Key Measurements for the IT Service Desk


The IT service desk is a strategic asset to the IT service provider that fulfills a pivotal role in managing the relationship between the customer and IT. The IT service desk provides support for business processes that use IT services and manages a variety of transactional requests, incidents, and queries. The performance of the IT service desk is not just crucial to operational IT managers, its success and value are also important to the business and end-user satisfaction.

From a business perspective, the value of the IT service desk is defined at two levels: cost and quality. The business wants a quality service that keeps users up and running but does not incur excessive costs. It is important to remember that the IT service desk is typically an overhead cost and thus the business is sensitive to excessive costs without the corresponding value. From an IT perspective, the complexity of the breadth of support creates a diverse atmosphere. Support is provided for IT services, business processes, and often assisting with the transfer of knowledge to end users. Performance is measured at critical points within the support process as well as the outcome of the process to manage the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Key metrics for the IT service desk must focus on what is important to the business and customer. It is time to look at what is commonly measured today and develop better measurements for understanding the value of the IT service desk to the business.

Key Performance Indicators

Customer Satisfaction Measurements

Average Transactional Customer Satisfaction by Channel

Customer satisfaction is a long-standing indicator of IT service desk value. The transactional surveys provide an understanding of the customer’s perception of the value of the service provided during a transaction with the IT service desk and are important to track and trend over time. However, with the introduction of so many new channels and alternative support methods, transactional surveys based upon incoming calls are no longer sufficient in understanding overall satisfaction. Surveys need to be used to measure the value of all interactions with customers including social media, web-based submissions, the use of self-service portals, and the knowledge base.

Project-based Customer Satisfaction

In addition to measuring the satisfaction of customers with transactional interactions, it is also important to measure customer satisfaction surrounding significant initiatives within the business. How well did the service desk manage the new product or service rollout? What about peak business processing times? New product launches, special events, and projects within the business require a higher level of service in support of business change. Customer satisfaction is most critical at this point and requires measurements tied to the specific objectives of the business initiative.

Vital Business Unit Satisfaction

The business also has vital business functions that are incredibly important to the business because the functions are tied to the most important external facing business processes or revenue production. The satisfaction of the IT service desk to these vital business units should also be measured in addition to transactional satisfaction to ensure that the level of service provided matches the desired outcomes of the most important business units and end users.

Employee Satisfaction

In addition to measuring customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction at the IT service desk is important. The diversity of the work and the demands of the customer can lead to burnout and turnover that will lead to customer dissatisfaction. Employee satisfaction is directly related to customer satisfaction. Management must ensure that employee satisfaction remains at an acceptable level and management must proactively manage changes to the environment should employee satisfaction begin to drop. While internal employee satisfaction is important to measure, it is not likely to be used in feedback to executives. However, it is necessary to ensure proactive management of customer satisfaction, which is reported to executives.

Cost Measurements

Cost By Channel of Support

Another commonly recommended metric is the cost per call or ticket. Cost-per-call is a measurement that focuses on providing support at an acceptable cost to the business. However, measuring cost per call or ticket is limiting in its accurate understanding of cost because it blends all costs and generates a metric for trending but not one for understanding cost dynamics. Cost measurements by the channel of support or by service are more meaningful than a transaction measurement by call.

Cost measurements need to be identified across each channel of support and trended over time. The dynamics of communication, process adherence, and process innovations, all have an impact on how the customer uses the services provided. For example, if management only tracks cost per call and launches a new website for self-service, the cost per call will increase due to customers using alternative methods for support. Fewer customers are calling, but the costs of the service desk remain constant. Thus it will appear as if the cost is higher when in fact customers are choosing alternative methods of support that could be less expensive. Measuring cost by channel across all channels provides better management of cost and greater insight into how costs shift from one channel to another and where to cut costs by channel without impacting overall quality.

Cost of Support by Service

Another important part of measuring cost is understanding how much it costs to support a specific service. For example, when a new service is launched the service will have an impact on the volume of support required from the IT service desk. But what if the cost of providing the support is three times higher than other previous services? Understanding the support costs by service creates better visibility into possible problems and uncovers hidden costs when supporting specific high demand business processes. It also provides visibility into support costs across all services and can be used to develop enhanced cost models for projecting support costs for services developed in the future.

Effectiveness Measurements

Resolution % within Target by Priority or by Service

Mean time to restore service is a standard metric to include in service level agreements and it attempts to provide insight into the effectiveness of the IT service desk and processes. However, this metric also needs revision to focus our attention not only on timely resolution but also on what is resolved based on the priorities of the business. A better measurement is resolution percentage within target time by priority. For example, if we have a target of solving priority-1 incidents within 4 hours, what percentage of priority-1 incidents was resolved within the desired target time frame? Categorization of incidents by priority is important to focus on those issues that have the most significant impact on the business but it also establishes expectations with the customer on the time it takes to resolve the issues based upon the established priority. The IT service desk needs to be accountable for achieving those target timeframes not only as part of managing customer expectations but also as a means of providing value where it is most needed for business productivity.

Resolution percentage within target timeframes can also be tracked by service or product. This will help to understand the effectiveness of the IT service desk based on the services used by business processes. If a particular service has a lower resolution percentage, management of the IT service desk can determine the root cause and address the issue. Root cause analysis tracks support back to the business process to identify the breakdown and determine the best action to address any weaknesses within IT but also within business processes.

Resolution Rate by Level of Support

A favorite metric is to track first contact resolution rate to understand the effectiveness of the IT service desk in support of customers. Managing the cost of delivering support requires that the appropriate level of the IT organization provide the resolution at the lowest possible cost to the business. An unusually high number of escalations to higher paid resources results in higher costs to the organization. However, customers are getting smarter, and technology is often eliminating the easy calls from coming to the IT service desk. It is important to track resolution rate by all levels of support (self-service, level one, level two, etc.), not just by level one at the IT service desk. As the IT organization matures and the IT service desk improves, the types of issues that are reported to the IT service desk are more complex and require higher levels of expertise or specialized knowledge.

When more incoming issues require escalation to resolve, it is important that those escalations are managed correctly and that the minimum number of transfers of ownership occurs. Resolution must occur at the appropriate level for the required knowledge with minimal delays. Measuring resolution by level combined with tracking escalation attempts or errors provides a comprehensive understanding of how efficient the IT service desk is in solving and escalating issues to the appropriate resolving partner.

Effectiveness of Innovation

The final measurement of efficiency is the most elusive. How do we measure the effectiveness of self-service initiatives that are developed to minimize the costs of providing support? The ability to understand the effectiveness of these types of innovations requires a fully-integrated service management system and/or advanced reporting capabilities. For example, if the service desk launches a virtual training class for end-user training along with a product launch to improve the successful adoption of the product within the business process, does this result in fewer incidents reported during the first month of adoption than previous product launches? The adoption of the training class needs to be tied to incidents and requests for the product at the service desk. How successful is the customer-facing knowledge base in helping customers find the required solutions and in turn avoid contacting the service desk? These measurements are much more difficult to measure but are still important for understanding the success of innovations within the service provider. Innovations should result in higher productivity within the business and IT.

In these more complex situations, business intelligence tools are more successful in pulling information from diverse data sources to draw effective correlations of cause and effect. Although difficult to measure, any new self-service initiative must have identification of key performance indicators before launch to understand the costs associated with the initiative and the impact on the productivity of the business and support organization.

What Not to Measure

Telephony Measurements

Telephony based measurements have played a significant role in understanding the performance of the service desk. Telephony measurements have been used for decades to manage short duration high-volume transactions in call centers. Naturally, service desks used these metrics to manage the support environment as well. With the extensive use of technology, customer-facing knowledgebase, social media, and other channels of interactions, the phone takes a less significant role in the overall support of the customer. In fact, many self-service technologies drive down the use of telephony systems and live analysts. The measurements for productivity with telephony systems are useful in workforce management. However, these measurements are not conclusive in understanding business value.

Average Speed of Answer

One of the most common telephony metrics is the average speed of answer. This measurement is used in service level agreements and targets are established for answering the phone call on average within an acceptable number of seconds. However, technology enhancements avoid the need to speak with someone by providing access to knowledge, known outages and status messages, callback features, voicemail options, web-based ticket entry, and even messages on the estimated wait time for an analyst. With the need to balance cost with value, it becomes less important to answer quickly and more important to provide an effective solution by the most efficient and effective means.

Abandonment Rate

Another metric that has lost its significance is abandonment rate. Abandonment rate is primarily used to understand the response of live analysts and whether a customer has grown tired of waiting and has disconnected from the call. With the information provided up front through the IVR on alternative methods of support, possible answers or expected wait times, customers may terminate a call for a variety of reasons other than just losing patience waiting. It is possible to measure short abandons (those that happen right after the customer is given a prompt or information) and long abandons (where the customer gets into the call queue to an analyst and then hangs up) but even with this attempt to understand positive and negative abandons, the value of this metric is not transparent for understanding value to the business.

Unbalanced Measurements

A balanced approach to measurement is important to understand the value of the IT service desk to the business. Many of the metrics used to understand the performance of the IT service desk are in tension. This tension creates a relationship where the decline in one metric may adversely impact the level of another metric. A focus on a single channel of support in isolation of others or a focus on volume without balancing with quality will be subjective and often results in making changes in the environment that will later prove to be detrimental to the outcome delivered to customers. Any measurements used to understand the value of the IT service desk must strike a balanced view of cost, quality, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Number of Tickets or Calls Per Analyst

A common metric is the number of tickets or calls per analyst. This metric or something like it has long been used to drive analyst productivity. This is an excellent example of a metric that is not balanced to demonstrate value and may result in a negative impact on the customer. If an analyst is told that a target number of calls or tickets is required per hour, the analyst is likely to cut corners or even hang up on a customer to achieve the goal. Any metric that focuses solely on volume will generate volume in many cases by sacrificing quality.

This balance of metrics is important. Management should seek to measure quantity to understand workload demands but balance workload statistics with metrics on quality. Equally, the management of the processes of incident management and request fulfillment needs an equal balance of activity-based and outcome-based metrics. A workload measurement used in isolation of other metrics will ultimately drive behaviors that impact the quality of the IT service desk.

Multi-Channel Focus

Evaluate the current key performance measurements used in the IT service desk and determine if these measurements focus on the value of the business. Update standard measurements to focus on what is important to the business based on business priorities. A single-channel focus on metrics diffuses the importance of metrics by blending too much into a single measurement. Create measurements across channels and track collectively to understand when changes in one channel positively or negatively impact another channel of support. Complex support environments must gain an understanding of the tension between metrics and how improvements in one metric impact changes in other metrics. As the IT service desk matures over time, key performance measurements and targets will need to adapt to the changes in the support environment. Innovations in the support environment require careful planning and development of key performance measurement before launch. It is important to measure innovations made to improve support and compare these innovations to the desired results to understand if the impact produces positive benefits to the business. Most importantly, a balanced approach including cost, quality, and effectiveness is important to managing the IT service desk for business value.

About the Author:

Julie is a dynamic, engaging change agent who brings authenticity, integrity, and passion to practitioners worldwide. Through her books, articles, speaking, consulting, and teaching — her purpose is to spark change in the world with thought-provoking dialog and interaction. Julie has a B.S. degree in computer science from The Ohio State University, a MaED from the University of Phoenix, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Management and Organizational Leadership in Information Systems & Technology from the University of Phoenix. She is an ITIL Expert, Certified Help Desk Director, and Certified Governance IT Professional.

Julie captivates audiences at conferences worldwide on topics of authentic leadership, business strategy, knowledge management, organizational culture, and innovation.

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