• United States

Is it ‘self-service’ or ‘no service’?

Sep 06, 20044 mins
Data Center

* Challenges around automating the service desk

A thankless job! That’s what some would call the role of the service desk technician.

Although this group of individuals is one of the most customer-facing functions in the company and is in a position to greatly affect customer satisfaction, the group is more often than not seen by executive management as a cost sink that is extremely labor-intensive, does not directly contribute to revenue generation, and is extremely difficult to measure in terms of performance.

Sure, there are plenty of metrics available through today’s service desk software to evaluate employee performance, but they are difficult to use to get a real sense of contribution to customer satisfaction.

Meanwhile, service desk managers are looking for ways to avoid taking calls from customers. In a way this seems ironic given that their very function is to serve customers. But maybe not – there is a premise that says customers (or users) who are able to take control of their situation and begin to resolve their problems will walk away from the support experience more satisfied than those who sat on the phone with a real technician or perhaps multiple technicians until a resolution was reached.

To me, it is all about good support. If service delivery is well designed and well executed, then it’s much more likely that customers will feel positive about the experience.

All types of systems are being put in place to divert calls from an actual technician. Many of these are not new, but they are becoming much more sophisticated. Some of these systems include:

* Automated, interactive voice response (IVR) systems that attempt to walk customers through a solution or at least a target group of support technicians over the telephone.

* Web-based self-service portals that are for customers with appropriate access. These systems essentially place the burden of initiating a trouble-ticket in the hands of the user and then open access to a knowledge base that contains known problems, solutions, and a host of other related information that may help the user.

* Intelligent knowledge bases that employ various search techniques that make it easier for the user to find the right information.

* Video clips, instructional screen shots, and chats that are available to help the user and minimize interaction with a service desk technician.

One might question why this makes sense. Each time a company has the opportunity to interact with a customer or prospect, it has the opportunity to develop a relationship with that individual. Of course, this is only positive if the interaction went well.

Some of these implementations simply do not have the customer in mind – for example, the IVR system takes you through nine layers of menus, but in the end drops your call with a “thank you for calling” message because the company wants to prevent your call from reaching a live operator. Or the Web-based database that returns hundreds of results no matter what you use for search criteria. These are lost opportunities to build business, when it comes down to it. Customers will only tolerate so much frustration before they seek alternative providers.

That said, there are certainly ways to deploy self-service technologies so that customers do leave happy – maybe even happier. Placing control of issue resolution in the hands of customers empowers them in such a way that they feel resolution is moving forward, and that creates greater customer satisfaction.

The real trick is to make sure you know when customers are getting frustrated with the process and avoid the worst-case scenario of customers walking away angry without you being aware of it. There is still a need for real people who can intervene and prevent this scenario, and designing service delivery procedures to handle this is critical. It is hard enough to recover from a negative customer experience that you know about, and impossible when you lack this visibility.