IT Support in a Consumerized World

IT Support and Consumerization

Hey, it’s SysAdmin Day again. The day comes around so quickly – it only seems like a year since the last one. Hopefully, you love your sysadmins. Or if you’re cool enough to be one, then hopefully people are showing you some love (at least for today). If not, hopefully this year’s SysAdmin Day video from my employer will make you smile as you struggle with consumerized expectations of IT support:

But SysAdmin Day, well at least for me, isn’t just about the love, smiles, and gifts of pizza. Like all good public holidays (editor: Joe, it’s not a public holiday, you need to come into work today), it’s a day for reflection – in this case, on the past, present, and future of IT service delivery and support.

This year I’ll be focused on how best to deliver IT support in a consumerized world. In particular, how we need to change how we work (as sysadmins) to better meet the needs of our end users/customers.

Please read on to find out what I think are some of the key requirements for change.

What’s Wrong with What we Currently Do?

Let me go all “history” on you for a moment.

IT support has been an IT management staple for as long as we’ve had corporate IT – the IT breaks, or isn’t working as it should do, and someone with the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience fixes it.

Then ITIL, the popular IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework, formalized what we might have previously called “break-fix” into incident management (as well as morphing the IT help desk into the IT service desk) – offering a best practice approach to dealing with IT issues that encompassed:

  • Issue identification and recording
  • Initial classification and support
  • Investigation and diagnosis
  • Resolution and recovery
  • Incident closure

Ultimately, it’s a transactional approach that methodically manages the incident lifecycle – improving speed and efficiency (and ideally the required levels of first contact resolution), reducing errors and delays (or even lost issues), and hopefully delivering the required level of customer, or end-user, satisfaction.

It sounds great. The IT service desk is an “issue-handling machine” – optimized for this transactional approach to incident management. It worked in the 1990s, the 2000s, and for the first part of this decade – but is it still enough with the advent of consumerization? Do us sysadmins, and what we do, need to change to a more consumerized approach?

Consumerization Changed the IT Support Goal Posts

Importantly, consumerization – what started out as the “consumerization of IT” in 2005 – is no longer just about employees wanting to use their personal devices, apps, and cloud services at work (or for the corporate IT department to offer consumer-like IT services). Instead consumerization has raised employee expectations across the whole service-provider ecosystem, encapsulating everything from how the service provider designs and offers services through to support, customer service, and – more recently – the customer experience.

And don’t let the fact that we might deliberately refuse to call end users “customers” – because they don’t directly pay for their IT services – fool you. Customer experience still applies in the corporate IT context, as employees will continue to bring their elevated, consumer-world experiences and resulting expectations into the workplace no matter what we call them.

The result being that any IT service desk wishing to satisfy the wants and needs (within reason) of employees will need to reimagine their approach, strategies, and operations in light of the consumerized world and customer experience.

Customer experience might sound fluffy to hardened sysadmins, but it has proven to be a highly-successful growth strategy for the companies that invest in it to both win and retain customers and their dollars. The result is that customers feel valued and hold the supplier in high regard, they stay loyal and most likely promote the supplier and their products and services to people they know (and, thanks to social media, sometimes to people they don’t know), and ultimately they spend more.

On first consideration, this might not seem relevant to your corporate IT department and to sysadmins. They might not feel the compulsion to provide a great customer experience, or even to treat end users as customers. However, if your IT department (and service desk) is concerned about end-user perceptions, and targeted to achieve a certain level of customer satisfaction each quarter, then customer experience is very relevant. If only because it’s a case of “keeping up with the Joneses” and the old adage that sometimes we need to improve to just stand still.

Thanks to consumerization, employees now have consumerized expectations that are probably above and beyond traditional incident management capabilities, with those expectations heavily influenced by the consumer-world investments in customer experience.

IT Support Through a Customer Experience Lens

There are many consumerization and customer experience impacts, on IT Support, that need to be considered and addressed by sysadmins and other IT support personnel. Most relate to the fact that end users now have consumerized expectations that the service desk will struggle to meet, let alone exceed, without a change in the status quo. For instance:

  1. Robotic script following. Where service desk agents blindly follow their scripts rather than using logic and common sense to deviate as needed. And this deviation might be required due to a number of reasons. For instance, because the script doesn’t exactly match the end user’s issue. Or because the business situation or emotional state of the end user dictates a more empathetic approach than the often-adopted “put tab A in slot B” approach of service desk scripts.
  2. The focus on End-user time is usually valuable – they might even argue that it’s far more valuable than that of the service desk. So why do we insist on keeping end users on the phone while agents search for the service desk Holy Grail of the first contact resolution? There needs to be some give here – what does the end user want? To wait, twiddling their thumbs, or to be released to be more productive while the service desk resolves the issue? Plus, first contact resolution will get harder as self-service takes away the simplest of incidents and service requests, leaving only the more complex and time-consuming tickets for service desk agents.
  3. The quality of self-service capabilities. The capabilities of the service desk as a whole will be compared to consumer-world exemplars, but so will the offered self-service capabilities. And capabilities that have potentially been provided with little thought of how end users work, and want to receive assistance, will likely be ignored by employees. Why? Because they expect better and, just as importantly, it’s probably easier to call or email the service desk than it is to try self-help.

I could go on, I often do, but hopefully you’re getting my point – service desks and sysadmins need to keep up with their consumerized-world counterparts (unless it’s corporately okay for them to deliver a service that doesn’t meet end-user expectations due to departmental cost restrictions). Just fixing the IT – even if done relatively quickly – might no longer be enough.

Ultimately, consumerization requires a radical rethink of service desk operations across the people, processes (and practices), and employed technology. It needs a removal of focus from the technology onto the people, making this very much a case of changing the service desk ethos from IT support to people support. What will you do to combat the impact of consumerization on IT support?

Joe The IT Guy
IT Guy at SysAid Technologies

Joe The IT Guy is a native New Yorker who loves everything connected to IT service management (ITSM). He's a passionate blogger and twitter addict, and is also the resident IT guy at SysAid Technologies.

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