Winning at Self-Service Support Relies on Knowing What Users Really Want
The #1 reason why self-service initiatives fail is lack of engagement with the people who will use your self-service portal.
There is an old marketing mantra: “Find out what people want and give it to them”. You can’t give them what you think they want. You must give them what they actually want. There’s no room for assumptions.
The best way to understand what people want is to ask them.
This is precisely why “Engage” appears as the first activity in the ITIL 4 Service Value Chain:
The brutal truth is this: If you fail to engage with the people who you’re designing a system for, they won’t engage with the system when you put it in front of them.
Continuous Engagement vs Upfront Engagement
The traditional waterfall development model begins with intensive engagement with stakeholders in an attempt to capture a 100% complete and accurate set of requirements upfront (impossible). Business analysts translate these into a systems architecture and technical requirements. Developers build and test. The system is launched. Nobody uses it. What went wrong?
Firstly, it’s not possible to validate requirements in text format. If I ask you what you want and then describe a new system to you in words, you might say “That sounds about right”.
If I build a prototype based on the same requirements, you’re likely to say, “That’s almost right, but….” and then be able to quantify what’s not right about it. Without this engagement at an early stage, this shortfall wouldn’t have been spotted until much later—after a lot of money had been spent.
Secondly, people forgot about time and change. If it takes six months to build a product or service and put it in front of the customer then it’s highly likely that the world will have moved on by then. Upfront engagement found out what they needed (at one point in time) and gave them that. But that’s not what they need now. This is another reason why the service consumer needs to be involved throughout the whole process. Continuous engagement enables continuous validation enables continuous pivoting enables continuous delivery (known as CD in DevOps). This is one of the touchpoints between ITSM/ITIL and Agile/DevOps: Engagement is critical to telling developers what their next delivery should look like.
Co-creation of Value Means Bringing People with you
ITIL 4 talks about continuous engagement and co-creation of value in the ITIL 4 Foundation guidance.
It’s only really when you start thinking more deeply about where ITIL and Agile meet/overlap that it becomes obvious what co-creation of value really means—and the realization that engagement between service provide and service user is how it happens.
When you use the waterfall model, you only involve the users at the start. When you run iterative loops of build/deploy/validate, you are involving the end user across the whole process, providing multiple opportunities to pivot. They get the opportunity to provide feedback on design decisions, prototypes, beta versions, and at any other point in the lifetime of the service. You never quite get to 100% of what they want (which is impossible), but you trend toward it through adjustment and refinement. Users are almost always fairly happy with what they have, knowing that they will get more of what they want soon. Through co-creation, users become fundamentally more confident that they will get what they need.
When users are involved in the creation of a service, two things happen which don’t happen when IT works in a vacuum:
- They get what they want, so they will use it. More importantly, IT knows upfront that they will use it—so they can proceed with confidence.
- They are personally invested in the product/service, making them natural ambassadors to the rest of the user community. They will make effort to drive broader adoption. Broader adoption drives higher ROI from effort and spend.
What Users Want Today Won’t be What They Want Tomorrow
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change” and user expectations are no exception; constantly evolving, influenced by their consumer-life service experiences.
Amazon puts customer experience (CX) at the heart of everything they do and spends eye-watering amounts of money on leading the field in ecommerce CX. In doing so, they set a high benchmark against which all other service providers will be measured—corporate IT being one. This constant evolution of consumer service experiences means the IT customer experience must also continually improve to keep up with expectations.
This means that launching a self-service support platform cannot be considered as a project. It’s an ongoing program. Somebody must be accountable for it, as without an owner, a self-service portal won’t enjoy the benefits of sustained adoption.
Monitor Adoption Forever
Continuous engagement with users is one side of the coin. Ongoing measurement of performance is the other. Usage of a self-service portal must be continuously monitored to check its health.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) include:
- The number of distinct users who have used the portal each month. This number should be rising month-on-month. If it is falling, there’s a problem which need to be investigated.
- The number of support cases logged via self-service, versus phone. Ideally, the ration of self-service incidents, requests, and queries should rise over time.
- The number of successful versus abandoned attempts to log an issue, access a service, or find a piece of information.
A fall across any of these metrics may indicate user experience issues so the owner of the self-service experience should monitor them on a weekly basis—early visibility is essential to quick corrective action. There is a relatively small window of opportunity to fix self-service UX issues before people permanently abandon self-service as a support channel and default to calling the service desk. Above all, a self-service portal must be the line of least resistance for a user in need of support.
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