The Evolution of IT Support: From Contact Centers to Help Desk to the Service Desk – Part I

Todd-MortensonThere have been jokes, tag lines and urban legends told about the challenges of getting proper technical support. Even Saturday Night Live spoofed this issue with Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy…MOOOOVE! The truth is, many customers and users become disenfranchised as their lack of trust of IT organizations diminishes with every outage or unplanned and uncommunicated change. Frustrations are warranted – support teams always seem one step behind the delivered technology.

Where did technical support go so wrong?

Actually, the tech industry has caused much of this themselves proclaiming award-winning expectations for a customer’s interaction with applications and gadgets such as “ease of use,” “simple,” “upgrading is easy,” and the everlasting “this change won’t cause any problems.” In reality, we know the delivery of enterprise IT services is a high risk venture and highly dependent on human-configured components. One bad firewall policy, one line of bad code, or one misapplied patch guarantees routine attendance by IT at C-level meetings to explain how it happened and what is being done so it will never happen again. Given the maturity of technology we have today, we are still challenged by the intricacies of integrating very complex systems even though the user interface is, many times, incredibly simple. We make it look easy, we sell it as easy, but let’s be honest: it’s not.

Enter the support function. This has gained huge popularity with the advent of “consumerized” IT in the 1980’s when users, even self-proclaimed gadgeteers, became overwhelmed with CPU Turbo buttons, spreadsheets and the limitations of 640k of RAM. Call/Contact Centers, even with their minimalistic intake processes (phones) and limited centralized knowledge stores, blossomed out of sheer need to separate the user experience from the excruciating technical details provided by development staff. But Contact Centers have limited capability to provide full cycle support as they are highly versed to accept inbound calls, provide the desired information and move on – not to remediate technical issues.

Help Desks were the next step in the evolution of tech support as user needs and expectations increased as technology became more complex. The Help Desk function matured quickly as organizations recognized customer retention is highly dependent on a robust support function. Customers could forgive poor quality, but they would never tolerate poor support. Full open query knowledge repositories, escalation tables and service levels became an integral, and forever lasting part, of the IT lexicon. These now integral and scalable teams are held accountable to customer experience KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as Average Time to Abandoned (ATA), Call Abandonment Rate (CAR), Average Talk Time (ATT), First Call Resolution (FCR) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) ratings. However, the foundational structure of Help Desks allows them to work in a reactionary mode; awaiting the next unpredictable wave of callers and not necessarily preparing communications for the storage array replacement which will knock out several critical applications over the upcoming weekend.

The genesis of the Service Desk came from the overwhelming need and desire of customers to be a part of the IT machine. Customers realized many of the challenges IT were facing came from the very fact that the business was not articulating their needs and translating them into terms IT could digest. Components like service features, availability and financial impact were now part of the discussion, thereby allowing IT to prioritize and plan for outages, deployments, changes and the resources required to keep it all together. Further obviating this need was a strong mandate for transparency and a central Single Point of Contact funneling all facets of IT to a single unified body: the Service Desk. No longer thought of as just a place to gripe about the latest misapplied Windows 7 update, but a full featured Service Management function that has a seat at the big kids’ table.

So what’s next? We believe that the next evolution of IT Support won’t manifest as a complete overhaul of service functions and processes but rather, as a result of tools and activities that enhance the effectiveness of the Service Desk. In our next blog post, we will uncover the Smart Service Desk that keeps the user at the center of the operation.

Todd Mortenson, Virteva Solutions Engineer

Read Part Two