How to use rapid communications to meet customer service goals using SLAs

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Teon Rosandic

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

IT leaders and engineers certainly have their hands full with ever more sophisticated internal customers who are more empowered and easily disappointed than ever.  They are placing greater demands to “get it right” and deliver immediate access to information, products and services.

End users want to know not just that a service or product will meet their expectations, but that IT will deliver first-class, instant customer service.

At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract.  Conceptually, SLAs focus on accountability and liability, and over time communication about issues and outages has become the norm.  As issues in IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency is as critical as the service license itself.

It’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected businesses depend on cloud-based services. This environment also translates to internal customers in the IT organisation, where such expectations are at an all time high. Imagine your corporate Internet connection went down. Employees would be without email, the web and all the services they rely on, including CRM, marketing automation, financial tracking and much more.

One-third of Service Provider Customers report that just a five-minute outage would cause a large percentage of employees to be unproductive, according to a Cloud VPS  Hosting report.

The scramble to remain productive during an outage would certainly lead to an avalanche of questions, notifications and complaints from employees – exactly the sort of activity that prevents IT from taking action more than helps it.  A more proactive approach that sent notifications from IT to employees would both give IT more time to devote to resolving issues and create better relations between IT and the company at large.

You can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because employees experience these outages immediately and in every area of their work.  They want immediate answers; and if you don’t send them, you’ll get the avalanche.

Upping the Communications Ante

If your employees are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and most have tablets, but by 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, according to ABI Research.  But a smart phone is one person’s lifeline and another person’s albatross.  It’s not enough to just communicate.  You have to communicate to the devices your audience checks.

With more devices linked to the cloud, employee expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket.  IT will have to answer to this demand. It is telling that 82%of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson. For clients of the IT organization, time to resolution is even more important because that’s when they can be productive again.

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated interactions. If companies put this approach in place before any problems occur, then they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time during crucial moments.

The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audiences. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit them best and then keep them regularly informed throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.

The targeting should be much more specific than just preferred devices. Depending on the situation, maybe not everyone needs to be notified.  So it is a good practice to targeted recipients as well. Targeting recipients will also reduce the number of responses IT is likely to receive. According to the 2014 Zendesk Global Benchmark, IT departments receive an average of 33 alerts per day – on top of routine notifications. Sending too many irrelevant alerts can make people inside and outside IT stop paying attention, a phenomenon called alert fatigue.

So if IT gets notified to fix an issue at one employee’s workstation, it makes more sense to alert the affected employee than it does to notify the entire company. As IT adopts a more strategic role in helping companies achieve strategic goals and meeting financial targets, they need to be cognizant of being more than just a fix-it shop or just keeping the lights on.

To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.

Executives should be asking themselves – how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” service? How can rapid communication help me meet their productivity goals? If one or all of these answers involves the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate end user satisfaction.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

Service desk collaboration: why Facebook walls and social streams are not the answer

Social updates firehose - why updating everyone with everything might not be the answer.
Social updates firehose – why updating everyone with everything might not be the answer.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters .

Why was the IT service management and help desk function created?

Most likely, it stemmed from an idea to establish a task force of specialists capable of providing assistance in any complex technical issue.

Over the decades, the service desk function has evolved from elite efficiency artistry into first level issue resolution ranging from the basic resetting of a password, to the complex, cascading outages, which can involve all stakeholders and affect the most important services within the organisation.

However, all too often, the relevance of the function is underestimated. The perception is generally that the service management function is not as aligned or as strategic as it should be.

Proving the efficiency and value that the service desk provides to internal and external stakeholders can change that perception. But to do so, you have to begin by going back to the original objectives of the service desk.

It is easy to reconstruct how service management has become distracted with the issues of running an effective service desk. The goals of the help desk are a paradox. The range of tasks can be infinite and undefined, training is difficult, resources are scarce and customer’s expectations are growing at an increasing rate.  Too much information is being broadcast out to groups without taking into consideration how and why a person wants that information. The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to increase the relevance of service management.

Let’s examine some of the best practices to increase your business relevance:

  1. Automating mundane tasks – The ultimate goal of automation is to perform a required process in a streamlined, efficient and repeatable fashion. In order to automate a time consuming first-line task, you will need to create synergy between incident and dispatch assignment by combining industry leading service desk applications with a communication platform.  The platform you choose needs to allow each team to declare who is responsible, available, skilled and interested in any issue. When incidents take place, personnel are automatically located, dispatched and working on resolving those incidents without the need for the service desk to perform the slow, manual task of looking up who’s on call, who’s responsible, and what their contact information is.
  2. Optimising first call closure – Not all issues can be solved on the first call from the service desk. However, by automating the mundane tasks, we can reinvest time in our first-line resolution capability. The savings allow us to train first-line specialists and provide time for personnel to more accurately trouble shoot and resolve issues. In addition, it gives the service desk the ability to spend more time with customers during satisfaction-impacting issues.
  3. Enabling effective escalation – One of the challenges of effective service management, is knowing when and how to escalate an issue.  Finding the right person can be complicated and the odds of effective, accurate escalation feel like one in a million.  Effective escalation starts with enabling the team responsible for meeting the service level with the ability to control the information they require. By allowing each team leader or director to architect the process, it ensures that when escalations are required, the correct person is notified. Through the automated delivery of information to the person responsible, the time to dispatch and resolve is reduced, resulting in fewer escalations and eliminating non value-added tasks such as wait time for assignment, call out, and person-to-person escalations.
  4. Instant and frequent visibility – One of the largest challenges a service management organisation faces is to provide visibility to the consumers of the service. Business personnel require proactive notifications of service interruption; however, the process of manually calling 500 executives in 50 countries is not realistic without the help of a communication platform.  Additionally, using internal social media channels such as Facebook, Chatter and Jive requires information to be pushed out, rather than pulled in.  What’s required to provide meaningful, instant and frequent visibility and increase the perception of the quality of service? First, the organisation must have matured through the previous steps.  Before providing proactive alerts, the service management function must be operating effectively and efficiently. The second step is the integration of a communication system capable of supporting global operations, business personnel, business service oriented alerts and the ability to target content to each person based on their needs, role and requirements – it’s called personalised information.
  5. Champion transparency and accountability – Service management can provide an organisation with the tools necessary to increase efficiency and transparency. However, to reach this stage, organisations must become comfortable with publishing the results of their efforts.  In today’s world, IT services are all too visible, lags are noticed and incidents become known by your customer’s customer. Transparency and accountability are the key drivers in trust and assurance.

The key to increasing the relevance of the IT service management function is to streamline inefficient processes, and improve communication throughout the organisation.  Automating redundant, mundane tasks to improve efficiencies is critical.  Once you have an airtight process that ensures the service desk is running smoothly, you must then deliver proactive notifications to the people who care about specific situations.  While some may argue that social media channels are the perfect way to do this, it takes away the notion of personalised information.  Everyone is seeing the information posted there, and they have to actively seek it out.  IT service management should have a communication platform that delivers only the information internal and external customers care about, and need to know, directly to them.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

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