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How We Transformed an Existing Help Desk Operation

How We Transformed an Existing Help Desk Operation

In a preview of a Supportworld Live session, HDI Featured Contributor Mike Hanson describes how he and others at PSCU improved their IT service operation.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of building a service desk from scratch and taking an existing help desk operation and looking for improvement opportunities.

Unequivocally, transforming an existing team is the more difficult task. Showing up as a new leader in an established team, especially one that’s been working together for a long time, presents a lot of challenges. Bringing in new tools, new processes, and, most critically, cultural changes involves patience and a great deal of hard work. Despite the difficulty, it is a challenge that can be very rewarding, especially if all the pieces needed to move the team along the maturity model fall into place.

Let’s take a look at the journey we’ve been taking to mature into a true Service Desk at PSCU.

PSCU is the nation’s premier payments credit union service organization (CUSO) and an integrated financial technology solutions provider, with a distributed workforce of around 5,000 internal customers as well as many external customers at supported financial institutions. Founded by credit unions over 45 years ago, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. This growth drives the need for a more mature IT support and services team, and a key part of that was moving from a basic help desk to a true Service Desk.

The first priority in any journey like this is having a plan that is realistic and transparent. We based our blueprint on the maturity model found in the HDI Service Center Manager and Service Center Director curriculum. This model progresses from a reactive to proactive model, which is typical of most help desks. From there it moves to a customer-centric model and, ultimately, a business-centric model, which is more aligned with the concept of a Service Desk. When we began our trek, the team was somewhere between a reactive and a proactive help desk.

A key milestone is to build a business plan and roadmap that clearly articulates how we intended to move along the maturity model. This map is then shared with the appropriate IT leaders to get their support, which is vitally necessary as this is not a short-term initiative. In our case it involved laying out a five-year plan, first at a high level for each fiscal year, then at a more detailed level when looking at a specific year within the timeline.

Getting solid backing from IT leadership is critical to a program like this, and at PSCU we had a wonderful advantage in the fact that we had strong support from our IT leadership team.

There are some key things to keep in mind. First, be honest about expectations. There are going to be costs involved, so it’s important to highlight where and how the budget will be used. There may be some low-hanging fruit that can give a few early wins, but for the larger changes it’s imperative that everyone understands which initiatives will take time to see results.

Another key factor in garnering support is effective marketing of the journey to maturity. Make it part of leadership meetings, loop in business leaders outside of IT and market the benefits of the changes, and provide regular and transparent communication to the service and support teams to keep them involved and informed.

The roadmap attempts to logically segment the trip to maturity into well-defined and distinct initiatives. For example, it identifies what tools are needed – such as Incident Management, Event Management, Problem Management, and Knowledge Management. It identifies which are most important and need to be addressed as a priority, versus those that are not as immediately impactful and can be deferred.

A good example is Incident Management, which is a cornerstone of any IT support team. We identified specific changes to our tool that we felt would help us better facilitate managing our customer’s calls. Adding dashboards that displayed unassigned and open or aging incidents allowed us to better move those issues to the correct team for resolution. Similar exercises were undertaken with Event, Problem, and Knowledge Management.

Another challenge associated with tools was the Call Management System (CMS). We had a legacy system that was not meeting our needs very well, was cumbersome and unfriendly to use, and was not truly optimized for the distributed workforce that happened after the COVID pandemic. We made the decision to migrate off of the on-premises legacy system to a call center as a service (CCaaS) tool. This was a cloud-based call management system that included many functions that were unavailable in the legacy application, such as integrated workforce management, quality management, and a great reporting/dashboard function.

A critical component of this journey will be the ability to gather and report on progress. We had to build a framework for creating a metrics-driven support organization. This involved building reports and dashboards within our Incident Management and Call Management tools, and taking that data and transforming it into trends, historical comparisons, assessments of performance against industry standards, and adopting common measures for call handling and incident ticket management. As these elements fall into place, sharing relevant data with other teams, leadership, or even customers become routine.

Lastly, the most challenging portion of the journey to maturity can be changing the team culture. In our case, we started with an advantage because PSCU was already well known as having a great corporate culture. They are very focused on employee well-being, and as a result we have a large number of staff that have been with the company for a very long time. That’s an incredible advantage, but it can also be a two-edged sword when it comes to change, as many long-time employees can often have little or no outside experience and may be less eager to embrace change.

Setting very clear expectations is important in this case, as we were adopting new tools and processes relatively quickly. Changes like closer attention to scheduling and workforce management, adopting and communicating the importance of properly documenting work, with associated quality audits were sometimes not well received until we could effectively argue why they were necessary and important. Establishing objective goals accompanied by metrics and 1:1 discussions helped drive needed change.

A key goal of Service Desk leadership was recognition, both internal and external to the Service Desk team. We established training and certification criteria, and the entire team was sent to HDI classes with an expectation that they would be certified. I’m happy to report that the PSCU Service Desk has maintained the Team Excellence Pinnacle certification for the past two years, and we’re on track for the new year as well! Internal recognition took the form of an “Analyst of the Month” based on objective measures that fed into an “Analyst of the Year” award that came with a trophy, gift card, and a further nomination to the HDI Best Service and Support Analyst award. We also strive to make sure any team or customer recognition is passed on to the team during our monthly staff meetings.

So where are we today? Recall that we started between a reactive and proactive help desk. Today, we fall between a customer-centric and business-centric Service Desk. We’re not done, but fantastic progress has been made over the past two years.

Some of the lessons we learned:

  • Get leadership support early and market the benefits every chance you get. Keep it front-and-center!
  • Set clear goals and expectations, to both leadership and the Service Desk staff.
  • Establish robust metrics and reporting, with associated dashboards.
  • Be transparent, identify roadblocks and celebrate successes.
  • Most importantly, build a plan and stick to it!

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