Service Desk: Build an Outstanding Customer Interface

As we mentioned in our overview, the Service Desk is the primary daily interface with IT customer. It is the front door into IT; however, the customer usually only comes knocking when something is already wrong. This means that from the outset, the service desk is often dealing with a customer who is frustrated and already having a sub-optimal experience of IT. How the service desk responds will largely determine not just the perception of the service desk but of IT as a whole. Turning the issue into a positive experience of IT can be done consistently and highly effectively if you have designed your support processes correctly and your agents are operating with the right attitude and with the right customer service framework.

Business is complex, IT is complex and the interface between the two (here, the service desk) is by definition also complex. Delivering great customer service however doesn’t have to be. We can distill the core requirements of your customer down to a small number of key behaviours that can be designed in to your services. Of course there is ‘the perfect world’ and some callers will expect this, however most people will have a set of reasonable expectations that are in line with decent ‘customer service’ transaction that they undertake. Their experience of call centers is likely to have been shaped by their dealings with retailers, utility companies (thank goodness) and airlines or holiday companies. Thus their consumer experience drives their expectations of the service desk much as consumer technology is doing the same for other parts of corporate IT.

With this in mind, a service that is constructed with basic ‘good manners’ goes a long way to consistently delivering the fundamentals of great customer service. Just as we expect individuals to demonstrate good manners, we can expect the same of the services that we design. These good manners include the following characteristics:

  • Be Available – Be there to service customers at the point of demand, through an appropriate channel, within an acceptable timeframe and when they need your help
  • Be Capable – Ensure the customer has their need satisfied within an acceptable period of time (ideally but not necessarily within a single transaction at first contact).
  • Be Responsible – Take ownership and don’t expect the customer to navigate the IT organisation, do it on their behalf. Be the customer advocate and hold the rest of the IT organisation to account to deliver the customer promise.
  • Be Truthful – Set expectations and keep your promises. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Always deliver what you have promised (i.e. engineer arrival times, status updates and call backs etc…).
  • Be Proactive – Push relevant information out, don’t expect customers to have to come and get it. Ensure the right links are in place with Operations / Engineering so that the Service Desk has the right information to manage the customer expectation.
  • Be Respectful – Train your staff to put the customer at ease and empathise with them. Develop and train good questioning techniques and good listening skills. The customer should feel that they have sought ‘service’ and not ‘help’ (customers can feel patronised if they have had to seek help)
  • Be Respected – Train your staff to manage difficult calls and callers in high pressure situations. Have the procedures in place to escalate calls up your leadership structure quickly and efficiently. Staff will be more confident dealing with difficult calls when they know they are supported by their leadership. Always follow through on any abusive behaviour towards your staff, it is never acceptable and your team will appreciate it more than anything else that you can do for them. Remember your customers are also responsible citizens within the company community.
  • Be Prepared – Have customers details pre-populated; don’t make them repeat basic information each time they call. Look at their recent call history and not just what they are telling you today. Is there a bigger picture – what is their overall relationship likely to be at the moment with IT? Can the agent positively influence that relationship? Have as much knowledge as possible at the agent’s fingertips so they can solve issues the first time.
  • Be Focused – Understand the customers business and the pressures that they may be under due to IT issues. Focus on getting them working again (i.e. work the business requirements and not just the IT) and then go fix the background issues.
  • Be Flexible – Be responsive and flexible when impact or urgency requires it. Take individual circumstances into account and do the right thing by the customer, build effective ‘Service Exception’ processes (i.e. above and beyond any SLA that may be in place) so that your supply chain can respond when you need them to.

In essence, the service desk customer wants their issue resolved / requirement fulfilled in a timely manner and without exhaustive effort on their behalf. If this isn’t immediate, they require accurate information to plan their contingency and confidence that clear ownership will now drive fulfilment. They require confidence that promises will be kept and any significant changes communicated proactively. The customer expects a professional ‘customer service experience’ in line with or better than those they experience in their dealings with commercial suppliers. They expect to be treated courteously, professionally and for their individual requirements to be recognised, with respect, flexibility and responsiveness.

By executing on the foundational elements and techniques we mapped out in the previous post, you will be able to set this customer charter as a goal for nearly every call and be able to achieve it.

A Service Desk that is designed with ‘good manners’, executed by people with an understanding of and belief in those good manners will have laid solid foundations to consistently deliver exceptional customer service.

Best, Steve Wignall

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