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Self-Help, Not Hindrance
How to keep it from becoming one.
For the rest of the January 2007 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Few things can slow down a support center like the daily flood of routine technical issues. Password resets, frequently asked questions, and rudimentary questions lead to lost hours of productivity and significant losses for an organization, as well as user frustration. Here, how to immediately increase efficiency and user satisfaction by applying IT service management self-help technologies wisely. IT helpdesks often look for ways to improve problem resolution metrics and customer service. While self-help technologies are on the rise, they're often not a silver bullet, one-stop answer to improving the helpdesk. If implemented properly, however, self-help tools, combined with other people and processes, can smooth out and improve the helpdesk workflow while improving overall service levels. Simply stated, self-help technologies are tools that allow users to initiate action when a helpdesk call is deemed necessary. Instead of calling, waiting for help, and then explaining the problem to one or more agents, the user can start trouble tickets and alert agents to problems independently. This process may even reduce costs by directing simple questions to an automated system. Self-service tools allow agents more free time to handle unique issues or resolve a problem that has already been identified. Investment in self-help tools is still seen primarily--if misguidedly--as a means of improving internal efficiencies rather than as a way to also improve customer service. For example, directing simple questions to an automated self-help system reduces costs by off-loading the support burden onto the customer. That is an intelligent and proper use of self-help technologies. Where they become ineffective is when they are used to off-load the majority of helpdesk issues onto the customer, regardless of complexity. Self-help technologies must be carefully targeted and thoughtfully implemented to improve customer service by providing an additional communications channel and/or extending the helpdesk's hours of operation. Remember that the mission of the helpdesk is to provide assistance, not reduce the number of calls it receives. Self-help technologies address two critical business drivers: the desire for simplicity and drive for best practices in IT. Such technologies empower customers to find answers and/or log their own service issues around the clock. Tools like knowledge management software, blogs, and wikis can help make this happen. These methods allow customers with Web access to search for answers whenever and from wherever issues arise, rather than using a telephone any time they need assistance. The helpdesk team instead is able to focus on resolution of larger and more complex issues that users can't solve on their own, which reduces service and helpdesk costs. At the same time, users can often find answers to simple questions faster on their own than they can waiting in queue for a helpdesk agent to become available.
The largest volume of requests across the helpdesk suited to self-help resolution can be categorized as how-to questions, followed by status checks on previously raised issues. Self-service applications allow callers to submit a new service issue or check the status of an issue or inquiry without adding to incoming call volume. By handling how-to and status questions in this way, up to 40 percent of calls can be successfully resolved without tying up an agent. For example, a power outage may cause several residents in one neighborhood to call their local energy company to notify it of the outage. Dozens of residents calling one helpdesk to report the same problem ties up agents and other lines, making them unavailable for other issues. Self-help tools allow helpdesk agents to set up a notification that lets callers identify their problem and start a trouble ticket without tying up an agent. For instance, once the helpdesk discovers the power outage, callers are told to "Dial '1' if you're calling about the power outage in San Francisco." Agents can then focus on restoring power and answering calls not related to outage. Callers may then receive email notification that their problem has been identified and is being worked on. The level of user acceptance of self-help depends on how it is implemented. If it is used intelligently, launched appropriately, and the user experience is positive, then acceptance will be high. If, however, it is seen as a burden, or the level of user involvement is beyond the user's abilities (e.g., technical expertise is required by nontechnical people), the opposite will be true. To achieve success, as with many IT installations, the technology itself will only extend so far. These tools require people and process issues to be addressed at the same time. The customer must be kept front-of-mind throughout implementation. The key to self-help implementation is to ensure that the technology employed is flexible, scaleable, easy to deploy, and can be adapted across the business. Helpdesks change rapidly to keep up with business requirements, so it's important to stay on top of evolving technology. This where tools like configuration management and change management can help. In addition, providing real-time data capture and reporting capability enables better quality decision-making on the basis of comprehensive, real-time information. In today's business world, customer service is the job of everyone in the organization. While cost reduction is generally a good thing, cost reduction at the expense of customer satisfaction is not. Delivering helpdesk self-service that truly helps rather than hinders users reflects positively on the organization, and helps keep both internal and external customers happy. About the Author Jim Blayney is ITSM product director for FrontRange Solutions. Please visit www.frontrange.com.
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