Lessons from the Service Desk

Encourage an Empathetic and Problem Solving Attitude

This article is from my ‘Lessons from the Service Desk’ series, where I discuss the principles of soft-skills in a service desk environment. Check out the whole series by clicking here.

Arguably the most important soft skill in your service desk is in your agent’s attitude toward problem solving. A positive, problem-solving approach to tickets will greatly improve your quality of service, keep your team on-track to meet KPIs and will bring out the best in your agents.

A lax attitude to service will turn into deference, poorer quality of service and likely poorer performance across your team, even if you do have some agents who have a positive attitude. I’ll explain with an example from my organisation.

During the on-boarding of one of my front-line colleagues, he was encouraged to escalate any calls he was having difficulty with. Well, over 7 months into his tenure, long after he had developed familiarity with our service and the ability to service requests, we found that he was still escalating a relatively high number of calls. He’d listen quietly, then politely say “I don’t know how to fix this, so I’m going to pass you onto my senior technician” or something to that effect. A couple of my other colleagues were doing this, too.

This had a few adverse effects:

  • The customer was getting a second rate experience on several levels.
    • Our front line was appearing to be incompetent or incapable of assisting the customer with their query.
    • They had to wait until a senior took their call, then explain the problem again – an exchange which added time and frustration.
    • Customers were now learning to ask for our Level 2 technicians directly, and our front-line techs were only too happy to transfer.
  • Our Level 2’s were being dragged into simple calls.
    • Level 2’s therefore had less time to tend to their duties.
    • Our Level 2 technicians act as our case managers, who tackle difficult and lengthy service tickets. This work is important to delivering a high quality of service and they were doing less of it.
  • Our front-liners were not learning to handle these problems themselves.
    • They were growing complacent, and developing poor habits and work ethics.
    • Their growth in terms of learning our product, its issues and fixes, was hampered, slowing their progress to become Level 2 technicians themselves.

Understanding the problem

We found that our front-liners were escalating issues regardless of complexity and were specifically avoiding problems they were not familiar with. When dealing with problems they knew how to handle, not only were there no problems but they often performed excellently. So what to do?

Ultimately, the fundamental problem in this scenario lies in the attitude taken toward the work. Our service desk handles a wide breadth of issues on any given day, and not all of them are necessarily technically difficult. With a patience, independent research and a bit of elbow grease, our front-liners were more than capable of resolving these issues themselves, yet they opted to defer and escalate instead.

My recommendation to management in this scenario was to coach our service desk into taking an attitude of resourcefulness, to remind them of the tools and resources at their disposal and to encourage an active, problem-solving approach to the work. “I don’t know” should be replaced with “I’ll find out for you” and the team should be encouraged to ask questions and problem-solve, rather than offload the entire call altogether.

We revised our knowledge base, updating any notoriously under or misdocumented articles with up-to-date information. Where necessary, we provided individual coaching and guided them through the process of problem-solving and working independently. Above all however, we explained that this attitude to the work was beneficial not just for their role, but for any future roles in their IT career.

And finally, amongst our Level 2 technicians, we took an attitude of assisting our frontline in finding the solution, rather than just giving them the solution outright, where appropriate. Often, this came down to just encouraging our agents to find the answer, rather than guiding them through it.

In closing, guiding your team toward a positive, problem solving approach will greatly benefit your organisation and client base. As with all change, coaching is a gradual process and the importance of team support and good documentation cannot be understated.

So, when evaluating the performance of your service desk, be sure to listen for your agent’s approach toward handling calls, as this is what drives your team’s performance.

Check out my next article in this series on Clear Communication.