Empowering Employees in a Support Environment

Service DeskRecently, I ran across a fantastic article by David Marquet, former commander of the USS Santa Fe. If you’re in a position of leadership, particularly in an IT support environment, do yourself a favor and set aside 10 minutes of your day to read it.

Reading this article got me thinking about how employees in a support environment are empowered to solve problems. And I mean actually solve problems, not merely take information and forward it to another tier for resolution. How do you know when your staff have the proper tools, training, and access? How do you know when the assignment of these role-based responsibilities is translating into positive change for the customer?

In a service provider’s organization, it’s helpful to understand the tasks your service desk are asked to accomplish. If you desire to reduce the number of contacts required to resolve an issue, perhaps you should consider the role of the service desk with respect to their access. Are there items currently assigned to a higher tier that can be resolved by a service desk staff member, either through training or by automation of the task? If you desire to improve customer satisfaction rates for the service desk as an entity, perhaps you might look at what limitations, policies, or other barriers might be in place. Are these preventing the service desk from tailoring itself to the needs of customers?

This is not to say that we, as service managers and owners, should not balance these things against IT and operational concerns. As part of a CSI process, an IT service provider should be looking at these things on a regular basis with an eye toward changing whenever necessary or appropriate.

Interesting ITSM Links: Customer Service edition

It’s Customer Service Week! What a fantastic opportunity to think about how IT organizations handle the needs of their users. This week’s interesting links discuss several topics in and around serving the needs of customers. The EDUCAUSE discussion link listed below is an interesting conversation between several university IT service professionals and worthy of a few moments of thought.

Ad-Blockers: What happens when your users change behaviors?

Safari iconWith the release of Apple’s iOS 9 software for iPhones and iPads, the age-old discussion about revenues from web advertisements has picked up a new urgency. One of iOS 9’s new features is lightweight content blocking extensions for its built-in Safari web browser. This has opened a window of opportunity for mobile developers to create plugins that suppress ads inserted in mobile web pages. For the first time, Apple mobile users have the ability to shield themselves from some of the more annoying items that embed themselves in web content. Poof! No more full-screen ads, no more auto-playing video come-ons, no more accidental clicks on things you don’t wish to buy! Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Blocker Wars: The User Strikes Back

But what happens if you’re on the other side of the equation? Providers of content aren’t all that happy with this. Although Apple didn’t explicitly create this extension capability for blocking ads, it’s not a stretch to believe they knew this would be one of the first applications for it. With many publishing companies turning their efforts toward a great experience for their mobile viewers, what happens when ad-block plugins take away parts of their revenue? Naturally, they will spill a lot of ink to chronicle the impending apocalypse. Some even gleefully talk about “ethical” content blocking.

This topic got me thinking along the lines of changes to user needs in a service environment. A software change on the part of Apple has allowed its customers to change a key part of their behavior online. By allowing iOS users to obtain, install, and use ad-blocking plugins, suddenly those users have the opportunity to change how they consume content online. In so doing, they can become more selective about what they do and do not see. This is a change in behavior facilitated by a change in technology.

Service Changes Caused By User Behaviors

What happens when something like this occurs in your own environment? When your customers begin changing how they consume your services, are you prepared to adapt to those new realities? It seems to me that the ITIL concept of Continual Service Improvement (CSI) applies to this scenario. If your service ceases to meet your customers’ needs, shouldn’t you as a service provider be looking to change your services — modify, replace, or retire — to reflect the new landscape?

CSI is one way to recognize there is an opportunity to renew your service and make it better. Because CSI should be an integral part of all stages of a service’s lifecycle, it takes into account the fact that services must adapt to changing circumstances and needs. CSI feedback in the form of user behavior changes is something you should notice, possibly discuss with your customer’s stakeholders. Is the change something the customer didn’t intend to happen (and therefore to be corrected) or is it harbinger of a change to customer requirements?

If you are a service provider, a change in the application of such technology might force you to make decisions about your service that you’d prefer to avoid.

In the case of content providers with blocked ads, you might have to evaluate why users are blocking ads and modify your service. I realize this might be easier said than done, but it might be more effective to adapt to the situation than to ignore or stand opposed to it. The same is true for any IT service provider. User behaviors will dictate some of what can and cannot be done.

Customer Service Week 2015: October 5-9

Keep Calm, it's Customer Service Week!

Are you ready for Customer Service Week 2015? This year, CSW happens between October 5-9. If your organization is involved with serving customer needs (and aren’t we all?), this is a fantastic opportunity to to recognize and encourage hard-working team members that work in customer service roles. But more broadly, it is a great reason to celebrate the efforts of team members across your entire organization that help customers meet their needs. The hard-working front line staff at service desks are certainly front and center, but everyone deserves at least part of the credit for ensuring your organization’s customer service efforts are successful.

It’s also a great time to reinforce organization-wide values that relate to service and meeting the needs of your customer base. What better time to remind your team of these values than to show them why it’s important!



Interesting ITSM Links: Service Catalog edition

This week’s interesting links discussion focuses specifically on service catalogs. EDUCAUSE provides useful discussions on services routinely, and these links are of particular interest. With so many IT organizations within higher education focusing on business outcomes, insights from various members of the EDUCAUSE organization highlight this change in thinking. The ITIL discussion group had several particularly illuminating conversations this month regarding structure and organization of catalogs in an educational institution context.

Password Manager Tools and ITSM

In rSecurity Breachecent months, password management tools have been in the news thanks to a security breach at LastPass. Because LastPass is one of the more popular tools for individual use, there’s naturally a bit of hand-wringing in the industry regarding their security. LastPass, like many of its competitors, offers a cloud synchronization option for the sake of convenience. This makes it easy for a user to move between devices while retaining access to their username, password, and other secure account information. The LastPass breach is tempered somewhat by the fact that no password data was accessed or stolen, even in encrypted form. Their safeguards seem to have worked — for now.

LastPass is primarily a tool aimed at end users, but how many use it for work-related purposes too? It shouldn’t surprise IT professionals to find users co-mingling passwords for personal and professional services. Password managers with security problems could easily mean spillover problems for IT service providers in organizations. There may be some service management considerations for IT professionals to consider.

Password resets will be a thing

Every time an organization of any sort has a security breach, there’s a natural flurry of password resets and requests for password assistance. Most organizations that get breached force resets on their customers as a way to mitigate further compromises. This is necessary and proper, to be sure, but what happens if the organization isn’t ready to handle mass password resets? What if it does not have adequate self-service capabilities? What if the organization’s service desk is understaffed or under equipped to handle the sudden influx?

If it hasn’t happened already, a highly-publicized security breach ought to be a good reminder to review the support options made available to your customers and their end users. Your self-service tools should be ready, easy to use, and accessible. If these are an afterthought for your organization, your response to any sort of security breach is crippled before it even begins.

Cost to your organization for disruption of users’ access

What happens when your users make use of password management tools, but it’s those tools that get hacked instead of your systems? Could those customers’ information or access on your systems still be at risk? How can you tell and what can you do about it?

Most IT organizations cannot monitor for every security breach from every other company and organization on the Internet. However, you can use incidents like the LastPass breach to remind users of the need to remain on top of their personal data security and that no system is tamper-proof. Changing passwords regularly, even when using a password manager, is a good idea. Two factor authentication might be even more effective, if perhaps more cumbersome.

Should organizations consider providing password management to their users?

If you are an IT service provider and concerned about security, it’s a good bet that the integrity of third-party password management tools is something you monitor. The security of these tools has impacts on the security of your own services. Users with compromised accounts on these third-party services represent an additional support burden on your organization.

So, should you offer your own password management tools as a way to encourage security without relying on a third party? Although this discussion has focused on password management tools that synchronize to a cloud based service owned the tool’s creator, there are other methods to store and synchronize password databases. Many users work with open source and/or freeware apps like KeyPass, synchronized over third-party file storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. If your organization offers its own internal share drives, these would work as well. But the cost of training customers and encouraging use might be steep, and integration with existing services might be mediocre.

Password managers represent both the best and worst of IT security. They are a fantastic way to help users get out of the habit of using the same password over and over, making it easy to select complex passwords without the added stress of remembering them. However, if the service’s security is compromised, possibly all of that effort is for naught. For ITSM professionals, the question is if these third-party tools should encourage you to look at your own security and self-service options. The answer, of course, is yes.

Supplemental Interesting ITSM Links: Digital Age edition

I ran across a few interesting webinars on BrightTalk recently that use the “digital age” and the “digital enterprise” as a way to explain offering service to customers. Although it’s true that electronic devices and systems have re-shaped workflows and how we interact with customers, we shouldn’t forget that basic ideas about service and support remain true. The “digital” element means we have to be aware of how customers and users wish to receive services, taking in to account modern tools and techniques to achieve those goals.

Interesting ITSM Links for the Week

Welcome back. This week’s links deal with a variety of interesting topics for folks that look beyond just ITSM. The Information Week article listed below is of particular interest to leaders that think about the culture they encourage in their IT organizations. If you were a prospective employee, how would you react to the culture in your department?

Interesting ITSM Links for the Week

For most universities in the United States, classes are now underway. I would imagine most of my ITSM colleagues in higher education are quite busy with new students, new faculty, and new requests for service and support. Best of luck to everyone!

This week’s links are follow ups on topics explored previously on this website.

Best of luck with the week!