Moving routine work from IT to end users can increase efficiency and save serious money. But too many projects fall flat.
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A few years ago, one of my clients implemented a web-based self-service request system, hoping to reduce overhead by shifting some service desk work back to employees. Instead of relying solely on service desk agents, the self-help system allows users to complete online forms requesting many items that can be planned in advance, such as computer upgrades, move requests, and acquiring or changing cellphone service. Once a request is approved, the system initiates a series of tasks tied to a single ticket. The organization also revised nearly every knowledge article to be more user friendly -- a big factor in the program's success.
This company has more than 16,000 users in the US, and adoption has been extremely high. Immediately after rollout, calls to the manned service desk decreased by 10%. Over time, calls dropped by about 30%. In the most recent month, out of about 75,000 support requests, more than 42,000 (56%) were handled via self-service. The system yielded significant savings in staffing costs over and above improvements in worker productivity resulting from faster issue resolution.
A growing number of organizations realize that such "shift-left" strategies, in which users are asked to take a crack at solving their own problems in return for quicker results, can lower support costs. In one Help Desk Institute survey, the 13% of respondents reporting decreased ticket volumes attributed the drops to improvements in knowledge management, customer competency, or self-service.
However, before everyone rushes out to reap the rewards of a self-help strategy, I'd like to offer a few words of caution borne of experience helping firms introduce -- or salvage -- these programs.
Unfortunately, in far too many cases, service desk self-help attempts fall flat. When I think back over the scores of conversations I've had with IT service desk managers who unsuccessfully implemented some form of service desk self-help effort, their comments have a common theme: "We rolled it out, but employees wouldn't use the system."
Even though new technologies have made creating self-help portals easier, the problem of low user acceptance persists. The culprit is usually not the technology; it's poor implementation and planning. When people don't find answers to their issues quickly, not only do they stop using the self-help portal, but they often share their experience with co-workers and suggest that they not waste their time using the site. Poor implementation sets off a chain reaction that's sure to doom the effort.
What I've found is that the most successful self-help approaches result from getting into an end user mindset. Think about when you've had to use the service desk of your cellphone carrier or cable company. What would you have liked to be able to do yourself that you couldn't? What really bothered you? What worked?
If all you plan to do is provide a few FAQ answers for your end users, don't waste your time. A good self-help site, whether it's a simple SharePoint site or a full portal module, takes preparation. You've got to make an effort to
Jeff Brandt is solutions director of technology support services at Randstad Technologies. View Full Bio