Motivation and evolution of Service-Desk agents (Part 1)

By Laurent Duenas, January 24th 2014 

Purpose of this article

Turnover, motivation, perspectives: many inevitable issues that challenge Service-Desk organizations

This article explores the reasons why Service-Desk are quickly experiencing hard times trying to retain their best agents. They often lack of recognition within the IT organization and provide poor attractive perspectives. We hope this article enlightening about causes and providing relevant solutions to tackle these issues (solutions are discussed in a following article) for all Service-Desk managers, ITSM project managers and consultant involved in the implementation or the management of a Service-Desk.

Evolution of Service-Desk resources is not as easy as pie. Most of managers do not realize that thinking doing well they just dig their own hole. Being an agent of a Service-Desk has never been an enviable position within the IT organization. The willing of most of Service-Desk agents is to evolve to some more considered positions asap. This article wants to propose some ways to counter this fatal issue. By analyzing the reasons why poor satisfaction is resented among Service-Desk employees, this article tries to understand really what could be done to improve the perception of value and make stakeholders feel better against traditional prism of technical competences hierarchy.


What are the facts?


A natural and very common trend

There is a common trend which every Call Centers do not escape to: it is their personnel frustration to solve a poor rate of tickets on their own. “1st level support” - as they are usually called - completely feel pointless within the end-user solicitation management process. Of course, their level of technical knowledge is inferior and not specialized compared to Level 2 or 3 support groups. Their solving rate is low, especially at the beginning of their career and they are confined to solving the simplest cases. Service-Desk stakeholders develop a feeling of powerlessness towards end-users owing to assign most of the tickets to a more competent team. This is hugely frustrating.


This feeling is naturally fed by human willing to be the one who “find” and who “help”.  The more the case is severe and complex, the more grateful and enhancive the solving is. Being the one who provide the right solution to the end-user is definitively much more satisfactory than being resigned to leave this role to someone else - considered as more competent - and just keep the role of “serving-hatch”. What is easy to accept when starting its career is less acceptable after months of practices. By the months, only one thing comes up in mind: to be part of those who fix. It is very frequent to find Service-Desk agents tented by investigating by themselves, to the detriment of calls optimization rules. This behavior leads to confuse their actual job with level 2’s one. And this is not without impacts on quality of service. 


All this could be easily enforced by the attitude of end-users when being obliged to get through the unique point of contact (SPOC) - which in some organizations just qualifies their requests - don’t see value-added for themselves. They have the adverse feeling to waste time explaining to someone who obviously is not going to solve their concern, but only transmit it to the one they would like to talk to. And habits are difficult to lose. This happens when Service-Desk qualification is incomplete and the specialist calls back the end-user, and voluntarily or involuntarily, shows the limits of former’s added value. This situation is even worse when Service-Desk function is recently established and end-users got used to calling directly the specialists. They are convinced they were better handled before. Here again, it is just a perception. By accessing directly to the expert they felt privileged and better “valued”. This feeling is fully subjective. End-user often doesn’t realize he/she perceives the service as good as long as the specialist is available. He/she will perceive it distinctly less reliable since the specialist will not respond in a timely manner. When it happens, he/she has no other option than to wait.


Another enforcement of this feeling is the attitude from management at all levels. It happened quite often that management, facing complains from their 1st level personnel, try to retain them opening career perspectives towards specialized levels such as level 2, and later level 3. This answer just accentuates the fact that Service-Desk function is not the place to stay. If evolving to higher expertise levels is a positive career evolution, staying at Service-desk position cannot be perceived as anything else than a stagnation. When this conviction is deeply anchored in the organization culture, change is tough.  Setting a new Service-Desk up is a great opportunity to establish a new culture and diffuse a new positioning according to its mission within the whole organization. 



4 main consequences can be observed from this trend and relative behaviors. All organizations are exposed to these consequences: 


►   The first one is the deterioration of Service-Desk performance. Less focused on its core mission, the Service-Desk agent do not managed effectively the volume of requests. Willing to become the one who solve, he/she spends more time in investigating. The immediate impact is to intensify the pressure on his/her colleagues by routing call traffic to them. If they are several to do so, they plunged the performance of the whole Service-Desk by increasing waiting queues and abandoned calls. Service-Desk is quickly seen as non performer and end-users start to find alternate ways to be served. This strengthen parallel circuits and generate disruptions within the whole Support organization.


As reference, when call duration passes from 4 to 5 mn average to 10 to 15 mn, abandon rates are multiplied by 3 to 5. The unique solution to get out from this situation - if behaviors are not changed - is to add new resources to Service-Desk, whose effect will be to raise support costs.


►   The second consequence is the Service-Desk agent does not provide the value it is supposed to. By trying to play the level 2's role - and not being at the heart of changes, of designs, and not having the knowledge of specialists - his/her capability to quickly identify incident cause or workaround by him/herself is highly limited. His/her tentatives result in a huge waste of time from both IT and business sides. The ticket will finally be assigned to the right specialized support group, as it should be since the beginning. 


►   The third one is Service-Desk does not improve its maturity in Customer Relationship and Management. It is just focused on acquiring more technical skills. But above solving skills, what do end-users value is managing requests according to their business impact; is to guarantee the right involvement of resources within the whole Support-Chain according to the criticality; is to inform customer with transparency and convenient frequency, in order he/she is able to organize his/her own activities. Service-Desk value can be provided in other fields than Support. In change management, deployment preparation, new release information, active contribution from Service-Desk to customer care and a strong confidence with end-users can be established, based on transparency, relevancy, and trust. This maturity of relationship can turn Service-Desk into an enabler for new business opportunities. This is exactly what organization should invest in to retain its customers. But, focalizing only on technical skills, a Service-Desk agent cannot be opened to these valuable advantages.


►   The fourth one is the decrease of motivation and the acceleration of turnover rate of Service-Desk agents. An organization not able to retain its valuable employees long enough to recover from its investments, is bearing a serious handicap for its development. Skilled people are often experienced people, able to handle most difficult requests. A good understanding of business priorities and an ability to manage end-user stress cannot be learnt during the 1st year of practice. 2 to 3 additional years are necessary to acquire the required maturity. Clearly, companies that make the choice to renew their Service-Desk personnel too quickly (1 year) and do not come to grips with this wearing effect, increase their risk to lose customers. 


Facts are most of Call Centers have a 1 year average turnover. This is perfectly understandable mainly due to a limited role of Service-Desk agents just doing qualification and having poor resolution scope (such as password reset, printer queue purge, etc.).

Some organization may have lower turnover rates (above 1 year) investing in a higher expertise level, as for a software company hotline, or business application Call Center. Don't be mistaken: increasing technical scope slightly improve the turnover rate. This is not the level of knowledge that retains people, but the diversity of activities and responsibilities they are given due to their higher level of competences.

Location is also a factor that can artificially improve turnover rates. Poor employment areas distant from big cities maintain a good turnover rate, due to a lack of job alternative.

The next part of this article will focus on the consistency between the best practices implemented in an ITSM Project.



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