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The Benefits of a Single Point of Contact

For early success, the service desk is where ITIL can really shine.
Aug 10, 2006

George Spafford

In ITIL, the service desk function performs a number of critical tasks. To say it is simply the traditional help desk renamed does not do the service desk justice.

In many respects, the service desk's role as the single point of contact is one of the most important facets because the service desk personnel are customer facing. In other words, the professionalism, communication skills and overall attitudes of service desk personnel will reflect upon the entire IT organization and serve as the measure by which all of IT will be judged.

In terms of benefits the service desk brings, let’s explore its role as the single point of contact between IT, customers and users:

For the purposes of this article, let’s label the people contacting the service desk as “callers” for simplicity whereas ITIL differentiates between the users of services and the customers who actually pay for the services.

Wasted Time

Having explained that nuance, callers should not be forced to try and contact various numbers, email addresses and/or websites for assistance. First off, with incidents they probably are already frustrated because they can’t do their jobs and calling all over in vain will only make matters worse.

Second, we, as an organization, want these people working not wasting time trying to get help because any time spent on efforts other than helping the organization attain its goals is time irrevocably lost.

Instead, by consolidating the point of contact to one phone number, email address and/or website, the ambiguity over whom to contact when some event happens, or need arises, is removed. By having one point of contact, callers can immediately reach a representative, answer the necessary questions to populate the incident or service request and then go back to work.

This is very important because we need them to be productive in their roles so they can move the organization towards its goals in order for IT to have a reason to exist.

This isn’t a one-sided benefit. For IT, there are very real benefits as well. For example, IT personnel are no longer haphazardly interrupted by callers needing help or ambushed while walking down the hall. Anytime someone is working and interrupted, there are switching costs associated with them changing trains of thought from one task, to the new task and then attempting to get back into the “groove” of the old task.

From an accounting cost perspective, users may be using IT’s most expensive resources vs. using designated personnel because of relationships, simply going down the IT phone list looking at titles, etc. When the users need help, unless there is a coordinating influence, they will call whomever they think can help. Instead, if they call the service desk, the call can then be properly routed based on skills required, resource availability, defined service level agreements, etc.

IT must understand its costs and value-add to the organization at all times. If callers are bypassing the formal recording mechanisms and going straight to their favorite resources, or resources at random, untracked activity takes place.

If IT can’t account for activity and reflect the value it adds to the organization relative to its costs, then IT risks being outsourced or downsized. Many business people do not realize that by skipping the service desk, they are ultimately causing long-term harm to the organization.

Economic Costs

In addition to the accounting costs, there are economic opportunity costs. The IT resource that takes a call or assists a caller will likely need to stop doing their assigned work in order to help. As a result, planned work stops. Again, it is much better to have the service desk take the call, follow the established rules on selecting the correct IT resource to use.

A risk with accounting and economic cost impacts is that a caller may leave voicemails and emails to many IT personnel resulting in redundant responses from IT that waste resources. Of a similar accord, if a shared resource is involved, multiple users may call and report incidents with said resource again resulting in redundant efforts.

By using a service desk to log and filter calls, matching can be performed to see if the incident record is already in the system, what the status of the incident is and so on.

Once the initial call is taken, callers often want status updates and then may begin a new flurry of calls further interrupting personnel. Instead of this, the service desk can keep the customer and/or user informed both proactively and reactively.

Simple and Effective

On this note, the story was told to me once of a Harley-Davidson customer service representative that consistently received high customer satisfaction scores. When management investigated what she was doing that caused the success they found that she maintained a simple list of open orders and would go through it each day proactively calling the customers and telling them the status of their order.

The time she took each day to update the customers was relatively minimal and the customers very much appreciated her efforts. A proactive approach, whether by phone or email, by the IT Service desk can reap rewards as well. Callers just want to know that their needs are being addressed.

From a reactive perspective, callers wanting status updates should call the service desk. The intent, as with other issues brought up previously, is to shield the rest of IT from the interruptions and to place the ownership of ensuring the caller is taken care on the service desk.

Moreover, the service desk personnel must be professionals who are skilled empathetic communicators, which are capabilities that not all IT people have. Again, people will judge all of IT by the experiences they have when talking to the individuals who help them. Choose your service desk people with care.

Lastly, by routing callers through the service desk, the service desk can track all open unresolved service request and incident tickets, determine if they are being resolved on a timely basis, escalating if needed and so on.

No longer does a call “fall through the cracks” because a technician is out sick, on vacation, too buried with other work and so on. Because the incident or service request is being actively monitored by the service desk, there is an assurance to the caller and management that agreed upon service levels will be met.

In summary, there are many benefits both to this business and IT by focusing all user contact, both incoming and outbound, through the service desk. By doing so, the proper resources can be used to make sure that needs are met on a timely, effective, efficient and economical basis.

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