Jurassic Park and The Service Desk
From the primordial incident logging to the Rise of Social Media
How did we get from our DOS based Help Desk to worrying about Twitter? What can we do to explore and use Social Media on the desk? What can we do to prepare for the impending information age? These are some of the questions we will address. To understand our future, we must look to our past.
The People Epoch
In the beginning, we talked with each other. Customers with dumb terminals or tape dumps would come directly to the support team and ask for assistance. The original tribes of IT mingled with each other freely. Spending time in the data center was noisy, very warm and full of tracker-feed paper being burst in rhythm to the beat of modems chirping away. The “While You Were Away” pink carbon message was our “incident” and office super stores existed in fifteen pound catalogs carried by the mail boy to our office. The notion of IT and the business was new and we were still one with the land.
The Tool Epoch
In the early 1990’s, ticketing systems were just coming out of the DOS period with new and shiny mouse enabled interfaces. The feature-function epoch launched many industry titans like FrontRange, Help Star and Blue Ocean. Two very distinct things came out of this time: IT as a business machine and IT as a profession.
IT as a profession, for all the greatness, actually was the first divide within our business. As soon as the machines and software came between the tribes, there was no turning back. The data center was now secured and the people it employed were different and very much unapproachable. IT as a business machine supported this divide. Entire companies were started just to sell software, hardware, and consulting to help businesses “enable” support. During this time we also saw the rise of the very first communities for the support desk. Communities like HDI, itSMF and many regional local tech “clubs”. Help Desk software was defining the way that organizations “supported” their customers. To help curb the number of calls to the Help Desk from users asking how to create new tables and fields, FrontRange decided to create a GUI front end to the administration of its HEAT system. This GUI front end was the game changer and, overnight, allowed the average user to no longer rely on programmers and consulting to make complex updates to their systems. This change to ticketing systems of the day not only transformed FrontRange but the industry as a whole. The Tool Epoch ended with the best of intentions. Organizations saw alignment between CRM and the Help Desk. This stroke of genius was short lived although, in hindsight, a very telling tale of things to come in the future.
The Process Epoch
In this new era, tools were not forgotten but they now were taking a back seat. The Y2K “disaster” came and went and our support center continued to thrive. The promise of the Tool Epoch was empty and IT was still searching for the answers to align with the business; still, ironically, the wrong question. In North America, the promise of ITIL brought an onslaught of ITSM software vendors to the table. Finally everyone had a common playbook of rules and processes. During this time, rise of the Analyst Machines, Gartner, Forrester and Butler came to full power and the sway of public opinion was as easy as a press release. ITIL gave businesses a way to process and produce results for the IT support department. Waves of our tribe were trained and certified in the new Esperanto for IT.
Our support tools shifted so dramatically that separating just one service desk vendor from another became impossible. Our professional organizations continued to grow, but, slowly, our tribe became even more separated from our consumers of support and, most chillingly, we started to fracture from each other within IT.
If effective communication with our support consumers and the business were not already in enough trouble, the rise of the mobile workforce had become very real. Now, nameless and faceless consumers of support contacted even more faceless engineers via telephony. Telephony was an attempt to make it easier to reach the correct person in support.
By the end of the Process Epoch, IT was facing the failure of tools, the empty promises of frameworks, and the greatest divide in its history from their consumers.
The Persona Epoch
Nature has a way of balancing and adjusting the forces that shape everything. In their infinite wisdom, Nature and the machines realized that we had stopped talking to each other. Project management, cloud computing, and mobile devices had stolen the last glimpses of humanity from support. The rise of the virtual persona was born out of necessity to reconnect to our peers and customers. This virtual persona became so power so quickly that many people, governments and organizations were in fear of losing the grasp on their identities. Who are we without layers of separation between “us and them”? Virtual persona allowed us to reconnect to friends from high school, the HR director’s passion for silent films, and our families.
Return of T-Rex
Today, we have the growth of social communities growing faster than we can adapt or understand how to use them. Some organizations have decided to leverage these new tools of socially connected people. These organizations will fail. You cannot leverage a relationship between two people; it is simple, beautiful and cannot be exploited. Social media is the natural evolution of IT support. After decades of separation, we are reaching out slowly, but reaching out to our peers, customers and families in new ways. As we gaze into the future of support, the software, processes, and polices will dissolve and evaporate to the cloud. IT 2020 will be about brokering relationships; but how do we deal with the new world of support and social media?
Social Media Today….
From stone tablets to Google Wave, we have been a society that has thrived on information. Sometimes repressed and sometimes transparent. We have currently entered a time where people are being connected to the web and not for email or even web sites. People are connecting for social purposes and information. It started simply enough with web pages and news groups. The evolution from there has been radical to say the least. We are suffering and enjoying from information overload. The website and the inbox are dying and the shift toward pull communication of new media has taken hold and it will only grow stronger. New generations of workers expect to be connected. When blocked, they access their mobile devices while at work. When at home, they talk about their work with millions of people at once on blogs, wikis, micro blogging sites, and IM. Search engine giants Google and Microsoft have integrated real time social into searches. Customers will want to know why your organization is not in these so make sure you are there! So what can your organization do, what are other organizations doing, and how can you make the most of social media for your organization? Quality is not just about doing things right - it is also about doing the right things. Support organizations have lived through the "Tool Epoch", where having something to log requests into was a must. Then came the "Process / Framework Epoch", during this time having a tool was just the start. Aligning the business to the support center ruled supreme. Billions of dollars spent and we still are looking for answers to how the customer experience is measured. Currently, we are entering into the "Social Support Epoch". This new age will finally engage our customers. We can choose to ignore the masses clamoring on social sites or choose to be a part of the conversation. It is a matter of time before support organizations start using tools to work with their customers in places their customers are spending time. Emails are going unread and chat tools, when in use, are often ignored. So reaching our customers to maximize the customer experience is more critical now than ever. Unfortunately, the Service Desk has become a place where policies, process and procedures are the staples and the "customer experience" is the last thing thought of. By using social media tools, you can bridge this gap. In a perfect world, we would create focus groups before we start this process to gauge the current service desk experience. This information can then be used after deploying changes to the desk and its communication to the outside world.
Sample Initial Steps:
Create a blog that customers can read and feature writers from the Service Desk. Have them blog about day to day experiences and challenges. Become somewhat transparent to the organization. Advertise your blog on Help Desk emails and consider hanging flyers with information about the blog.
Create a Flickr account and post pictures of Help Desk team members. Post pictures of the Help Desk area and Help Desk events. Make the desk seem like more than just a place where things are denied and policies are enforced.
Create commonly used web links that reference company information, common questions and other help sites. Delicious gives the Help Desk a chance to share interesting web sites and adds additional human factors to the support equation.
Sample Secondary Steps:
Consider creating a monthly contest for suggestions to the Help Desk that improve the customer experience. Use anonymous email outlets, polling websites orphone surveys. Word will travel fast when people learn that the Help Desk is giving away lunches, 1/2 day Fridays and movie tickets.
Consider creating a YouTube channel for the Help Desk where you post updates or general information about the desk. Move on to possibly sending out short videos with information about tickets and updates. You can do this privately on YouTube. A great difference can be seen with this last step in the understanding of the Service Desk and its processes. Putting a face to a "problem", often generates a win/win for both people.
Encourage your staff to create profiles and engage in LinkedIn answers or LinkedIn Groups. Create a group just for the Help Desk or the customers of the Help Desk. This promotes networking and growth beyond your organization.
Sample Tertiary Steps:
Create Twitter or Yammer accounts. Post events, notices and updates from the desk.
Having a Facebook fan page for your Help Desk can do incredible things for the experience of your customers. Fan pages can post updates to your customers, share events, pictures and videos. Most of your customers will have some experience with Facebook so this is a great place to meet them at.
Advanced Social Steps:
Consider the use of podcasts, live streaming video such as justin.tv or ustream.tv to hold monthly/quarterly state of the nations from the Service Desk. Introduce new members and promotions.
Ning is a great place to collaborate and create a social experience for your Help Desk. Consider it a private Facebook just for your staff or your staff and customers!
After the Fire:
Put into place a social czar for the Help Desk or a customer experience engineer. The engineer will enjoy this and the customer will benefit from having a single point of contact. Use of tools to update blogs, Twitter, Yammer, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook simultaneously will help keep the time this new role will consume down to a minimum.
Focus groups during and after your social media exposure can help gauge your progress. These groups should be made up of people who call the desk often but, more importantly, people who never call the desk.
Even without using any social strategy, you should take time to monitor your organization in the social streams. Weekly searches for your organization name on social sites to see what customers are talking about.
A New Dawn:
Even if organizations decide to ignore the social shift, creating a social media policy is mandatory. As human resource departments struggle to find balance between free speech and workers’ rights, it is IT that has the responsibility to create a framework for these new communications. A few great resources for polices:
The best way to ensure your future is to invent it. As service and support centers, we need to charge forward to meet our consumers. While the organization is struggling with social media, we, as IT teams, have a unique opportunity to show the business how it should engage with its consumers in this new world. What we have in front of us is the opportunity that, for decades, has eluded IT - alignment. Finally, through speaking back and with the people we support, our organizations will learn from our example. Everyone has a chance to be successful and all it took was 30 years and 140 characters.
Material first appeared in print in the Mar/Apr issue of SupportWorld, by Christopher Dancy of ServiceSphere