You Need to Manage What You Cannot Measure in the IT Service Desk

IT Service Desk metrics

An IT service desk is successful if it creates value for its customers. Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to measure the value created (by the desk and its activities). On the other hand, it’s quite easy to measure the activities of the service desk. Its main activities are logging issues and requests and the associated help and replies – with the service desk opening and closing tickets as it does so. These activities create the opportunity for a large number of possible metrics.

Activity-based IT service desk metrics

These metrics tell you something about how your service desk operates. They also tell you about the environment in which your desk works. What they don’t tell you, however, is whether your service desk is good or bad.

Let’s look at an example:

  • Service desk X has an average queue time of 9 seconds, first-level resolution at 95%, and only 1 % of tickets are reopened.
  • Service desk Y has an average queue time of 45 seconds, first-level resolution at 45%, and 15% tickets are reopened.

Is IT service desk X good and Y bad?

Maybe, maybe not.

It’s impossible to tell based on these numbers alone. It’s possible that service desk Y has eliminated and automated all the simple tickets – such as password resets – and now only handles complicated cases, which they often need to escalate to developers. They might also try new things which leads to tickets needing to be opened again. And they might be very good at their job.

On the other hand, the very short queue time of service desk X might indicate that they’re overstaffed and are wasting resources at the frontline. But as I said, it’s impossible to tell based on just these numbers.

The same is true for individual metrics

A person who analyzes the core of the customer situation may look very inefficient by the numbers but might be actually creating value – preventing many future tickets by being thorough.

The main point is that the activity metrics don’t tell you about the value of the IT service desk and thus you should not manage by these metrics. It’s not true that: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This oft-quoted statement is said to come from W. Edwards Deming, who is internationally renowned for his theories of management, but this is what he actually wrote:

“It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.”

What about IT service desk customer satisfaction?

Doesn’t satisfaction equal value? Again, maybe, but there are potentially problems here.

In many organizations, value creation is unequal. According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of the people create 80% of the value and it’s quite likely that this 20% are the busy people who don’t have time to answer the customer satisfaction surveys. Also, high satisfaction may well indicate waste – where effort is lost in pleasing the customers instead of improving the service.

Plus, it’s good to remember that people are generally not good at noticing perfect service when it’s “invisible.” If trains are always on time, a 2-minute delay will make people angry, if trains are usually 3-6 minutes late, a 2-minute delay will make people happy.

So, how do you manage?

I recommend three key things for your IT service desk:

  • Understand your customers’ needs.
  • Make sure that your staff understand what the customers need.
  • Support your staff through training, tools, and fair treatment.

Don’t throw away your activity metrics, they’ll tell you if things are changing. Plus, you need to understand what is happening. But don’t manage by activity metrics and never set activity-based goals.

Aale Roos
ITSM consultant at Pohjoisviitta Oy

Aale Roos was an expert in statistical computing and data analysis before he moved on to IT service management. He was Head of Customer Service at an IT service provider when he took the next step and became an ITSM consultant in 1989. He has since been selected as the ITSM Person of the Year by itSMF Finland.

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