Using an ITSM Tool for Customer Support

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IT service management (ITSM) tools have a history of being used outside of IT but it hasn’t been until recently that something the industry has termed “enterprise service management” has gained significant traction. You might be aware of the term, but if not – it’s the use of ITSM thinking, principles, practices, and technology by other lines of business. Human Resources (HR) and facilities teams have been high adopters, and most recently customer support organizations – with all these corporate service providers delivering services and support much like the corporate IT department.  

Using ITSM for external customer support? “But customer support organizations already have customer relationship management (CRM) systems!” I hear you cry. It’s true, and HR teams probably have multiple HR systems too – but it doesn’t stop them from embracing enterprise service management to improve efficiency and the customer experience they offer.  

Please read on to understand how ITSM and the enabling technology can improve your company’s customer support operations. 

We (Currently) Call it Enterprise Service Management but it’s Really Digital Transformation 

It’s an important point to make before continuing this blog – calling this best-practice exploitation strategy “enterprise service management” has helped the industry to understand, and buy into, the opportunity but it’s not always the best term to use when selling it to other lines of business.  

Why? Because they aren’t looking for enterprise service management – instead they have been reading about digital transformation and the need to create a digital workplace, digital back office, digital business backbone, or something similar. They need to transform their manually intensive, email- and spreadsheet-dependent, ways of working into technology-optimized working ecosystem. 

Creating the Digital Workplace 

When the smart people at MIT Sloan describe digital transformation as “the use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises… to change customer relationships, internal processes and value propositions” it shows us that digital transformation isn’t just about new, digital products and services, or the improvement of customer touchpoints and engagements – it’s also about improving internal processes.  

And the opportunity for the use of ITSM tools in non-IT scenarios – such as customer support operations – is because these many other lines of business, or business functions, are still trapped in a world where their operations and service transactions are dealt with using emails, spreadsheets, and post-it notes rather than what IT has created by way of ITSM tools. Plus, the methods employed for handling requests for help, information, service, or change make it difficult for both mangers and team members to gain insight into transaction status, workloads, and the overall levels of service and support performance. 

For Customer Support the Opportunity is Bigger Than Just Service Automation 

The corporate CRM system might do a great job in logging the issue, request, or change but how well does it fare in routing and managing the transaction through to completion (the workflow and automation offered by ITSM tools)? And how capable is the CRM system in terms of knowledge management (for both agents and customers), self-service and self-help, and then providing management insight into team and individual performance across both operational efficiency and meeting service level targets? ITSM tools are designed to handle all these things, at scale, and in a collaborative manner.  

Then customer support operations, enabled by CRM tools, can be overly focused on the “here and now” – dealing with the requests at hand, in hopefully an efficient way, but neglecting to see the wider business operations. It’s the proverbial “bailing out the water from an overflowing bath rather than turning off the taps.” Or operating in a reactive, rather than proactive, way.  

ITSM and the enabling technology can help customer support organizations to improve here too. 

Increasing Customer Support Proactivity 

It’s important to remember that ITSM is more than the IT service desk – and that there’s more that the best practice and ITSM tools can offer to improve customer support. And, probably most importantly, the importance of having a service management mindset and approach. 

With the entire ITIL service lifecycle “up for grabs” by other lines of business such as customer support: 

  • Service strategy. Which defines the perspective, position, plans, and patterns that the corporate service provider needs to execute.  
  • Service design. It’s not only the design of the services but also the governing practices, processes, and policies.  
  • Service transition. To quote ITIL: “Service transition ensures that new, modified, or retired services meet the expectations of the business.”
  • Service operation. It’s the activities and processes required to deliver and manage services at agreed levels.
  • Continual service improvement. It’s identifying and implementing improvements to services or business function operations. 

With different parts of the service lifecycle allowing customer support organizations to rise up from the day-to-day “firefighting” – the relentless stream of customer contacts – to improve operations and the delivered customer experience.  

Taking ITIL Problem Management as a Proof Point 

In addition to using ITSM best practice to better deal with the constant stream of issues and service requests, a “problem management” process, or capability, should also be applied by customer support organizations. It’s a formalized mechanism through which customer support teams can readily identify and then permanently fix the root causes of common customer contacts.  

These common contact causes might relate to: 

  • Failures in customer touchpoints such as online and physical points of purchase, or help and support capabilities 
  • The availability of information, or  
  • The company’s products and services. 

With the latter in particular, potentially a complex scenario if multiple company teams need to be alerted and involved in addressing the root cause.  

Thus, ITIL problem management and ITSM-enabling technology can be used to systematically, and efficiently, progress the issue at hand through the “problem lifecycle,” involving all affected parties as and when their input and help is needed.  

And by addressing the root causes, rather than applying a band-aid to the symptoms (i.e. the visible issues), these common issues will no longer affect customers (and the customer support team). With the resulting benefits including:  

  • Improved service quality 
  • Customer support case volume reductions – and the associated time and cost savings, and  
  • Happier customers – with a higher probability of their retention and repeat purchases. 

Ultimately, everyone wins when repeat issues are removed, or operations and products are improved, through problem management. 

So how are your companys customer support operations doing? Could they be improved for greater efficiency and a better customer experience? ITSM best practice and the enabling technology will help  from the day-to-day handling of customer contacts through to wider-reaching aspects of service delivery and company products and services.

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Principal Analyst & Content Director at ITSM.tools | Website

Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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3 Responses

  1. Good article, Stephen. I’ve been working with few customers who use ITSM tools for customer support. My biggest confusion has been this – how do you decide if they should use a Customer support software or an ITSM software? Are ITIL processes like Problem & Change management going to be the deciding factor?

    1. Hi Sanjeev, I also wondered about CS tools such as Freshdesk and Zendesk where the vendor also sells to ITSM needs and whether anything would work in reverse. Cheers, Stephen

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