EX in a pandemic

May 26 · 10 min read

As I write this, the world looks very different than how it did at the start of 2020. Coronavirus—or the COVID-19 crisis, as it’s now more commonly called—has changed everything. From how we conduct ourselves in our personal lives—including social distancing to lockdowns—to how we, as employees, are able to work under the long shadow that COVID-19 has cast.

As a result, there are a number of issues to address, or hopefully avoid, when providing employees with service and support. Some relate to those being served, while others relate to those doing the serving. Many relate to the employee experience (EX) of both groups. Where EX encapsulates what employees encounter, observe, and feel over the course of their employee journey at an organization. With their ability to work on what’s most important, i.e., their productivity, playing a key part in their EX.

Now, in a world where social distancing and staying at home has become the norm, it’s more important than ever to make sure that employees are getting the best possible EX.

Overarching IT support principals to adopt for a better EX

In delivering a better EX, there are a number of basic principles that your organization’s IT service desk should follow:

  • Look after your people. Your people are everything in terms of your IT service desk’s IT support success. Processes, technology, and automation are all great, but if your people don’t feel safe, then you’ve failed with EX from the start. So, ensure that your IT service desk staff are able to focus on their work by reducing unnecessary friction and worries. This includes ensuring that they have the equipment they need, but it also includes doing whatever’s possible to help ensure that their mental well-being is good. From quickly addressing oppressive workloads, through ensuring that they’re not overworking, to providing capabilities that allow them to flag and discuss their issues.

  • Set the right tone. EX now versus EX six months ago are two completely different things, and we all need to course-correct accordingly. For example, we need to get the emotion right for this moment. Six months ago was a more optimistic time, when we might have aimed for customer delight or excitement or joy. However, this simply doesn’t sit well given the current global situation.

    Instead, we need to adjust, but this doesn’t have to be negative. Instead of delight, aim for stability. Instead of excitement, aim for reliability and consistency. Instead of joy, aim for calm. This can manifest in a number of ways that recognize the needs and circumstances of the new homeworkers. For example, by prioritizing employee productivity issues. Or being more patient with end users who are struggling to set up their new homeworker equipment, appreciating the stresses that they’re likely under. Or quickly notifying everyone of issues with team-based communication services, offering work-arounds as needed. Importantly, invest the time in keeping abreast with what’s most important to business functions and employees.

  • Reach out to suppliers and keep an eye on supply chains. In a pandemic, things typically shift on a daily if not hourly basis. So, check in with your suppliers—especially if there are any warranty periods or contract renewals due. If there are targets that are being missed due to the current crisis, work with your supplier to agree on a way forward rather than going for a punitive approach. Chances are, if you’re willing to work as a team, your suppliers and partners will do everything they can to deliver a good outcome for your organization. This includes maintaining the supply of critical items for both IT support and end users across the stock inventory of equipment, spares, licenses, and other assets. Not all of which will be traditional items. For example, digital experience tool licenses/subscriptions for IT to monitor the performance of key services for home workers. Or key homeworker peripherals and VPN licenses/subscriptions.

  • Automate what you can. This will take some of the pressure off your service desk people and reduce the potential for things to be missed. It will also increase speed and reduce errors, offering a better EX to employees. Simple automations include email autoresponders that immediately provide end users with the most likely knowledge articles (and solutions) even “out of hours.” Or the automated provisioning of preapproved software and services, based on role, via a self-service portal. Or automation and orchestration capabilities that allow service desk analysts to simply “call” for actions to be done (rather than needing to do things themselves). Ultimately, automation will make the lives of your IT support personnel easier and deliver “better, faster, cheaper” solutions to the employees they serve. It’s an EX win for everyone.

  • Template everything else. People make mistakes when they’re under pressure, and I don’t think there’s a single IT department out there not feeling under pressure in light of COVID-19. Use templates and checklists to reduce the number of things your people have to worry about when trying to look after their customers. It will help out both your IT support staff and the employees they serve.

    An example template could be a fast-track homeworker equipment setup that makes it easier for end users to get what they need. Especially if they’d otherwise need to make multiple requests for a monitor, mouse, keyboard, monitor stand, headset, etc. Another could be for quickly reporting connectivity issues, with the template collecting the main information a service desk analyst will likely need. An example checklist for IT staff could be everything that needs to be changed access-wise for homeworkers, including things that are automatically provisioned.

  • Focus on outcome. Make your processes more customer-centric by looking at outcomes. Identify key touchpoints between your processes and your business colleagues and look at how they can be tweaked to make for a more positive EX. For example, proactively notify an end user when the status of an incident or request is updated so they don’t have to chase for updates. Sometimes the small things make a big difference in EX terms, especially at the moment. Also, agree with the business on what you’re going to be able to deliver and how you’ll deliver it supported by SLAs and contracts.

  • Look for improvement opportunities. Just because everyone’s busy doesn’t mean that no one has time for improvement, especially when an improvement will save people time—or lots of people lots of time. Use tools and techniques such as Kaizen to identify and deliver regular small improvements to operations and the delivered EX. Plus, a focus on the delivered EX as being “better” often also brings with it “faster and cheaper” too.

    Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s move on to the most frequently used IT service management (ITSM) practice: incident management. A very similar approach to identifying what to focus on can also be taken with request, problem, and change management. Importantly, leveraging the above principles.

Improving incident management for a better EX

Incident management is a challenging thing to get right at the best of times because it’s so reactive in nature. Add in a global pandemic and lots of stressed and/or worried end users…. The situation’s not ideal. So, we need to take a deep breath and collectively up our game. Here are some key things to focus on:

  • Up end-user engagement. Think about it. No one is going to call the IT department in the middle of a pandemic just for the craic. If someone's calling, chances are that they’re unable to work or really, really struggling. By communicating with and helping the person, you ensure that they have access to work-arounds or temporary fixes as well as making sure that they never have to chase you for updates. It’s the backbone of delivering a better EX. This can be improved upon through the addition of new capabilities that, if used right, make life easier for everyone. I’ve already mentioned self-service, but another is collaborative work management tools. Whether the collaboration is between a service desk analyst and the end user, multiple analysts, or multiple analysts and the end user(s).

  • Ensure remote support proficiency. Providing support remotely rather than in person is a completely different experience both for the technician and the end user. From a technical perspective, the IT support person needs to be comfortable using remote support software as well as talking the end user, who’s potentially using remote support for the first time, through what’s needed. The delivered EX will depend on this proficiency.

  • Connect and listen. One of the most important analyst skills to have when trying to provide IT support during a pandemic is being good with people. For example, in talking the end user through each step while also effectively using the “quiet time” (such as while waiting for the end user’s device to restart or an installation to finish). This quiet time can be used to check the call details or the asset tag, or simply to ask them how they’re doing. COVID-19 has shown how a pandemic can make everything feel a bit strange, so keep talking so that the person at the other end of the call feels connected.

  • Use the “peak-end approach.”. The peak-end approach is a human behavior that affects how people remember past experiences. People tend to remember the peak or most emotionally intense moments, as well as the end result, rather than the experience in its entirety. Spend some time with your teams coaching them on how to best manage the peak and end of their calls to improve EX. This can work in an automated model as well. For example, if you have a self-service offering, the use of bright colors and animations have been shown to increase the likelihood of a user remembering a positive EX.

  • Be easy to contact. Some people prefer dealing with IT over the phone, some prefer self-help, and some prefer web chat. Others may prefer to check FAQs or to do some quick Googling before getting in contact. Hence, it’s important to offer people options such that they can access your IT service desk in the way that feels most appropriate to their situation. It’s a modern-day expectation outside of work that needs to be replicated at work. However, care must be taken to ensure a multi-channel experience works seamlessly. For example, an end user may start the interaction with a chatbot but, if the issue is complicated, will need to be transferred to a service desk analyst. So, map out each scenario and make sure that each handoff point is automated so there’s no disruption to the EX.

  • Lean in to artificial intelligence (AI)-based capabilities.. The use of AI is a way to free up your service desk analysts to focus on the more sensitive or technical issues. For example, the use of AI with self-help for better issue understanding and resolutions. For incidents that require human intervention, AI can still play a supporting role in routing tickets. This will save time and energy, improving both service desk and customer EX alike.

Delivering a better EX

These two sets of tips will, of course, help to make your IT service desk more efficient and effective. Just as importantly, though, they’ll also allow your IT to deliver a better EX—one that not only better meets employee expectations of service and support, relative to their consumer-world experiences, but also makes them more productive as a result. Everyone wins when you take action to improve your IT service desk’s EX—your IT support staff, the employees they serve and support, and the organization as a whole. Because more productive employees positively contribute to better business outcomes.

About the author

Vawns Murphy, Analyst, ITSM.tools

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