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Service Desk Challenges: Find, Keep, and Motivate Your Staff

This is article number 1 in a series of 8.

The Challenge 

The quality of your IT customer experience mainly relies on the calibre of your service desk analysts, so having the right people is critical. The service desk is the “human face” of IT and for many end users it is the only touch point between them and the IT organization. As a result, the perception of IT is largely dictated by the quality of IT support provided by the service desk. 

High staff turnover means a big slice of the service desk budget is spent on recruitment and basic training. This has a knock-on effect on quality of support and the amount of budget left over for advanced training, new service desk tools, and other budget-eating improvement projects. The average cost-of-hire for non-management staff is over $900. With 42% of service desk staff turning over every 2 years, this equates to $10,000 of recruitment costs per year in a service desk with a team of 30. 

Service Desk Challenges: Find, Keep, and Motivate Your Staff - doors

In organizations with many entry-level analysts, first-time-fix rates suffer, IT customer satisfaction ratings remain static (at best) and it is difficult to make headway with improvements. In short, staffing issues keep service desks in a rut. 

The Opportunity 

As the quality of service that the service desk provides is strongly influenced by people, finding, keeping and motivating your staff is a key challenge; but one that is often overlooked. The resulting staff churn has a negative impact on customer service and the perception of IT. 

When you hire, inspire and retain the right people, the inverse is true: customer service quality goes up, costs go down, IT customers get the support they need, and perception of IT improves.

The Solution 

To successfully manage the people aspects of the service desk, a strategic approach is critical. Service desk managers should think carefully about how they can find, retain and motivate the right staff – those that will support the objectives of the service desk. 

The State of the CIO 2018 survey found 59% of CIOs are experiencing skills shortages and recruitment challenges. Finding good people is difficult, and when under pressure there is a temptation to take a chance on a candidate. But hiring the wrong people can make the situation worse. Recruitment and training costs drain budget. Rookie staff drain time from your existing agents. It’s better to take your time, consider what you really need, and get it right. Here’s what you should be looking for in a candidate: 

  • Empathy – Having a sincere, respectful, customer-focused attitude.  
  • Responsibility – Willing to take ownership of the issue and see it through.  
  • Planning – Plotting a course of action to resolve the end user’s issue.  
  • Effective communication – The ability to articulate what will happen and when.  
  • A cool head – Ability to stay positive, work under a ticking clock, and pacify angry customers.  
  • Teamwork – Working with others to achieve the right outcome and improve the service desk.  
  • Problem solving – Having a methodical problem-solving approach and, where possible, being in possession of the right technical skills to diagnose and fix technical issues.  

Six out of these seven skills are “soft” skills. Technical knowledge is not the main issue here. As every organization is different, the service portfolio that an analyst supports differs greatly, so finding an exact match with technical skills is an impossible task. It’s easier to train for technical skills than soft skills. As the market for service desk analysts is so competitive, there are opportunities to cut corners by recruiting customer service agents from other service domains (such as a general help desk, travel agent, ticket office or hotel concierge service) – where these soft skills already exist. 

Service Desk Challenges: Find, Keep, and Motivate Your Staff -happy staff

Keeping Your Best Staff 

In a tough employment market, finding good people is difficult and organizations need to work hard to keep them. When competition for staff is high, there is always a risk that another organization will tempt your best people away from youService desk managers should be acutely aware of this threat, which must be actively managed. 

There are several drivers for high service desk staff churn: 

  • Low pay – In relative terms, a job on the service desk pays less than working in a more specialized technical team—on average, $10,000 less per year than 2nd line IT staff 
  • Stress – Analysts are under pressure to manage a growing queue of incidents but often lack the tools and training to do so—causing mass staff burn-out 
  • No career path – Many people see the service desk as an entry point into a career in IT. It is better to offer people a career path within your organization than to lose them to another firm. 

Motivating Your People 

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink states that there are three keys to motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

  • Autonomy – Giving service desk agents the freedom to exercise their own problem-solving skills and to approach customer issues in their own way: one that fits their own way of working and who they are.  
  • Mastery – Having a clear development path for each agent, supported by tailored training and mentoring. 
  • Purpose – When agents can see the bigger picture and how their own contribution is relevant to the organization they will be more motivated and better aligned to business priorities. 

If you apply these three key principles correctly, service desk agents will be motivated at an intrinsic level – having an internal drive to do the best possible job. Extrinsic motivators such as salary and bonuses play a part in a motivation strategy (people have bills to pay), but these external drive factors are not as powerful.  

In summary, if you want to build a successful service desk, people come first. Processes and tools are there to support what they do. 


8 Big Service Desk Challenges…and How to Solve Them

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