Great CIOs Need “WOW” Service Desks That Go Beyond ITIL

DArcyGueBy D’Arcy Gue, VP, Industry Relations, Phoenix Health Systems
Twitter – @DarcyGue

Given the IT revolution within hospitals today, how your Service Desk analysts handle physicians and other users is more critical than ever. Disruptive trends such as sophisticated new EHRs, widespread use of devices and apps, and the growth of cloud-based services should not equate to disrupted customer service. Yet this often happens, as over-stressed CIOs with tight budgets overlook or delay upgrading user support in the heat of implementations and more “executive level” responsibilities.

Your Service Desk is the face of IT. Even if you are the CIO, even a VP — you are not the face of IT to your users. If your Service Desk is lacking, you are seen as lacking. Let’s talk about preventing this ugly scenario and making you a hero.

Your Service Desk analysts interact with physicians, clinicians and other users more than any other resource, and have the power to transform users into champions of your IT department. Or, they can destroy the department’s reputation and present obstacles to every future IT initiative or program. Not coincidentally, they can also thwart your ability to thrive and be successful in your role.

Many CIOs have recently made great strides in upgrading service standards, processes and tools to sustainably provide a high level of support across the growing spectrum of technologies within their hospitals. Some are creating world class service support in-house, and others outsource this increasingly expensive and complex function to outsourcers who can leverage staff and major expenses across multiple hospital clients.

Christopher Longhurst, the new CIO at UC San Diego Health, understands the extraordinary value of IT service support especially well, in part because he is also a physician. On assuming his CIO role this year, the first initiative on his mind was unusual: customer service. “I bring both the perspective and voice of the customer from hands-on experience with electronic health records (EHRs) and other clinical technologies… I’m interested in doubling down on the service component,” he said. “We support a vast array of business and clinical information systems. I want to provide a high level of service across all of these areas.”

It is telling that a first step for Longhurst was to rename the department from Information Technology to Information Services. “We plan to partner closely with our customers to understand their needs and workflows. We want to be proactive in finding opportunities for improvements and not just respond to help calls.”

The “Wow” Service Desk: ITIL Standards Offer the “What” But Not the “How”
Many, if not most IT support organizations across all industries have chosen the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to define best practices in Service Desk operations. ITIL is the most widely accepted global framework for implementing IT service management, and defines planning implementation and services maintenance guidelines. ITIL is organized within five books — Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement — and describes a system that provides a closed-loop feedback throughout all areas of the support lifecycle. ITIL’s strengths: it details “what” to do. But in the face of healthcare’s new IT challenges, it comes up short on “how” IT ought to meet them.

ITIL is the first to agree with this assertion, pointing out out that it should be augmented with other standards that are tailored to unique user environments. Hospital IT users have very different needs and priorities than banking or manufacturing systems users. Which other best practices are available that can be integrated seamlessly with ITIL to transform a hospital service desk into a world-class support center?

Once known as the Help Desk Institute, HDI has become an indispensable resource for Phoenix’ Service Desk. HDI is a non-profit organization known worldwide for its set of best practices for planning, maturing and maintaining a Service Desk, whether an internal operation or an outsourced support center. HDI’s “Support Center Standard,” continuously upgraded since 2000, integrates seamlessly with the ITIL framework, to help CIOs understand how to put the necessary resources and capabilities in place to sustainably deliver quality user-friendly support, despite technology changes.

A sampling of valuable recommendations based on HDI’s best practices:

  • Develop a Service Desk mission statement with supporting standards that emphasizes world-class service tailored to your hospital’s culture and needs. This statement must be public to be effective, to ensure user expectations evolve and analysts are committed. Get executive leadership’s buy-in. Make that mission well-known within the hospital, even using methods as basic as bulletin board signage, Service Analyst-of-the-month awards and anonymous complaint boxes. Archaic as these methods may sound, they touch the sensibilities of both your staff and your users.
  • Craft a customer focused strategy with operational policies and procedures that focus on the end-user experience. As we’ve all experienced, a Service Desk experience can be surprisingly pleasant or downright anger-inciting. An analyst’s empathetic, kind behavior and a can-do attitude can make all the difference, along with applying the right solution to the problem. HDI offers standards for:
    • Best practice scripts for standard greetings, frequent questions and closing
    • Policies and scripts for managing “difficult customer behavior”
    • Guidance on tone of voice and expressing empathy
    • Guidance on aligning with a user’s style of speech, using questions and answers effectively, and managing the interaction
    • Best practices for written interactions, email and chat support
    • Learning the vocabulary of the user
  • Conducting periodic user surveys, in addition to ongoing quick surveys after every interaction.
  • Devising a Service Desk balanced scorecard of metrics beyond ITIL’s metrics for basic incident management and request fulfillment. This effort calls for setting goals and metrics specific to your unique hospital environment, and aligned with patient care processes and user priorities. The scorecard will serve the dual purpose of detecting performance gaps and opportunities for improvement, and demonstrating value to senior leadership and users.
  • Leveraging continual learning to enable deployment of new services and to adapt to new circumstances. In our environment of constant technological change, continuous learning must be part of a successful support center’s culture, and funded accordingly. Service Analysts have an unusually grueling job, working long hours sitting at a telephone and computer varying their attention from instant and stressful emergency contacts to waiting. Burnout and stagnation are dangers.
    • Start new staff out immediately with a short- and long-term educational roadmap that includes specific courses and certifications. They will feel needed and immediately start recognizing that they can provide ever more value to the organization. These are strong motivators.
    • Various resources for ongoing training exist both in the ITIL world (including ITIL certification), HDI educational resources and other online sites.
    • In-person classroom training is equally important to more tightly knit the team, and share experiences and ideas. Similarly — while not training per se — gentle group competitions around meeting/exceeding standards and creating best new solutions can motivate and educate. Follow-up celebrations have a strong impact.
    • Mentoring sometimes gets lost in the rush of everyday work life. Service Desk analysts may sometimes be treated impersonally (even rudely) in their user communications, so it is especially valuable to them to receive generous time from their supervisors.
  • Integrating the Service Desk with the rest of the IT Department, especially with Level 2 support staff, if your desk in Level 1. We have seen alarming divides needlessly develop between these two levels of support, often due to turf wars or lack of documented accountability for specific results and follow through. Your entire IT department is a team; you must reinforce team cultural values everyday.

What is “wow” in a Service Desk experience? No long waits for an answer in an emergency — or any time. Human beings picking up your call with few or no auto delayers. Stated desire to help, with matching follow through. Empathy and listening well. Obvious analyst competency with support applications. Clear communications, including no unexplained silences. Professionalism. Speed and accuracy. The job done. Every hospital Service Desk can get there.

This article was originally published on Phoenix Health Systems and is republished here with permission.