When looking at ways to improve your IT support and service desk, it’s always useful to take a look at what managed service providers (MSPs) are doing, since their entire business is based on successful and efficient service delivery – so they will always have some good ideas to consider.
One of the most prevalent of these ideas over recent years has been the concept of shift left – which means moving the activity of providing resolution support as close to the front line and customer as possible.
The concept is simple. By moving the capability and delivery of resolution work to the immediate front line, this reduces waiting time for customers, simplifies support activity and (important for outsourcers) reduces the actual cost of dealing with the incident. So, an incident fixed at the front line might cost $10, whereas the cost rises steeply for 2nd and 3rd level support to $100/$300, due to the increased numbers of staff involved, their costs, the cost of extended user downtime, etc.
For many organizations, at a very basic level this is the prime activity that they might look at, in terms of service modeling, i.e. how they define the sort of service and service levels that are provided by their support structure. There are also often questions raised about the value of this approach, notably with the development of self-service and crowdsourcing in recent years, particularly as the models and norms of IT Support and IT service management (ITSM) are constantly being challenged.
However, in general, the concept is a good and valuable one as it provides several highly desirable benefits, for both short and long-term gain, examples of which I will discuss below.
We all know that if you can fix an issue on the first call this greatly improves customer satisfaction. No one likes being passed around or having to wait, then chase, then wait again. The old ‘Helpdesk’ model of ‘log and refer’ wasn’t usually supported by slick escalation processes and a culture of collaboration, so often incidents were delayed not because the IT organization couldn’t fix them, but simply because IT wasn’t organized into a service model that worked to achieve the quickest possible resolution for the customer or business.
This is clearly a poor level of business support (where business performance is impacted by chaotic or incompetent IT management) and has led to a focus on pushing resolution competence and capability to the front line. The key element here is unproductive user time, not just bad experience. If customers are unable to work, this is punishing the very business that the IT organization is there to support.
So, the faster the resolution time, the less productive downtime for the customer. This should be simple and obvious, however many IT people and organizations have resisted this over the years based on fear, prejudice, and ignorance – fear of losing their technical power, prejudice against ‘lower level’ technical people on service desks, and ignorance of the impact of their views and actions.
In simple terms, the whole process of escalation– acceptance/rejection, updating, chasing, resolving, closing, and QA – is a painful one. So if this is reduced to a minimum, it also reduces friction between teams and reduces the time spent or wasted chasing updates, negotiating on priorities, etc. This in itself is a cost and efficiency saving but also allows re-focussing on high value work, for all concerned at different levels in the support model. Once in place, shift left removes a level of attrition, waste, and inefficiency that benefits both provider and customer alike.
Basically it’s cheaper.There is a general consensus of agreement on this, since the figures have been around for some time from Gartner, for example, which show the cost of resolution increasing across 1st to 3rd levels of support in an IT organization. Of course nowadays there is also self-help and self-service, which is the ‘zero level’ and which is even cheaper that human 1st level support.
So to return to the initial point, this is where MSPs can achieve value – their focus is of course on saving costs but in reality (unless this is done very poorly), using the shift left process will result in an improvement in speed of resolution, customer experience, and simplicity in operation too.
It certainly provides the framework that would deliver better and faster resolution of issues and therefore reduction in downtime.
Of course the customer experience may still need to be reviewed and improved, e.g. if the analysts/agents do not provide good customer care, etc. However there is still a focus with this on reducing the interruptions and inconveniences to the customer.
Traditional retained IT organizations have often struggled to come to terms with the real implications of shifting left. As mentioned above, this can be due to misplaced fears and uncertainties, as well as politics and empire building. True quality customer service and customer experience needs these barriers to be removed in order to achieve a consolidated and seamless service ‘supply chain’ and collaborative workforce.
The greatest challenge often is around changing the mindset that can’t allow service desk/front line teams to carry out apparently difficult/technical/high risk functions (those that need to be done by experienced people). That’s missing the point. If the business need is to get the issues resolved more quickly than can be practically done by escalation, then the model needs to change, i.e. the structure, staffing, and skills of the service desk. So they need to be trained, or re-hired. That’s the extreme end of the scale and in most cases, once the argument has been won, it’s a matter of simply delivering good knowledge management, staff training, and ongoing governance and management.
Finally, shift left doesn’t work for every situation and should be considered in context of business need and priority. Some emergency/critical services simply need a log and triage approach. It should however always be considered as a valuable customer experience option and used as a de facto approach, rather than the other way round.