EscalationsIT Service Management

EscalationsIT Service Management

Escalation management

Escalation management is used everywhere in IT Service Management and is also part of  ITIL recommendations for organisations. Escalation processes can ensure that unresolved problems don’t hang around and issues are dealt with promptly.

Telephone pick-up times

In many cases, organisations to have customers’ telephone calls picked up within a specific number of rings (e.g. 3-10).  The decision you make on the value set is dependent on the resources that you have available. However, the expected pick-up time should be clearly communicated to customers and Users. The provision of self-help technologies and electronic Customer registration will greatly assist in freeing up telephone lines and resources to handle critical Incidents. However, this contact point is a key influence on the customer’s perception of your service. Therefore getting the correct balance is critical to managing Customer satisfaction.

Telephone talk times

The time spent handling a Customer Incident on the telephone is dependant on available resources and their skill levels. Careful judgment is to determine when to pass the Incident to second-line support or transfer it to another area in the support department. It is essential that the main support number(s) are kept available as much as possible, especially in the case of major service failure when other customers will be calling in. Unless you have an advanced telephone system that informs you of queued calls, setting a staff talk time’ maximum is advisable to ensure that all customers Incidents are handled promptly and confidence is not lost.

Managing urgent Customer requests

In an ideal world, SLA defines the business need. However, when a customer calls with a serious problem, they are only concerned with resolving the issue as quickly as possible. The customers may be under pressure to get an important quotation out or may themselves have a customer waiting. At this point, discretion and understanding are required. It is important that each customer’s individual situation is assessed and addressed, as this will ultimately define the customer perception of your service. If a customer demands an action beyond the control of the Service Desk, the Service Desk staff should politely refer them to the duty Service Manager.

Managing Service Breaches

Even in the best-supported operations, services breaches will occur: another Incident requires urgent attention, the staff is off sick, spare parts are not available, you are unable to diagnose the problem. What is then important is to successfully manage the service breach, by the escalation of the problem management team, where appropriate. It was also acceptable to have an ‘agreed service breach’ where the customer has been informed of the probability of the breach and has agreed that this situation is acceptable. Key points to managing an agreed service breach.

  • Informing the customer in advance and explaining the reason for the likely breach
  • Informing the Service Manager (he/she does not want any surprise)
  • Agreeing on a course of action and follow through on it
  • If/when the incident has breached the agreed service level, documenting the event and stating the reason for it.

Managing Customer-initiated service breaches

It is often the case that a service breach occurs because the Customers is unavailable to get further information about a known Incident, or because the customer’s location is not accessible.  In this case, it is necessary to document clearly that work could not progress because of this situation and how much SLA elapsed time was lost.

Recording Service breach details

Recording service breach details are critical to understanding whether or not existing SLAs are practical. If an IT operation keeps preaching them or equally, consistently overachieves it targets,  clearly the SLAs need to be reviewed and the area(s) causing the variation need to be identified. It is equally essential to report on agreed and customer-initiated service breaches. From a business perspective, the SLA has either been achieved or it has not.

Service Desk Staffing levels

Defining full-time staffing levels is very difficult without a definitive way to predict the demand for service. The number of staff employed on the Service Desk is dependent on the needs of the business and is base on a range of important criteria, including:

  • The business budget available/required
  • Customer service expectations
  • Size, relative age, design, and complexity of the IT infrastructure and service catalog
  • The number of customers to support, and associated factors such as – Number of foreign-language Customers – Skill level – Incident types – Duration of time required for call types – Local or external expertise required
  • The volume of Incidents
  • The period of support cover required, based on – Hours covered – Out of Hours support – Time Zone – Location – Travel time between locations – staff availability
  • workload pattern of requests
  • The Service Level Agreement definitions in place
  • The type of responses required – telephone – email/fax/voicemail/video – physical attendance – online access control
  • The level of training required
  • The support technologies available
  • The existing skill levels of staff
  • The process and procedures in use

All these items should e carefully considered before making any decision on staffing levels. This should be also be reflected in the levels of documentation required. Remember that the better the service, the more the business will use it.

Staff turnover considerations 

Traditionally, first-line customer interaction functions have high staff turnover. This turnover. This should be taken into account when reviewing the required resources and the training required to get staff up to speed and productive.

The ‘Super User’

To keep the deal with some of these staffing constraints, in some organizations it is common to use ‘expert’ Customers to deal with first line support problems and queries (commonly known as Super or Expert Users). This is typically in specific application areas, or geographically locations, where there is insufficient justification for full-time support staff. In this case, the User can be a valuable resource if used is properly coordinated, with:

  • Their roles and responsibilities clearly defined
  • Escalation channels clearly defined
  • Standard support processes defined and used
  • All request recorded and maintained, ideally in the main support system

with all request entered into the main Service Desk tool, valuable usage details can be provided to the local management to ensure that resource is focused on the correct areas and not misused.

Workload Monitoring 

From the above consideration, it is clear that a careful study of the workload mix is necessary to define the required staff levels, skill types and the associated costs. Such an analysis should include:

  • The number of requests being handled by the Service Desk, with this is initially needing to take into account requests passed directly to second-line support groups
  • The types of request that staff are spending the most time on such as – Equipment failures  – Business Applications problems – Telecommunications – Customer queries – Installation/upgrades
  • The types of request that are taking the longest time to turnaround to the customer by: – First-line support – Second-line internal support groups – Third party support groups – Suppliers
  • Which Customers require the most support, and in which areas – this information can be used to develop training programmes for both customer staff and Service Desk and support staff.

Customer satisfaction analysis and surveys

Aligning customer perception and satisfaction are critical to the of any support operation. It is the customer’s perception that, in the end, defines whether the Service Zendesk is meeting their needs, rather than availability statistics or transaction rates. Satisfaction surveys are an excellent method of monitoring Customer perception and expectation and can be used a powerful marketing tool. However several key points should be addressed to ensure success.

  • Decide on the scope of the survey
  • Decide on the target audience
  • Clearly define the questions
  • Make the survey easy to complete
  • Conduct the survey regularly
  • Make sure the customer understands the benefits
  • Publish the results
  • Follow through on survey results
  • Translate survey results into actions

How often surveys are taken is a business decision, based on the rate of change within your organisation and other business drivers. To monitor satisfaction on a daily basis at the source, your request closure process should be used for a detailed customer satisfaction response on specific applications, customer or services. To improve the speed of data capture and reduce the resource needed to analyze survey data, the usage of electronically based surveys should be considered.

Target Audience 

It is important to define clearly the target audience for any surveys and the scope of the questions. For example, the questions you would ask of an accounts clerk in relation to the stability of the service provided would be different from those you would ask of an accounts director. from the clerks perspective, their partner was unavailable ‘several’ times during the month, whereas the accounts director was only concerned that, at month end, he or she was unable to produce customer bills on time, which resulted in a financial loss.


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Luci Allen

Head of Operations +44 (0)7595 205888