Customer Advocacy and Incident Management


The IT organization exists to efficiently provision and support technology to meet business objectives. Technology enables companies to perform their core business processes. When the technology fails, the Service Desk is the first point of contact for the customer into the IT organization and it serves as the customer advocate throughout the Incident Management process. In that role as customer advocate, a defined, core set of communication responsibilities ensures that the customer is the focus of the IT organization. The goal is to improve the customer experience, fulfill their needs and provide data, analysis, and feedback to the IT department and to develop a customer-facing tactical and strategic organization.

Communication Before the Call

Consistent communication ensures that customers are aware of all offered IT services, additions and modifications to those services, and any available training. Services should be described and communicated through a Service Catalog. A brochure created and distributed to existing and new employees to advertise the provided services, who to contact and how to utilize those services is also recommended. The use of an IT newsletter can notify the customer of all changes in IT services as well as provide a method for providing just-in-time training.

Before the Incident Management process even begins, the IT organization must identify potential problems and notify the customer of issues before discovery at the desktop. Through proactive notification, the IT organization can communicate scheduled and unscheduled outages. A system availability Web site linked to system monitoring tools allows customers to check service availability. The information displayed must be dynamic and reliable to ensure customer adoption of service availability Web sites.

Another form of proactive communication is the use of broadcast messages through e-mail, voice mail or upfront messaging on the ACD system. Once an outage has been identified, the IT organization can proactively notify customers to eliminate a large volume of calls. Without proactive notification, IT resources are diverted to handle customer reported incidents instead of focusing resources on developing a workaround and restoring the service. The broadcast message must communicate the outage, the expected time for restoration, and anticipated next update.

Proactive communication is important to communicate what services are available to the customer to facilitate business processes. As the customer advocate, the Service Desk must take the lead to ensure that proactive communication is a priority within the IT organization and that information is maintained and timely.

Communication at the Point of Contact

The Incident Management process begins when a customer experiences an issue and contacts the Service Desk. At this point, the Service Desk must provide excellent customer service and technical support, and at the same time manage customer expectations.

Wait time during the call handling process can provide valuable information to customers that may eliminate their calls. Take this opportunity to inform customers of self-service Web sites, how to submit non-priority tickets via the Web, or e-mail addresses to submit questions to the Service Desk. Once the Service Desk answers the phone, it is time to capture the incident entirely, verify customer information and provide a resolution when available.

Documentation in the incident management system should adhere to established standards. Inefficiencies are introduced when inadequate incident descriptions require additional contact with the customer. It also results in escalations to higher-paid, more technical resources than are necessary to solve the issue. Ticket documentation standards ensure that adequate information is available to customers to check on the status of their issues via the Web. Updates must include actions being taken, expected time to restoration, and the time for the next update.

Service Level Agreements define how the organization will respond to customer demands. Goals for metrics such as average speed of answer, the rate of abandonment and first contact resolution ensure that the Service Desk responds in a timely and efficient manner. The Service Desk Manager must ensure that the Service Desk staff have excellent customer service and technical skills. A high rate of first contact resolution enables customers to return to performing their business processes as quickly as possible.

If a problem cannot be resolved at the Service Desk, it must then be escalated to the appropriate technical support partner. Before disconnecting the customer, the Service Desk must assign the proper priority to the incident and establish an expectation with the customer for the service level target. The Operational Level Agreement with technical support partners based upon priority must be defined and agreed upon to establish customer expectations.

Communication During an Incident

Once the customer hangs up the phone (if the incident is not immediately resolved), the customer’s ability to conduct business is impacted. Therefore, the Service Desk must establish the anticipated time to restoration before hanging up the phone and enable the customer to make decisions to conduct business using alternative methods. Because these other methods are inefficient, the customer will be anxious for the restoration of service. If the IT organization is unable to meet the expected time frame for restoration of service, proactive status updates through e-mail, voice, and the incident ticket should communicate the necessary information to the customer to make business decisions. Without status updates, the customer’s frustration will escalate often resulting in additional calls to the Service Desk or escalation to business unit management.

Notification methods vary by priority. A high priority incident represents a significant impact to the business. Status updates should have the ability to notify a significant population of the company. Broadcasts via voice mail, email and emergency ACD messages can more appropriately communicate to a large audience. As the priority of an incident decreases, the communication method can be limited to a few customers with a non-critical service outage. The Service Desk must enable the customers’ ability to check on their own status of non-critical issues through the incident management system. Technical support partners are responsible for adequately documenting the progress of an incident in the incident management system. This is done by implementing service level management within the incident management system to proactively notify technical support partners of incidents that are near service level exception. In addition, the Service Desk can proactively contact the technical support partner to get an update and document it within the incident management system. The incident ticket must contain information that reflects the current status of an issue; otherwise it will result in additional calls to the Service Desk.

It is important that the Service Desk implement a quality assurance incident coordinator role in tracking and managing all open incidents. This role facilitates a strong focus on the customer, to drive focus on incidents based on priority, and to keep incidents from falling into a black hole. The coordinator communicates status with the customer while at the same time working with the technical support partner to achieve resolution.

Communication at Restoration

Once service has been restored, the customer must be notified of the restoration and verification must be attained of the customer’s ability to conduct the business process. For high priority incidents, customers must be notified by the same methods described above. E-mails can be triggered from the incident management system for lower priority issues. Organizations often provide the restoration notification automatically and allow up to three days for the customer to contact the Service Desk if the issue has not been resolved. If the customer doesn’t respond, then the incident ticket is auto-closed. The incident coordinator role also provides the functionality of customer follow-up to verify service restoration.

Organizations often have difficulty in justifying the additional resources required to provide incident coordination. Communication throughout the Incident Management process provides valuable information back to the customer that enables him/her to make decisions about business tasks. The incident coordinator ensures that the IT organization continues to assign the appropriate resources to resolve customer issues and provides consistent feedback to the customer.

After service is restored, the IT organization can then determine the root cause and eliminate the problem permanently. For some incidents this happens immediately, the incident ticket is closed, and the process moves into the closure process. For others, the incident ticket is closed but a related problem ticket is created, and the problem is then handled via the problem management process. When the incident ticket is closed, this triggers two additional processes that are also critical to customer advocacy.

Communication at Closure

When an incident is closed, this triggers the customer satisfaction process. On an incident-basis, a percentage of customers should be surveyed on a monthly basis. However, if you are going to survey your customers on the service they receive, you must have processes in place to analyze the feedback and provide the results of the analysis back to the IT organization.

As the customer advocate, the Service Desk must promote change within the IT organization to focus on the issues that are important to customers and drive efficient business processes. In addition to working toward internal change, the Service Desk is instrumental in communicating that change back to customers. When the customers can see a direct link between the feedback they provide and changes in the environment, they are more likely to produce valuable and constructive feedback as well as champion the IT organization back to the business units.

The last component of customer advocacy at closure is the capture of incident resolutions to use for future customer issues and Service Desk training. Although this step is transparent to the customer, it is critical to ensure the ongoing improvement in efficiency of the Incident Management process. Subject matter experts can capture knowledge during the incident management process, and during closure ensure its accuracy and store it in the known error database.

The customer satisfaction and knowledge management processes create the final step in a closed-loop Incident Management process. Process closure at the Service Desk enables the IT organization to learn, improve and measure the value of the IT services provided to the business.

Customer Advocacy

The Service Desk is an integral part of the Incident Management process. Their function is to be the primary interface between the IT organization and the customer. To efficiently provide that interface, the Service Desk must focus on communication both to the customer and with technical support partners.

Communication with the customer begins with the call to the Service Desk and continues throughout the process to incident closure. The customer experience is delivered to each communication point in the process. The Service Desk must both define and deliver each touch point by leveraging all IT resources to provide information to the customer promptly and accurately.

The technologies that are utilized throughout the Incident Management process capture data that defines the customer demand and the IT organization’s ability to meet customer demand. Regular and consistent reporting provides the ability for an organization to deliver IT services effectively and plan for the strategic development of IT.

Communication is the one vehicle that can turn the customer experience into a positive experience, even when IT resources fall short of customer demand. The Service Desk is the primary conduit of all information. To evolve a support organization into the advocacy role requires an extensive focus on customer communication throughout the Incident Management Process.

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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