view on service desk improvement:

1. Shifting left. This is moving support closer to the customer. And the closer it gets the more efficient, and hopefully less costly, it becomes. The shift to the left will use a number of the other opportunities listed here, and the SDI diagram below (from a new SDI report) is a high-level representation.

Shifting left and moving closer to customers

2. Using new ways to communicate. The service desk (or what was IT help desk) started with two primary methods of access and communication – the telephone and face-to-face “walk-ups.” Over the years it has evolved, adding email and web forms in particular. In 2015, however, there are a number of additional access channels to be considered, offered, and leveraged. These include social media, live chat, and self-service portals – with each offering different levels of customer service and a different cost profile.

3. Live chat. It’s instant messaging for IT, and it’s often used in conjunction with remote support technologies. End users might already use live chat outside of work to chat with friends or to quickly get product advice and support from an informed support agent – it can be a lot quicker than waiting in a telephone queue or for an email to be responded to.

4. Remote support. It’s exactly as it sounds – using technology to remotely connect to the end user’s device to support them remotely. Offering a quicker fix or the installation of new software, at a lower cost than sending out desk side support, and hopefully with a better customer experience too.

5. Self-service. The ability for end users to log their issues and to get access to new services themselves – but this is more than just an online storefront and shopping basket. Firstly, the real efficiency benefits will come from backend workflow and automation, and insight into demand and costs. Secondly, self-service can also include announcements, knowledge bases for self-help, online communities, password self-reset, and an access point for chat.

6. Service request catalog. Your IT service management (ITSM) tool might have a native service catalog but just populating it with IT products and services, then launching it to end users will probably not be enough for adoption success. Expect a long blog offering tips on this.

7. Self-help. It’s as simple as allowing end users to help themselves. It might be how-to guides, common fixes, workarounds for known problems, and even the use of YouTube videos for those that prefer visual rather than written assistance. Be warned though, self-help done badly can cause longer resolution times and a worse customer experience, at a greater cost to the business.

8. Offering a customer-facing knowledge base. It’s the backbone of self-help, created by a variety of people: internal technology experts, service desk agent resolutions, third-parties, and maybe even end users (say for unusual workarounds for new problems).

9. Knowledge management. Effective knowledge management will not only support the customer-facing knowledge base but also service desk agents and other IT staff – as it’s impossible for service desk agents, in particular, to know everything about every corporate technology. Sadly, struggling to source the right information when needed can be a real productivity killer wherever you work. And don’t expect knowledge management to be limited to the creation and use of documented knowledge articles – sometimes the best knowledge management is just knowing who to speak to and how to contact them.

10. Empowering super users. In the 1990s these were the people who used personal productivity products, such as Microsoft Excel, more than most and who could offer advice to less-frequent users. The same principle can be applied today, this time leveraging business application super users and the power of online communities. However, as with self-help as a whole, ensure that being a super user isn’t at the expense of the end user’s day job – especially if super users get more recognition for, and adulation from, being a super user than they do in their real role.

11. Social IT. This could be a number of things supported by a variety of social technologies. Such as private online communities or internal Facebook–like walls, via the native social capabilities provided by ITSM tool providers or third-party corporate social technologies. Ultimately it’s about providing additional access channels to IT support and hopefully quicker resolutions.

12. Gamification. On the face of it, it’s about making work fun – in this case working on the service desk or contributing to knowledge bases and communities. Look deeper and you’ll see that it’s really about driving the right employee behaviors and improving team performance.

13. Integration. Your ITSM tool doesn’t have to be a data island in a sea of corporate IT systems. Nor does it have to provide everything you need for IT support and IT operations management. What it does need though is to have the ability to integrate with, and to benefit from the capabilities of, other IT and business systems.

14. Getting more out of your existing ITSM solution. Pause to think for a minute about everything you asked for in your ITSM-tool RFP, and then everything you bought when you invested in that shiny, new service desk or ITSM solution. There must be so many capabilities that you’ve still to benefit from. Ask yourself why – is it not understanding what’s available, a lack of training, a lack of resources (financial or people), or that the capabilities while suitable on paper are just too hard to use in anger? With the first three you can look to better your service desk’s efficiency, effectiveness, and customer experience through a potentially minimal investment.

All bar points 4, 6, and 12 are explained in more detail in a new SDI Report called “11 Ways To Effectively Streamline Your Customer Support” which can be download from here. The SDI report also offers advice on three other improvement opportunities:

1. The principle of call avoidance

2. Lean principles

3. Automation

So please check it out to see how you could be improving your customer support. Also please look out for future blogs in this series.


This blog was originally posted on the Freshservice ITSM and customer service blog site.


What do companies really want from ITSM?

Over four years ago I posted a question on Quora – a question-and-answer website founded by two former Facebook employees at the height of the social media technology boom. It’s a site that I no longer visit (you might understand why when you get to the third section below), but I still get the odd email update to remind me that it still exists.

The question? Something as simple as:

“What do enterprises really want from IT service management (ITSM)?”

Well I say that it’s a simple question, in reality it’s a pretty difficult question to answer, or at least to get a consistent answer on. I provide exhibits A, B, and C below.

A. Sensible answers

The “sensible” answers ranged from the IT benefits of ITSM:

  • “Ensure the required level of availability and continuity of services” and other technical facets of improving IT service delivery
  • “Lower help desk costs through self-service” and other cost saving points
  • “Higher quality of service, faster response time, less downtime (real or perceived), open lines of communication to end users – all at lower overall cost to IT”
  • “It’s not enterprises who want ITSM; it’s the IT departments who have a need for ITSM to be able to perform their jobs in an increasingly complex technological environment”

To a laser focus on business-outcomes:

  • “To support the objectives of the business”
  • “ITSM provides a way for the business to better interact with customers, helps the business run better, and increases profitability”

Plus the two that I dive deeper into below.

B. Not-so-helpful answers

And then, as with any public arena available to people to write or cut-and-paste information, there were the regurgitated strings of management buzzwords that are often unintelligible on the first, second, and even third reading.

I know it’s wrong to point at things that were offered up by way of helping others, but do statements like this really help anyone:

  • “Enterprises really want that ITSM to deliver the services and values with respect to hardware, software, suppliers and processes so as to drive the business performance” and “ITSM offers an innovative platform that is cloud-based and highly flexible for mobile with an intuitive, beautiful, people-centric user experience that makes your whole organization more productive”
  • “ITSM is really a process-based exercise intended to line up the delivery into technologies services (IT services) along with needs from the business, emphasizing advantages to clients”
  • “Enterprises want out-of-the-box solutions to be taken during the process break down, based on ITIL approach”?

I personally think not.

C. The more “considered” responses

There were thankfully answers that make you pause to think for a moment. There were more than two, but I really like the following pair.

David Moskowitz, an IT consultant and mentor, offered up an interesting retort to other posts:

“I don’t think most (IT) organizations really know or understand what ITSM is or represents. If they did, the focus would be on customer outcomes and value, not anything measured or reported in technical-related language.”

David continued to add a layer of detail as follows:

  • “So the IT folks talk about availability and the business-side doesn’t care; the business side is interested in productivity and business process
  • IT folks talk about service desk costs, or incident response times, or problem analysis and the business doesn’t care. The business is interested in the impact IT has on productivity
  • IT (if it was really ITSM-focused) would be able to quantify the value IT provides to the business. How many IT organizations can actually do that?
  • What the business wants is for IT to support seamless interaction with customers, make it easier to get work done, provide a competitive differentiator, support business outcomes, and provide more business value. I don’t think most IT folks really grok that idea”

Later Charles T. Betz, an IT architect, strategist and advisor, offered up:

“I can define IT in terms of the history of computing (Babbage, Lovelace, Turing, et al), but I find it difficult to distinguish between IT Management and ITSM. With that said, in general, enterprises need two things from IT:

  • They need IT to qualify them to compete (or operate) in information-rich environments.
  • They need IT to elevate their performance above competitors’ (or other relevant benchmarks), to the extent that enterprise performance is based on excellence in managing information.

It’s an interesting point from Charles. A point that makes one think that we might be doing ITSM a disservice by differentiating it from IT-provision and management as a whole. I bet some of you were suddenly reminded of the “IT silo” mentality that we speak of much too often.

“It depends on who is asking the question”

This was said, or referred to, a few times, but does it really depend? Do we need to dumb down an answer or to answer in the context of IT versus a business context?

I personally think not, in terms of dumbing ITSM down – to quote Albert Einstein:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

And having a different answer for an IT versus a business audience? The fact that we would try to do this is probably why we have so many different answers related to, and most-likely confusion over, what ITSM really means to enterprises.

Surely we just need something simple and applicable to all audiences? I’m not going to spend hours perfecting a definition but I’m happy to throw out the line that ITSM is:

“Improving business performance through better IT delivery”

Which I’d like to think also answers the question: “What do enterprises really want from IT service management (ITSM)?” And yes, I could have added in words and phrases such as value, business outcomes, IT services, customer-centricity, lower costs, IT services and service management, and fit-for-purpose technology – but does either a business or IT audience really need to know this in a high-level explanation? I would personally argue not.

So what do you think?

This was originally posted on the Freshservice ITSM and customer service blog site.

Index for my ServiceNow ITSM Blogs

Improving IT Operations 

The Future of IT, ITSM, Service Desk, and ITIL

Thinking Differently And The Need For IT Change

Enterprise Service Management

 Custom Apps


Social Media

My Forrester Blog Index – The End Of A Blog Roll

As I have posted my last blog to my Forrester blogroll I thought I would update my index of last August …

To view the blogs in chronoloical order please go to: http://blogs.forrester.com/blog/28357


Practical ITSM Advice: Defining Availability For An IT Service

People In IT Love Stats But They Probably Won’t Love These

The Capita ITIL JV Wasn’t “Big News,” So What IS Important To Real-World IT Service Delivery?

So Capita Gets ITIL But Will People Finally “Get” ITIL?

ITSM Goodness: How To Up Your IT Service Management Game In 7 Steps

ITSM And The itSMF In Norway – Different In So Many Ways?

IT Service Management In 2013 – How Far Have We Come Since 2009?

Man Alive, It’s COBIT 5: How Are You Governing And Managing Enterprise IT?

The Cult Of ITIL: It Has More Followers Than You Think

ITSM, ITIL, And Enabling Tools In The Middle East

It’s Time To Realize That “ITIL Is Not The Only Fruit”

ITIL Adoption: 5 Steps That Can Help With Success

“We Need To Talk About ITIL”

ITIL Global Adoption Rates, Well At Least A Good Indication Of Where It Is At

ITIL: What Constitutes Success?

Top 20 (OK, 50) ITIL Adoption Mistakes

The Applicability Of ITIL Outside Of IT

What Next For ITIL?

2011: An ITIL Versioning Odyssey

Getting Started With ITIL – The 30-Minute Version

ITSM – Tools and Vendors

ITSM Tools: Is What You Pay Linked To Value?

The Importance Of Customer “Choice” In ITSM Tool Selection – “Hybrid ITSM”?

12 Tips For Moving From An On-Premises To SaaS ITSM Tool (From A Customer)

The Forrester SaaS ITSM Tool Market Overview: Who Is Where With What

Automation: Is It The Only Way For IT To Really “Do More With Less”?

“BMC You Later” — BMC Pushes The ITSM Tool Envelope With MyIT

More ITSM Tool Bells And Whistles, And Where The Real Focus Of Vendor Attention Should Be

50 Shards Of ITIL – The Bane And Pain Of ITSM Tool Selection

SaaS for ITSM: Getting Past The Hype

ITSM Tool Verification: A Good Or Bad Thing?

ServiceNow Finally Goes Public: Which Way Now?

BMC To Acquire Numara Software: A Few Thoughts From Your Favorite ITSM Analyst

Why Is Buying An ITSM Tool Like Buying A Car?

How Do You Value ITSM Tool Verification Or Certification Schemes?

ServiceNow Knowledge11: ITSM And Social Learning For Us All

Newsflash For The ITSM Community: “SaaS” Is A Red Herring

Sharing The ITSM And ITAM Goodness Of CA World: 20+ Presentations To Download

Are You Happy With Your ITSM Tool?

ITSM – People

Squeezing The Value Out Of ITIL, Or Any Other IT, Training

How Gremlins And Vanilla Ice Can Help Us Deliver Better IT Services

How Not To Make Friends And Influence People: A Personal Story Of Customer Experience At Its Worst . . . And What IT Can Learn

Staffing For IT Service Delivery Success: Think Employee, Think Customer, Then Repeat

Prepare Your People For The Future Of IT Service Delivery

A Killer Disease? IT’s Unhealthy Obsession With Itself

ITSM And ITIL Thinking – Brawn, Brains, Or Heart?

The ABC Of ICT – The Top 10 People Success Factors For ITSM

The ABC Of ICT – The Top 10 People Issues

ITSM – Service Catalog Getting A Service Catalog: So Much More Than Buying A Tool!

ITSM – Strategy & Futures (Cloud, BYOD, Mobility, Social, Automation)

IT? How about I&T?

ITSM in 2013 and Beyond: The Webinar Link And Audience Poll Results

The Top 10 IT Service Management Challenges For 2013 — But What Did You Achieve In 2012?

What’s Your ITSM Strategy (If You Actually Have One)?

ITSM In 2012: In The Words Of Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?”

ITSM AND Automation: Now That’s A Double Whammy Of Business-Enabling Goodness

Defining IT Service Management – Or Is That “Service Management”?

Enabling Customer Mobility: Why Current Mobile Device Management Thinking Is Flawed 

Social IT Support: Didn’t We Do This In The 1990s?

Are You Sleepwalking Through Twitter?

My 2011 Blog Of Blogs: Hopefully The “Important” ITSM, ITIL, People, ITAM, SAM, ITFM, Etc. Stuff

Top 10 ITSM Challenges For 2012: More Emphasis On The “Service” And The “Management”

Have You Considered BI for ITSM?

Social? Cloud? What About Mobile?

ITSM – Service Desk

Is Your IT Service Desk Customer Experience Up To Scratch?

What’s The Real Cost Of Poor IT Support And Shoddy Customer Service?

12 Pieces Of Advice For IT Service Desks – From A Customer!

Paging The IT Organization: You Need To Support The People Not The Technology

IT Support: IT Failure Impacts Business People and Business Performance. Comprendez?

How Not To Deal With IT Service Failure

What’s The Problem With Problem Management?

Benchmarking The IT Service Desk – Where Do You Stand?

Where Is All The Incident Classification Best Practice?

ITSM – Metrics

IT Service Management Benchmarks – For You By You

Is Customer Experience Important To Internal IT Organizations? With Free Statistics!

“We Do A Great Job In IT, Our Metrics Dashboard Is A Sea Of Green.” Really?

Where IT Metrics Go Wrong: 13 Issues To Avoid

Why Is IT Operations Like Pizza Delivery?

ITSM Metrics: Advice And 10 Top Tips


Giving Back To The ITSM Community: We Move, If Slowly, But With Purpose

From The Coal Face: Real World ITSM And ITIL Adoption Sound Bites

ITSM Practitioner Health Check: The ITSM Community Strikes Back

Giving Back To The IT Service Management Community

Support ITSM Tool Vendors That Support The ITSM Community


Software Asset Management in 2013: State Of SAM Survey Results

The Rise, Fall, And Rise Of Software Asset Management: It’s More Than Just A “Good Thing To Do”

Cover Your Assets; Use IT Asset Life-Cycle Management To Control IT Costs

Software Asset Management Part Deux – “Try Harder”


Warning: Your Journey To “Demonstrating IT-Delivered Value” Passes Through The Quaint Little Town Of “Understanding IT Costs”

Five Steps To Improve Your IT Financial Management Maturity

“Run IT As A Business?” Do You Really Know What This Means?

IT Value, Like Beauty, Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

DevOps Will It Be “DevOps” Or “DevOid” For I&O Professionals?

Supplier Management

5 Tips For Getting Ready For Service Integration

A Late New Year’s Resolution: Be Nice To A Supplier And See What Happens