The Role of Self-Service in Achieving IT Service Management Maturity

According to HDI research, 65% of an organization’s end users contact support. While it’s possible that the other 35% never have a question or an issue, it’s more likely that they are finding their own solutions, whether the organization has provided self-service or not. At first glance, this may seem like a positive thing, but consider that issues and answers not addressed either by assisted support or through an organizationally maintained self-service system remain unknown to those who need to correct, improve, or replace the applications or systems that generated the issues. The technical units of an organization (i.e., the IT department) are responsible for providing the services an organization needs. If those needs are unknown or misidentified, they won’t be funded and can’t be provisioned.

It should, then, be a goal of the organization to provide robust user self-service to the greatest possible extent. The self-service system—most often accessed via a web portal—must be easy to use, practical, and effective. As consumers outside of work, people are used to Amazon and Google, and they have come to expect the same level and ease of service at work.

In an HDI report commissioned by Business Name, three verticals and their approaches to IT service management (ITSM) practices and processes were examined. It was discovered all of the focus verticals feel that self-help is a “must-have” technology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, education far exceeds others, in keeping with the received wisdom that tech-savvy young people are more motivated and interested in being able to serve themselves.

The primary pitfall in providing self-service is failing to gain user adoption. If people are willing to search for solutions online, why aren’t they flocking to self-service when it’s offered internally?

In a recent interview with HDI, ITSM consultant and author Phyllis Drucker said:

If [Amazon] had created a shopping site that made it difficult to find the book you wanted, they would have gone out of business…When I talk to people, I say, the first thing you need to do is go shop online. Shop Amazon, shop a department store website, and see how they build things. You would never go to Amazon and have an item called “Books” and a bunch of dropdowns with every book that they sell. Yet people will put software in a catalog under a software request for every piece of software they offer, and then there’s these 250-line dropdowns that people find very difficult to navigate. So, it’s all in the design of the portal.”

There are basically three elements to a successful self-service portal:

  • Make access and navigation easy, using graphic elements the users will recognize
  • Ensure that any user-facing knowledge is:
    • In the language of the user/customer and not internal jargon
    • Findable using the language of the user/customer
  • Make the user experience (UX) one that will draw people in and bring them back

The primary goal of any self-service system must be to make it easier and more efficient for the people who use it. The goals for self-service should not be:

  • To deflect contacts and save money
  • To reduce labor costs and save money

While these are all-too-often cited as goals, they should instead be viewed as the outcomes of successful self-service. If users find the answers to their questions quickly and easily, contacts to the service desk will be reduced. The design and content of the self-service portal, then, must be aligned with the goals of user experience and user success. In order to reach these goals, there must be an investment of time and money. Cost saving will come, but it will come later.

Combine a mature knowledge management capability, such as Knowledge-Centered Service, with robust self-help/self-service technology and a user-friendly portal built on a robust ITSM platform, and any organization will be well on its way to fulfilling its contact-deflection, labor-reduction, and cost-saving goals.

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