Keeping Self-Help From Becoming a Hindrance
By Jim Blayney, ITSM Product Director, FrontRange Solutions
Few things can slow down a support center like the daily flood of routine technical issues. Password
resets, frequently asked questions and rudimentary questions lead to lost hours of productivity and
significant losses for your organization as well as user frustration. Below I’ve outlined how to immediately
increase efficiency and user satisfaction by applying IT Service Management self-help technologies
IT Help Desks are often looking for ways to improve problem/resolution metrics and customer service.
While self-help technologies are on the rise, they’re often not the ‘silver bullet’, one-stop answer to
improving the Help Desk. If implemented properly, however, self-help tools, combined with other people
and processes, can smooth out and improve the Help Desk workflow while improving overall service
Simply stated, self-help technologies are tools that allow users themselves to initiate action when a
Help Desk call is deemed necessary. Instead of calling, waiting for help, and then explaining the problem
to one or more agents, the user can start trouble tickets and alert agents to problems independently. This
process may even reduce costs by directing simple questions to an automated system. Self-service tools
allow agents more free time to handle unique issues or resolve a problem that has already been
Investment in self-help tools is still seen primarily – if misguidedly – strictly as a means of improving
internal efficiencies rather than as a way to also improve customer service. For example, directing simple
questions to an automated self-help system reduces costs by off-loading the support burden onto the
customer. That is an intelligent and proper use of self-help technologies.
Where they become ineffective is when they are used to off-load the majority of Help Desk issues
onto the customer, regardless of complexity. Self-help technologies must be carefully targeted and
thoughtfully implemented to improve customer service by providing an additional communications
channel and/or extend the help desk’s hours of operation. Remember that the mission of the help desk is
to provide assistance, not reduce the number of calls it receives.
Self-help technologies address two critical business drivers: the desire for simplicity and drive for best
practices in IT. Such technologies empower customers to find answers and/or log their own service
issues around the clock. Tools such as Knowledge Management software, blogs, and wikis can make this
happen. These methods allow customers with Web access to search for answers whenever and from
wherever issues arise, rather than using a telephone anytime they need assistance. The Help Desk team
instead is able to focus on resolution of larger and more complex issues that users can’t solve on their
own, which reduces service and Help Desk costs. At the same time, users can often find answers to
simple questions faster on their own than they can waiting in queue for an Help Desk agent to become
The largest volume of requests across the Help Desk suited to self-help resolution can be categorized
as ‘how to’ questions, followed by status checks on previously raised issues. Self-service applications
allow callers to submit a new service issue or check the status of an issue or inquiry without adding to
incoming call volume. By handling ‘how to’ and status questions in this way, up to 40 percent of calls can
be successfully resolved without tying up an agent.
For example, a power outage may cause several residents in one neighbourhood to call their local
energy company to notify them of the outage. Dozens of residents calling one Help Desk to report the
same problem ties up agents and other lines, making them unavailable for other issues. Self-help tools
allow Help Desk agents to setup a notification that lets callers identify their problem and start a trouble
ticket without tying up an agent. For instance, once the Help Desk discovers the power outage, callers are
told to “Dial ‘1’ if you’re calling about the power outage in San Francisco”. Agents can then focus on
restoring power and answering non-outage related calls. Callers may then receive email notification that
their problem has been identified and is being worked on.
The level of user acceptance of self-help depends on how it is implemented. If it is used intelligently,
launched appropriately and the user experience is positive, then acceptance will be high. If, however, it is
seen as a burden, or the level of user involvement is beyond the user’s abilities (e.g. technical expertise is
required by non-technical people) the opposite will be true. To achieve success, as with many IT
installations, the technology itself will only extend so far. These tools require people and process issues
to be addressed at the same time. The customer must be kept front-of-mind throughout implementation.
The key to self-help implementation is to ensure technology employed is flexible, scaleable, easy to
deploy and can be adapted across the business. Help desks change rapidly to keep up with business
requirements, so it’s important to stay on top of evolving technology. This where tools such as
Configuration Management and Change Management can help. In addition, providing real-time data
capture and reporting capability enables better quality decision-making on the basis of comprehensive,
In today’s business world, customer service is the job of everyone in the organization. While cost
reduction is generally a good thing, cost reduction at the expense of customer satisfaction is not.
Delivering help desk self-service that truly helps rather than hinders users reflects positively on the
organization, and helps keep both internal and external customers happy.