Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Service Desk is a Career

Today's entry is a plea to service desk operators and managers to make the service desk a career rather than a stop on the way to somewhere more interesting in IT.

There are very, very few businesses I have been into where the service desk is not a revolving door of people headed for "better things".

I am a strong believer in having that all-important single point of contact for the IT department, and this responsibility is vested in the Service Desk.

This means that the quality of your IT service will always be measured at the service desk, so where should you have your best people, your communicators, people with the knowledge to keep the business up and running? No matter how good your second and third level support is, if the customer experience at the service desk is not good, you are unlikely to have a happy customer.

When you ask the standard question at staff appraisal time - "where do you see yourself in 12 months" - I can just about guarantee that the typical response is not "providing exceptional customer service through the service desk", they will be aiming for Business Analysis roles, Network Administration, Database Administration....basically anywhere but the service desk.

It is very rare to find someone who wants to stay on the service desk, and if you do they are usually seen as having either no ambition or insufficient ability to escape from a job that is seen as a stepping stone, rather than a career.

Anyone who has worked in a managerial role in IT operations knows that a good service desk operator is worth their weight in gold, but you also know that if you do not promote them out of the service desk they will be scanning the situations vacant, looking for another company that will.

When you attend conferences and other events have you noticed that if you ask someone what their role is, a SD operator will say - "oh, I'm JUST on the service desk", as if it is something to be ashamed of.  How do we change that attitude and keep the skillset that we need on the front line? It is not easy!

We need to look at ways of promoting, but still keeping those key people on the service desk. ITIL does give us a good way to do this by allowing people to take on process ownership roles, or even become service owners. Allow specialisation on your service desk, develop expertise in particular aspects of the services that keep your business running.

Give your service desk operators regular time off the phones and keyboard to develop their skills, send them out into the business to gain an understanding how they contribute to the success of the business, give them half a day each week to work on process improvements. Invest in training opportunities, not just in ITSM skills but also in soft skills like relationship management, listening skills or stress management.

Make sure that the financial compensation is appropriate for the value your top service desk operators deliver to the company, your best people should not have to move elsewhere to earn need them where they are.

Recognise how stressful this job can be, being on the front line when IT systems fail can be exceptionally hard and the SD team can take a lot of abuse...normally verbal, but I have, one one occasion, seen that escalate to something more physical! Showing that you "get it" can be as simple as providing morning tea for the team at the end of a tough week, or shouting a few drinks on a Friday night...just something to acknowledge the pain!

It really all boils down to valuing the expertise and knowledge that exists on the service desk, make sure there is room for career advancement without having to leave.

I want someone to tell me, when I ask, that they are a Service Desk Professional - that is nothing to be ashamed of!


  1. I can safely say that there are those of us out there who do actually want to stay on the Service Desk and make a career out of it.

    I've been in a service-based customer facing role all of my 23 years in the business so far - be it as a field service engineer, an on-site engineer or, as now a Service Desk Professional.

    I'm currently going into my 10th year with my current employer, and despite having opportunities to at least apply fo rother roles (problem manager, incident manager, etc) I have always opted for staying where I am.

    Is this because of a lack of ambition? No!

    The reason I stay in the role is that I do not and never have wanted to 'specialise' technically and much prefer the relationships with my customers during the everyday interactions I have with them in this job.

    I still regard myself as having a good technical knowledge with many industry qualifications to my name, but I don't see these qualifications as stepping stones to specialisms but more as an authentication that the information I can pass on to my customers and more junior colleagues is sound and accurate.

    I don't think that there is anything I have come across within my career in IT that could match the satisfaction you get from the reaction a customer whose problem you resolved when they thought all was lost when they called.

  2. Thanks Ian, I would love to meet more people like you, and the managers who support them. You are right, the Service Desk is a hugely satisfying place to be.