Outage Notification Strategies at the Service Desk

A man wearing a headset is holding his head and looking frustrated

Any CIO will tell you, nothing can damage the reputation of IT more than an infrastructure related outage. In addition to causing companywide interruption to systems and applications and grinding IT users’ workloads to a halt, those first few moments of confusion can lead to a flood of calls to the helpdesk. Depending on whether support is delivered by a shared or dedicated agent model, the impacts may vary. Although a shared agent model can easily scale up to address the spike in contacts, if you’re paying a help desk outsourcing vendor per incident, it’s in your best interest to minimize those incidents being assessed by the Level 1 agents especially when it’s your internal infrastructure team that has the access to resolve the Level 3 issue. Likewise, with a dedicated staff, calls flooding the lines and overwhelming a finite number of agents means other resolvable incidents may be put on hold for longer than necessary. This can lead to an increased abandon rate and the overall reputation of IT plunging still downward. Either way, a contact avoidance strategy for internal outages is in order.

While scheduled system maintenance can easily be planned for and conducted during low contact volume periods, what about those unplanned outages? In these instances, having a swift and high redundancy outage notification process is the best response to the unexpected. For this reason, clients want to be secure in the knowledge that the service desk will be ever vigilant and respond immediately when aware of an outage. Notifications help to minimize costs associated with end-user downtime and with the service desk, whether internal or external, that supports those individuals. Following are some methods used by service desk outsourcing vendors to alert your infrastructure team that it’s time to get busy on a server-side resolution.

Follow Escalation ProceduresThe primary goal of any escalation process is to notify and receive acknowledgment by the person responsible for resolving the outage or companywide interruption in service going forward. So if it’s a clearly documented list of steps and contact numbers including workflow contingencies, there should be no excuse for not seeing it through to completion. Understandably, calling the designated client management team at 3:00 am can be an intimidating proposition for a Level 1 support agent. What if it turns out the impact and urgency are not as dire as originally understood? When pressed on the “to call or not to call” debate, most any on-call manager will tell you it’s better to be woken up from a deep slumber by the service desk than to learn about an outage from an irate COO or CIO the following morning.

Perform Problem Management. As the eyes and ears of the end user experience, the service desk typically assists in identifying common or recurring problems then creates new problem records as well as workaround steps when available. The service desk can also conduct root cause analysis in collaboration with client management in order to prevent future occurrences. But the first order of business with outage notifications is for the agent to link individual incidents in the ticketing system with known problems, escalate them to the proper groups if necessary, and in the process ensure accurate tracking and metrics for that root cause analysis.

Stock up on Prerecorded IVRs. Even if you have hundreds of proprietary applications and systems and a plethora of data centers serving just as many geographic locations, creating all conceivable failover IVRs in advance will ensure a rapid response. That way the team lead or service desk manager assigned to your account can post them to the ACD at a moment’s notice, preventing superfluous contacts and minimizing costs associated with agents relaying live status updates to your end users.

Use all Media Channels. With today’s technology offering so many forms of communication, why not incorporate them all in your escalation arsenal? Though IT users are increasingly plugged into their mobile devices after hours and on weekends, not everyone’s going to check their email every three minutes if they’re interested in maintaining any semblance of a personal life. So if phone or text contacts are the buzz in your organization (if not the ringtone) that gets your immediate attention, why not make those the preferred notification media?

Leverage Scrolling Alerts. If your ITSM platform has an end user portal that enables them to initiate support requests for incidents, posting scrolling alerts at the top of the screen is also an excellent way to notify them of known issues whose pending resolution is already in progress. So if they’re logging in for self-help, FAQs, or to report an incident, they’ll be immediately aware of the companywide issue before engaging the service desk or infrastructure team currently troubleshooting the network related problem.

Introduce AutomationIn instances where the agent cannot receive live confirmation of the escalation handoff, create an automated workflow in your ITSM platform that prompts the agent to follow up at short, regular intervals. That way if the agent becomes immersed in the next inbound contact, the next step in the process will not go overlooked. A notification can be triggered for escalation tickets that could email a client representative directly or simply be directed to the ACD for any agent supporting that client to see and follow-up on the escalation if the original agent working the ticket becomes unavailable.  Multiple on-call staff, in this situation, would all be eligible to receive the notification as an inbound call via the ACD provided they have the right skills to support the client in question and are available.

As the first point of contact for all issues impacting your IT users, it’s up to the service desk to initiate communication with the client’s network support team. While outages may be unavoidable, what matters most is how all IT groups respond, report, and resolve the issue going forward. When it comes to the operational health of your IT organization, the motto fits any get well card wishing you a speedy recovery.