Top 5 Communication Methods at the Service Desk

One young boy speaking into a cup attached to yarn and another boy listening at the other end in a cup

Talk is cheap because what goes without saying from the service desk can be much more costly.  In an ITIL v3 age where Knowledge Management is power, crucial information absolutely must be disseminated at full blast, not conserved to a trickle. Interaction from agent to end user, supervisor to agent, supervisor to client management and all points in between should regularly underscore the theme of leveraging the people, processes, and technology to make our work days go more smoothly and efficiently. In the context of aligning expectations, adapting new solutions, or relaying procedures for incident resolutions, there is nothing golden about silence. Here are five ways an effective service desk talks it like it walks it:

1. Accentuate the Positives in Being Human

In a people business, the human element can be a service desk’s downfall as well as its salvation.  There’s a reason why SLAs are not contracted at 100% across the board. Even rock star agents have been known to make a mistake or two over the life of a contract. To minimize the potential for human error, the service desk can leverage automation tools such as auto-routing of workflows to ensure proper task assignment and auto-generated Work In Progress (WIP) reports notifying management of open tickets. Also, emerging artificial intelligence capabilities can eventually recognize and diagnose problems via voice calls, but one thing these tools cannot emulate is empathy. Assuming the agents aren’t prone to robotic, monotone tech-speech, and they acknowledge the emotional aspects of the end user’s dilemma, those callers will always opt for a real person. Thankfully, it’s the human interaction, meaning the personality, energy, and professionalism that influences end-user satisfaction as much as a swift resolution of a technical issue. The ROI on caring goes a long way.

2. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Believe it or not, even an overused industry buzzword like “proactive” has teeth when put into practice. At the service desk, it means recommending how to support impending changes in the IT environment or how to drive service quality improvements without being prompted.  It means solving big-picture issues versus doing a post-mortem analysis on the tickets generated as a consequence.  It means not forgetting about the little things such as monitoring recorded calls for “quality and training purposes.” Supervisory staff rate a percentage of agent calls for tone (for friendliness and energy), detailed play by play in actions being performed, and listening skills as they relate to conveying empathy and identifying the root cause. Once the evaluation is completed, supervisors relay feedback, both analytical and procedural tips to the agents whenever corrective actions are required.  Being proactive means running ticket aging reports to follow up on open incidents that are delayed for resolution either due to additional research or access requirements. If they’re owned by the Level 1 team they should be updated at regular intervals and status relayed to the end user.  And whenever resolution procedures aren’t second nature to an agent, they need to use their “lifelines” and reach out to the subject matter expert on their team and keep the internal chatter going.  Even remote agents working the third shift should not be flying solo. All of these mechanisms for support need to be in constant motion like a finely crafted Swiss watch. The reason clients outsource to service desk experts is because experts don’t wait for advice or suggestions, they offer solutions and solve problems before they can have an impact.

3. Be Receptive, Not Defensive

A healthy service desk acknowledges critical input and addresses remediation versus getting defensive. The appropriate response to critical input no matter how a rare occurrence should not be “they’re one of our best agents” or “no one’s ever complained about them before.” From a client’s perspective, this can easily be perceived as the refusal to validate or even acknowledge their input. A service desk that responds to critical input by “circling the wagons” merely succeeds in placing that barrier between itself and the client. This is not only an obvious detriment to the relationship, but blocks the line of candid communication and discourages useful feedback. A service desk that views client feedback as more of a blessing than a curse is more willing to adapt to expectations and eventually exceed them.

4. Measure Satisfaction with Each Interaction

End-User satisfaction reporting is an essential component of service desk operational reviews. Though responding to survey comments can be considered a reactive approach, the service desk can be aggressive in how it handles remediation before it’s sent up the client’s chain of command. A valuable ITSM platform notifies users when their incident has been closed and gives them the opportunity to provide immediate feedback regarding the service that they received. Any responses that indicate that they are not satisfied are immediately escalated to the team lead for review, sometimes requiring follow-up contact with the client.   If a problem is within scope (i.e. “unhappy with Outlook” would be out of scope), team leads are tasked with proposing process improvements to prevent future incidents (call avoidance) or to improve response capabilities to satisfy the customer.  Either way, the duty rests with the service desk, not client management, to effect service improvements at all times.

5. Up the Frequency of Communication as Needed

Whenever there is a misalignment in how support expectations are defined, a common sense approach is to step up the cadence in communication. If that means monthly operational meetings need to happen on a weekly basis and weekly touchpoint calls need to be moved up to a daily rotation, the time invested is a small sacrifice for building client confidence.  If our social relationships require multiple interactions to develop a certain comfort level the same rules should apply to our business relationships; even more so considering the formal subject matter and the predominantly remote versus face-to-face or more familiar forms of communication. For any service desk wanting to boost client confidence, it’s not enough to establish a degree of competence. Expertise, action items, next steps, these inner workings at the operational core should not be treated as top secret, but should be shouted from the rooftops on an ongoing basis, because communication breeds comfort.

So long as all communication is action oriented and yields results, those being supported will notice a pronounced difference between lip service and genuine customer service which is always worth talking about.