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Service Desk Challenges: Increase First-Time-Fix Rate

This is article 3 in a series of 8. Go to article 1 in the series here.

The Challenge

When the phone rings, the service desk needs to fix the issue fast and fix it right. IT customers expects quick and decisive action. For the service desk, the goal is to live up to this expectation, close the issue, and make sure it doesn’t come back again.

The service desk is all about one-to-one communication; when an analyst is talking to customer, they’re not talking to another. Repeat calls tie up service desk analysts whilst other customers with new issues wait in a queue. It’s better and cheaper for the service desk (and better for the IT customer) to respond effectively and decisively in the first instance.

It is important to be clear on what the first-time-fix metric (sometimes called First Contact Resolution) is all about. Increasing your first-time-fix rate is not about getting better at solving the same issues over and over again. The first-time-fix metric can be misleading (like many percentage-based metrics). It is often seen as a “higher is better” performance metric, but when you dig deeper you see that there are a number of factors that influence the first-time-fix rate:

  • The number of infrastructure faults that are causing repeat issues. Commonly these are known in ITIL as Problems (or Known Errors if the root cause is known and a workaround exists). Either way, they will continue to drive traffic to the service desk until they are solved.
  • Whether your agents have the tools and information to find and fix customer issues, versus passing the issue to level 2 or level 3 support.
  • The changing nature of IT customer demands. Businesses change and so do support needs, so the shape of the IT service portfolio changes over time—and so, by association does the underlying infrastructure that supports it. New stuff always comes with new modes of failure (and new ways to fix them), so the first-time-fix rate will naturally drop when a new (and unfamiliar) service is brought online.

As such, the first-time-fix rate metric isn’t exclusively a performance metric for the service desk; there are external factors that play a part. It’s more of a “pointer” than a performance metric – one that tells the service desk manager something about different types of calls and how they are being handled.

A low number indicates the service desk staff don’t have the training, tools or information to solve problems on the first line. A high rate usually indicates one of two things: The service desk is handling too many simple issues (or information requests) that could be supported by a self-service portal. Or, there are too many long-standing infrastructure problems that are waiting to be fixed by 2nd and 3rd line support.

The Opportunity

The opportunities—the real reason for measuring the first-time-fix metric—are threefold:

  • Put a focus on solving the customer’s issue as quickly and decisively as possible.
  • Escalate fewer calls to more expensive 2nd and 3rd line support teams.
  • Identify Problem Management bottlenecks that are impacting the service desk and IT customer productivity.

So the real questions are: “How can we give IT customers the support they need, fast?”, “How can we extend the technical capabilities of the service desk to make it more self-sufficient and less reliant on expensive technical experts?” and “How can we solve more problems once and for all?” Clearly, this third issue goes beyond the remit of the service desk, so the service desk must work with Problem Management and Change Management to prioritize and resolve the root causes of these incidents.

Service Desk Challenges: Increase First-Time-Fix Rate - woman

The Solution

Targeted action can only be identified by analysing your service desk data. Study the system. Use your reporting tools to gain intelligence. Look closely at the type, number and complexity of issues that are getting resolved first time—and which are not. From here you can start to define who should be dealing with which issues at which levels:

  • End user self-service (“Level 0”): Which issues can end users resolve themselves, given the right information and tools? Increasing levels of computer literacy among IT customers means the service desk can push some types of issues back to the IT customer. Empower them with a self-service portal that provides them with information, fixes and simple tools to resolve issues (such as password reset and desktop tune-ups). The impact is that the overall first-time-fix rate goes up, but the first-time-fix rate as handled by service desk agents will go down—as a large number of simple issues have been diverted to a web portal.
  • The service desk (“Level 1”): The scope of the service desk borders with self-service (issues that can be resolved by the end user) and 2nd line support (those that require deeper technical skills). Essentially, the service desk fills the gap between the two. The service desk can push the resolution of simple issues to the IT customer but can also take responsibility for the resolution of more complex issues where the appropriate knowledge can be captured and transferred from the 2nd line to the service desk. The border between the service desk and 2nd line support is moved upwards and fewer issues are escalated. This is where the most value (in terms of cost savings and IT customer satisfaction) is to be gained in increasing the service desk’s first-time-fix rate.
  • 2nd line support (“Level 2”): Define which issues must be handled by 2nd line (or 3rd line) support. This allows you to do two things: First, you will be able to categorize and therefore automatically route these types of incidents directly to the right teams. Secondly, although this won’t reduce your first-time-fix rate, you will be able to clearly identify that these issues are outside the scope of the service desk. This means you can focus attention on the less complex issues that you can feasibly tackle on the first line, when supported by the right tools and knowledge.

It is important to remember that end user demands change as the business changes, so the lines between each tier of support must be constantly re-drawn to fit these changes in demand. As a service desk manager, you must keep an eye on fluctuations in the first-time-fix rate as these will indicate that some change has occurred, and the balance must be redressed.


8 Big Service Desk Challenges…and How to Solve Them

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