Help Desk Excellence, People Versus Processes

April 28, 2010

One of my favorite topics of debate in help desk management is people versus processes. Like the age-old chicken or the egg question, professionals in my industry have strong opinions as to whether talented people or excellent processes make the fundamental difference in a help desk’s success. Let’s face it, just like the chicken and the egg, both are vital. However, I have always felt that skilled, thoughtful help desk team members can overcome just about any challenge. I tend to come down on the people-side of the debate.

In my April 20 Harvey Nash Webinar, “The Happy Hybrid Help Desk,” we saw notable evidence to support my bias. The Webinar was focused on exploring what I consider to be a “best of both worlds” option in help desk design–the hybrid. A hybrid help desk model leverages outsourced staff and is managed by a third-party service expert, but it is an on-site solution. It allows the business direct insight into help desk performance and constant visibility into customer service interactions. Further it delivers the cost and efficiency advantages that come with outsourcing help desk management and utilizing the resources of an expert.
During the discussion, we asked participants to name their toughest help desk challenge today. Was it costs, technology, team performance or recruitment and retention? By far, team performance was cited as the greatest challenge with 57% naming it their most critical help desk issue. Technology was in a distant second place with 24%, while costs were cited by only 11% as a critical issue. And finally, recruitment and retention were seen as a critical help desk issue by only 4% of participants. Clearly, help desk teams and how they are performing are a central issue and, therefore, an important opportunity for help desk managers. A crucial challenge like team performance can only increase efficiency and customer satisfaction when it is successfully resolved.
We then directly asked the audience to weigh-in on the debate by asking them directly, “What would you say the most important factor is in help desk success today?” Again, people were the winner with 58% of participants citing it as most important to help desk success. Processes were cited by 37% and technology by only 4% of participants.
Best of Both Worlds Solution: The Hybrid Help Desk
While I love to be proven right in any debate, I look at these results as a strong argument for the hybrid help desk model. The majority of attendees of this Webinar (63%) outsource their help desks entirely. The team performance that so many of them are struggling with could be greatly improved through proximity. By bringing the help desk function in-house, performance and results can be better managed, issues can be addressed and the business can better see how customers’ needs are being resolved. At the same time, the hybrid model allows them to maintain the cost advantages of outsourcing and leave help desk management and administration work to the third-party provider. Like I said, for the right business and environment, it can be a “best of both worlds” solution.
I invite you to read through the Q&A session of the Happy Hybrid Help Desk Webinar, which I have pasted below. I am certain you will find it interesting as many of the questions offer advice on how hybrid help desks operate and the bottom-line advantages they offer. In addition, you will hear about creative ways help and service desks are being used to meet business challenges, such as social media and training. You can also listen to a Podcast recap of the Happy Hybrid Help Desk Webinar by clicking here.
If you have an opinion on the hybrid help desk model (or people versus processes or even the chicken versus the egg), be sure and e-mail me at Tell me what factors you think could make the biggest impact on help desk success today.
Harvey Nash April Webinar Q&A Transcript
On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Harvey Nash’s VP of Technology Solutions, Anna Frazzetto–an IT industry veteran and frequent presenter at SIMposium and HDI–hosted a Webinar for CIOs, CTOs and senior leaders of IT. During her presentation she shared the pros and cons of a hybrid help desk and her “five musts” to hybrid help desk management. The presentation concluded with a Q&A session, and following is a transcript of the questions and answers.
Q: I have a quick question with regards to culture. Should I look for a provider that values the ‘five musts’ you outlined in help desk management?
A: I think with any arrangement, you want to have a cultural fit with whomever you choose as your partner. So, here I’m highlighting five components that I think are critical within the help desk arena. We’ve seen these through the years; innovation being the most recent one that has been added to the list.
So, I would ask specific questions on how the provider approaches certain things. I would want to understand their training approach. I would also want to understand how they plan to transition the help desk; how they plan to get from point A to point B.
The more you can understand about their operation, how they manage, how they motivate people, I think it’s going to give you a tremendous amount of insight into tying in the ‘five musts’ that I talked about earlier in the session.
Anna’s “Five Musts” in hybrid help desk management are: a passionate and inspired leader, ongoing and interactive training, process excellence and adherence, innovation and advancement, and measuring satisfaction. To hear more about them, listen to her Happy Hybrid Help Desk Webinar Recap.
Q: In general I agree with your hybrid model. The reason I attended this seminar is because I’m looking for response management in terms of social media services, which is very much like a help desk, in that someone is monitoring the phone or social media and then they have to respond, but not to internal customers, to external customers. So, I realize that’s out of scope in your presentation here, but I’m interested in knowing if your company provides that service that we can partner with?
A: Actually, we do. It is a natural extension of some of the things that we talked about today.
In need of similar services? Please contact Anna Frazzetto, VP of Technology Solutions at Harvey Nash at 201.914.2388 or
Q: My company is using a combination approach where our help desk is for application support as well as business process. We’re in the process of rolling out a number of new applications. We’re looking into taking our traditional testing team and making it almost interchangeable with the help desk team. It’ll bring the new knowledge to the help desk and we’re rotating people to build their skill sets. Is that a model that actually lends itself to outsourcing or is that better for an insource approach?
A: I obviously do not know your testers, but typically a tester does not have the right customer service skill set needed for the help desk. I think it’s a great idea in training the help desk, but I’m not sure if I would feel comfortable having them (testers) be part of the front line.
I can see a hybrid solution working there. Sometimes what I’ve seen work is that when a new application is being rolled out, it is treated separately, and you get the expertise that you need. Eventually, you can have a nice combination of talent on the team.
Q: My question is with regards to the value-add in a hybrid model. I’m wondering if you can share an example of a company that’s realized, maybe improved customer insight from a hybrid model? And how did they use the information they received?
A: Well, that definitely is a very interesting question. It could really span lots of different areas. Let’s take the tools that are being used by the help desk as an example. Typically what I’ll see is that the solution provider can make recommendations on let’s say the call-tracking system. Let’s just pick Remedy for an example. Remedy has so many different modules, but your help desk is only using two or three different modules; they’re really not utilizing the tool to its capacity. Here, the solution provider should come with the expertise of Remedy, use the information they are receiving from customers and make suggestions on how to improve the call-tracking system.
Q: I really liked your pros and cons list for the in-house versus outsourced versus hybrid help desks. I’m curious, if we wanted to go the hybrid route, do you have any pointers for convincing our management team to make yet another change to the way our help desk is structured? Any sort of business case suggestion?
A: Absolutely. If you look at it, especially if you’re in internal operations, and you want to outsource, that’s a bigger bridge to cross. Going the hybrid route is almost a happy medium.
I would ask a solution provider to help you build your business case, listing what would be some of the high-level areas of improvement. I would view the hybrid help desk as the answer; the final answer. Particularly if you’ve gone through lots of changes – in-house, outsourced, in-house again, etc. So, I would build a business case around why it’s going to work, cost and process. If you’re talking to senior management, I would focus on the processes that are critical to them, and therefore, they’re going to relate to very, very easily.
There are definitely lots of different options that you have, but I would look to the solution provider to help build that case for you.
Q: I had a question about dealing with the challenge of holding a third party accountable for meeting SLAs, while also performing as a partner to ensure that customer needs are met which may sometimes conflict with managing to specific SLAs.
A: Right, and that’s a very interesting point. I have definitely seen in some help desk operations where the clients are upset, but the vendor was meeting their SLAs. Obviously there’s a big disconnect there.
I think the key part in the development of the SLAs is how to marry them directly to client satisfaction. I’ve seen some clients where there’s a laundry list of 30, 40 different SLA objectives, which I think are way too many. There should be a way of being able to measure two SLAs that are less in quantity.
I would never want to have a relationship with a vendor where they feel obligated to the SLAs and are cutting corners in the satisfaction arena because they need to make sure that they meet those SLAs. It should be a joint collaborative effort to build the SLAs. There needs to be a marriage there, one cannot obviate the other from overall satisfaction ratings.
Q: Any suggestions that you have for working with in-house providers, so you don’t come across as micro-managing, since you have all this visibility on how to improve things?
A: First, you never want to wind up in a situation of co-employment, so that’s a number one factor that should always be considered in these types of arrangements. But, number two, there should be a way that you’re meeting directly with the in-house provider and assessing overall performance.
I had mentioned transition–how you get from point A to point B. In the beginning of the process, I would envision that you are sitting down on an every-other-day basis, and then that moves to a weekly basis, and then will move to a bi-weekly and then monthly basis. You should have, what I typically call quality meetings, where you’re going over performance, objectives, the team’s construct from a skills perspective. What are some of the changes that you envision happening down the pipe from a support perspective? What are some of the obstacles they’ve had and how can they be improved? So there should be this frank discussion and conversation so that you don’t feel that every day you need to go over the help desk and stand and manage it. If that’s the case, then there’s an issue with the arrangement.
It is a little bit of a leap of faith. I think the leap of faith really becomes small when you work out some of the other items that I’ve talked about, your communication process, your escalation process, how often you meet, how transition is handled, how they train, how they motivate the team. If you have all of that information, it should make you more comfortable to be able to sit back and have those periodic meetings to ensure that the service is being met and delivered as you anticipated.
Q: One question about this marriage between the SLAs and client satisfaction. Can you give an example of how you would do that? I can think of sending an e-mail to each caller, maybe, to measure the satisfaction. Could you think of another example?
A: Sure. Let’s say service levels are, just being real simple here, abandon rate, first-call-resolution time and talk time.
I would incorporate a random sampling of the user community to answer if they are satisfied with how the problem was handled. I would do it so it’s just not based on e-mail alone, but also by phone and in person if possible to get a full flavor from the user community. I would have another person do the survey of course, not the person who actually helped them.
If service levels are coming back that the provider is doing great, abandon rate is at 5%, first-call-resolution is at 85%, talk time is 5 minutes, right in line with what was agreed to, but input from the user community is saying the help desk is fair, something is amiss. Go back and look at your SLAs. Maybe talk time should be a little bit longer, so that the customer feels that they’ve gotten the full hand-holding needed to close a process out.
The dialogue with the user community is very important. I would have a structured method of doing customer satisfaction surveys on a regular basis. And you might want to do them more frequently in the beginning and then less frequently, once a quarter or once every six months, if necessary.