Informal Contact: Changing the Culture of Service Desk Support Walk-ups

A user taps the shoulder of a help desk agent working at his desk

Transforming corporate culture and how end users engage help desk support doesn’t just happen overnight. No matter how vested an IT Director or CIO may be in the success of a new service desk outsourcing solution, breaking old habits can appear an insurmountable challenge. Especially when employees are used to all levels of support being delivered by technical colleagues who work in close proximity, reporting a Level 1 incident or service request to a remote, Single Point of Contact call center may seem counterintuitive. After all, if tapping an in-house technician on the shoulder got their attention and an immediate resolution was achieved, why change that? While admittedly nothing beats face-to-face communication when it comes to conveying a clear message, there are some unintended drawbacks of doing things the informal way.

Playing Favorites

Understandably, once you’ve received exceptional service and timely resolution of a technical issue from a particular agent the tendency is to ask for that individual by name. After all, IT is a people industry. Rapport happens. If Randy is the guy who’s resolved multiple complex incidents for you and his small talk and empathy always puts you at ease, establishing a direct line of communication to him is the natural human course of action. But if Randy’s getting a legion of fans lined up at his desk while he’s in the middle of setting up the CIO’s Wi-Fi or fielding direct emails while on the phone with another end user, prioritization (i.e. incident urgency and impact) and focus may suffer.

Undocumented Work

Additionally, whenever an agent is operating in interrupt mode outside the standard channels of communication, there is an increased risk of that work going undocumented. Not only does that circumvent the reporting and analytics portion of the service desk solution, but if the agent developed new troubleshooting procedures for a unique incident, the opportunity to add it to the knowledgebase and share the information with the rest of the agents is lost. What’s more, if the incident recurs later on, remember what prior steps had already been taken may be a challenge and lead to duplication of effort. From a management standpoint, not “saving their work” decreases agent utilization rates and leads to perceptions of low productivity and poor performance. And, if the ITSM platform automatically sends satisfaction surveys to the end users upon resolution, the opportunity for them to provide such valuable feedback about the agent performance is negated.

Underutilized Service Desk

Most clients have their own Level 2 desktop support and Level 3 infrastructure support staff on site which is the perfect complement to the remote Level 1 service desk solution. With service desk support agents as the first point of contact, creating the ticket at their own desk, and resolving everything remotely, only those incidents requiring additional access or an onsite presence are escalated after they’ve been thoroughly triaged and detailed in the ticket notes. So Level 1 filters out the access and connectivity issues, network drive mapping, and basic antivirus troubleshooting support types, ensuring the onsite staff only have to address the more complex and time-consuming incidents that cater to their skill sets, more strategic initiatives, and maybe even their career aspirations. But if those on-site personnel are habitually being grabbed on the way to their desks to perform password resets, in effect preempting support from the remote helpdesk team, this will undermine not only the solution but also best practice recommendations.

Is that so bad? What if you can do without the service desk and keep all IT functions with the in-house team? Certainly, if you’ve got your own Level 1 agents available 24 x 7, your own ITSM platform, industry best practices, and the network infrastructure to support it in place, there is no reason to outsource. This is good news for any client asking those questions during the help desk outsourcing evaluation process, but for those addressing them post-implementation, the question becomes whether or not they want to pay for something they’re not using and compound those internal costs with on-site staff assuming the role of de facto service desk.


Assuming an organization has fully adopted a service desk outsourcing model, what’s the best approach for encouraging utilization and discouraging informal contacts like walkups or direct to technician communication outside the service desk queue? For starters, the ideal implementation strategy includes an educational campaign for the end users, using internal messaging, and perhaps even involvement by service desk provider’s management team in a series of face-to-face meetings where employees can interact directly with the service desk and discuss the process. However, how support requests are initiated should not be left open to interpretation. Essentially, clients are encouraged to proactively promote the new service desk in advance of the scheduled “go live” date incorporating the following five steps:

  1. Issue an announcement either via email or newsletter that the new service desk will be operational and taking contacts on the specified date. Publish 800 number, service desk email address, etc. (not individual agent contact info).
  2. Whether the service desk staff are remote or located on site, insist that all support be initiated through those established media channels and that the agent creates a ticket within the selected ITSM platform or direct the end user to their self-service portal.
  3. Set end user expectations. Define Level 1, 2, and 3 capabilities. For example, a service desk Level 1 agent cannot resolve a server outage, pending procurement requests, or replace hard drives.
  4. Reinforce “One IT” message, encouraging collaboration, communication, and integration between service desk personnel (private labeled/seamless) and your internal IT groups.
  5. Publish metrics and/or customer survey comments. Spotlight accomplishments and improvements: (increased availability of a live agent, higher customer satisfaction scores, more proactive issue resolution, tips and tricks).

Simply put a Level 1 service desk outsourcing solution is designed to complement, not compete with on-site Level 2 or 3 functions. Creating a culture steeped in this understanding will always be the primary determining factor in getting employees to engage that first level of support in the efficient and documented fashion as intended. Once end users are comfortable with a single resource staffed with friendly IT professionals handling all of their initial contacts, those old walkup habits become much easier to break.