10.11.21 | Operations Chat
From time to time, someone will ask me: “Why don’t you guys call yourselves the Help Desk anymore?” Usually, I smile and say something like: “Because we aren’t just a Help Desk.”
Understanding the Difference
According to Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) terminology, the Service Desk serves as “the point of communication between the service provider and all its users1.” There is a significant difference there between providing “help” to someone in need and providing “service.” Merriam Webster defines “help” as “to give assistance or support to (someone)2,” which is a much narrower set of responsibilities than a Service Desk would have.
This may seem like semantics, but the difference is important as the Service Desk is not always equipped to “give assistance” for certain problems, such as when a service provider (like Microsoft or Facebook) is experiencing an outage. What the Service Desk can and should do is receive the issue, record all the pertinent details, relay the information to the appropriate people or teams if necessary, and then return the message that the issue/incident has been resolved.
All of this should be captured and recorded, primarily in an Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) tool like ServiceNow, FreshService, Zendesk, or ManageEngine. Most of the time, Service Desk technicians will be the first line of contact for your organization and should be able to resolve most issues quickly and easily. Please note that although we are primarily discussing IT Service in this article, the Service Desk is actually a term that can be used in other contexts and may not necessarily have anything to do with IT; another popular place to use the term is in retail environments.
It may also be helpful to note here that the term “service” in ITIL methodology is defined as “enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve…3” In an IT Service Desk, value co-creation is almost always about managing incidents (unexpected interruptions to services), resolving problems (the root causes of incidents), or working on projects that will further enable value creation (by updating systems and software, by documenting existing processes and solutions, by providing training, or through other projects).
Helping your Desk become Service Oriented
In an IT Service Desk environment, it isn’t just enough to have well-trained technicians with the appropriate knowledge and certifications, although those things are certainly important. Because the Service Desk is the primary point of contact for your organization, heavy emphasis should be placed on a technician’s soft skills as well – how quickly do they pick up the phone, and how well do they present themselves to your staff? Can they diagnose what the user really struggling with (is it an issue with a specific email, Outlook, Exchange, or something else)? Do they follow through and get back to your users on a timely basis and have the correct solutions when they do? All of these things need to be brought into consideration when working with Service Desk personnel.
Supporting your Service Desk
The relationship between the Service Desk and your staff is a symbiotic one, where the users should provide as much helpful information about a particular incident as possible so that the Service Desk can accurately diagnose and remedy the issues in question. The well-known punchline of “Thank you for calling IT, have you restarted your computer?” has some basis in truth, but it is inefficient and frustrating to all parties to spend a considerable amount of time on a problem only to find one missing piece of information caused a misdiagnosis and wasted time. Here are some things that you can do to help your Service Desk resolve issues faster:
- Provide as much information as possible. It is better to know that your computer is getting the stopcode of “DPC Watchdog Violation” on the blue screen at a Windows crash than “my laptop bluescreened, and now I have to restart.” Screenshots, in particular, are invaluable as they can be captured and stored then referenced later.
- Follow the organizational policies and procedures as they are written. Readers would be shocked at how many tickets could be avoided if users would simply follow established protocols, particularly revolving around how to manage the company devices at night, when IT typically deploys updates, patches, and bugfixes. You may feel better shutting off your laptop, but if you shut it off, then the updates accumulate and create more pain down the road for everyone.
- Do not filter Service Desk tickets to a junk or subfolder, or if you do, then check it regularly. Many Service Desks have a policy of “3 strikes” – if you do not get back to the team by the third point of contact, your ticket will automatically be closed out and marked as unresolved. That usually generates a follow-on ticket at some point and an additional layer of work.
- If you aren’t sure about something, ask. Our Service Desk goes out of its way to encourage this because it helps us determine training needs and has also saved us untold hours of work. Even a simple “I clicked this link and think I shouldn’t have” can keep a minor cybersecurity issue under control rather than not informing the Desk and having to unravel the incident two days later when things don’t act the way they should (or worse!)
We are all on the same page – trying to get our work done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Shifting the “help” desk to a service desk can be done and will pay rich rewards for those who are willing to adjust their mindset and practices accordingly.
Jay Camp is the Information Technology Service Delivery Manager at Berdon LLP. He supervises a team of 7 FTEs and consultants responsible for more than 16,500 service calls per year over multiple locations, including the onboarding and support of approximately 40 international outsourced staff. As needed, he also leads the Berdon IT response team investigating cybersecurity incidents.
1 Taken from the ITIL4Foundation app on 10/04/21, available in the iOS App Store or via materials at Axelos.com
2 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/help, accessed 10/6/2021
3 ITIL4Foundation app, accessed 10/06/21