As a former Gartner analyst, Jarod Greene spent ten years covering the IT service management (ITSM) tool landscape, helping clients select solutions to meet their business goals. In this blog post, Jarod shares why self-service portals are so essential, and what you need to know to measure the success of yours.
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Self-service is not a new concept. Vending machines, ATM kiosks, and self-serve gas pumps have been available for decades. Today, websites, forums, chats, and information on everything imaginable have made things from banking and shopping to finding answers easier than ever. From relatively slow acceptance to today’s high levels of expectation for intuitive, useful online self-service options, it is no wonder that employees expect consumer level IT self-service at their workplace.
As a consumer and user of self-service in both my personal and business life, I have expectations of fast, efficient, and accessible online portals that allow me to shop for gifts for my girls, access my bank accounts, pay bills, purchase sports tickets, arrange travel, and access customer support when technology fails me. This article will cover the importance of self-service in today’s mobile, instant gratification world, myths, benefits, how to find the best tool for your business, and how to encourage usage.
IT Self-Service Statistics
In 2013, the HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report found that IT professionals spent up to 78 percent of their day working on level 1 customer tickets and the average time to solve a problem was four to eight hours. Even earlier, Gartner identified that password reset problems alone were taking 20 to 30 percent of help desk time. HDI also found that 72 percent of those surveyed would rather use a self-serve portal than make a phone call for help.
Another statistic from Gartner’s survey stated that about 40 percent of IT problems could be fixed via a self-service but only five percent were being solved in that manner.
Times are changing. Today, 88 percent of the U.S. population uses the internet. These savvy web browsers, chat users, and online shoppers would rather skip making a call, sending a slow email, or impatiently waiting on answers to the simple problems they solve every day in the consumer world. The challenge for in-house IT professionals is in meeting these high expectations at the workplace.
What Is an IT Self-Service Portal?
Most of us have become so comfortable using self-service portals for our day-to-day business that we are unaware of how good they have become. One-click or voice-activated shopping from Amazon is now second nature for most consumers. Online bank deposits are now made using smart phone cameras to bypass a visit to an ATM or bank. If a solution is needed for a problem, we look to online tutorials, YouTube videos, or articles in just about every discipline for quick, painless solutions.
The origin of self-service likely began with the first vending machine in the 1880s. Although, prior to this farm stands had offered a form of self-service using the honor system — a customer could leave money behind and take the product from the stand. Self-service gas pumps arrived in the 1940s and ATMs in the late 1960s. The modern day online self-service, including online shopping, was sparked with access to the internet in the 1990s. IT self-service portals have followed suit. As technology became the backbone of business, IT departments developed as a core component providing essential services. Business users, accustomed to consumer-friendly self-service, have driven the demand for business and IT self-service portals as technology has progressed.
Large consumer sites have multiple layers of self-help functions to meet increased customer service demands. Since the last thing anyone wants to do is waste time navigating the limited (and frustrating) telephone automation functions before talking with a real person, consumer self-help functions are fast becoming more efficient, usable, and interactive.
And, IT departments are having to adjust to the new normal. They are finding that it is no longer enough to just automate basic service request functions, such as requesting a new laptop. Business users want additional control of everyday services such as instant password reset, finding “how to” options, and provisioning of apps, software, and even cloud services. The challenge for an in-house IT department is in providing expected consumer level self-help options to the in-house end user.
Why Is an IT Self-Service Portal Important to Business?
Now that consumers are well attuned to the benefits of self-help and self-service, a demand for such functionality is now focused on the workplace. Staff throughout an organization will rely on IT self-service including HR, Legal, Marketing, Development, Finance, and even external vendors. In fact, the 2016 Technical Support Practices and Salary report states that only ten percent of support organizations saw a decrease in ticket volume over the past year, but 22 percent attribute the decrease to self-service.
According to the HDI research report, The War for Talent, customer service skills are the most sought-after skills for frontline and desktop support staff. Since level 1 problems, such as password resets or device registration, can be done through self-service rather than through an IT technician, time and resources are better managed. Allowing employees to find their own answers through FAQs, user forums, tutorials, or knowledge articles allows end-users to have an appropriate level of control over finding their own quick solutions. The prize of dramatically reduced level 1 calls makes effective do-it-yourself opportunities an important addition to overall IT service offerings.
How Do You Know That Your Business Needs a Self-Service Portal?
Fast service equals higher customer satisfaction. And, self-service is the key to faster, seamless service in both “consumer-life” and “business-life.” There is no question that consumers use, appreciate, benefit from, and demand self-service. Accordingly, every business that intends to build a great relationship with business users and provide staff with IT services that support productivity and growth are in need of a self-service portal.
In addition to building a better end-user relationship and business growth, you may need an IT self-service portal if:
- Your customer base is larger than your team can support via traditional communication channels
- Many requests have become repetitive and can be automated, such as password resets
- Customers are requesting self-service capabilities
- You are looking for ways to cut costs by working more efficiently
Common Myths about the Self-Service Portal
While IT self-service portals are being deployed in businesses of all sizes and in all industry verticals, with more convenient functions, and to provide faster end user service, there are some misnomers to dispel.
Myth #1: It’s easy to deploy – There are numerous scenarios and situations to consider when developing an IT self-service portal. End users expect the portal to be easily accessible with the ability to access multiple types of interactions such as knowledge articles, chat functions, tutorials, request submission, and status monitoring. The interaction must be easy for the user and provide the results they expect. These functions must provide quick solutions. This is not a simple feat. An IT self-service portal requires time and planning to ensure adoption, use, and satisfied end users.
Myth #2: It saves money – There are operational costs, employee development time, and training involved in establishing, maintaining, and upgrading an effective self-service portal. The main goal is not cost reduction, but the efficiencies gained by the usefulness, ease, and speed of response to user issues. A well-designed portal puts some power into the hands of the user. The need for technician expertise may not be reduced but, instead, they can be assigned to more operationally valuable tasks.
Myth #3: Set it and forget it – Not so. In fact, the world of self-service is a constantly changing paradigm. Support for remote employees, use of smart phones, and “bring your own device” (BYOD) challenges make constant updates to service options an important element for portal use. As the consumer engagement opportunities continue to improve, so must the employee end-user experience. The IT self-service portal must be nurtured.
Myth #4: Build it and they will come – One of the primary problems in many portal designs today is that IT professionals, not schooled in customer service, develop the portal and content as if they were the primary users. This causes the users, who are non-technical, to find these systems cumbersome and unresponsive and simply abandon their use. For example, often cited as a common problem is asking the user to prioritize their issue. Most don’t know the ranking system and will default to “I need it done now.” Even though many end users have more IT intelligence than in the past, an IT only focus in portal development is not the most useful solution. You must entice users to use self-service by making it as good as or better than calling the service desk.
Benefits of an IT Self-Service Portal
An IT department is generally seen as the backbone of the entire enterprise providing technical and data driven functions to support operations, customers, finance, human resources, and technical services. The benefits of allowing employees access to a self-service portal are numerous and include:
- Reduce costs associated with using highly skilled personnel to solve simple and routine technical issues
- Improve productivity by allowing customers to find answers, by searching the knowledge base, and resolve simple tasks, such as password resets, on their own without submitting a ticket
- Increase employee efficiency by providing an avenue for solving issues more quickly so they can return to job-related tasks. Plus, allow employees to both submit and track tickets through the portal, as well as receiving automated updates on ticket status.
- Reduce time off task when an answer can be found in minutes rather than waiting in a queue for help
- Improve customer satisfaction and also improve the credibility of the department in other operational interactions
- Improve communication with company-wide outage and maintenance notifications
- Empower employees to help themselves and at the same time increase their engagement
- Improve relationship between IT and end-users
Challenges That Accompany Implementing a Self-Service Portal
One of the primary challenges in implementing a self-service portal involves the changing role for an IT department. They are now tasked with providing more than technically based services over the telephone or in person. Customer service skills are called for and they must yield some control to the end-users. This is not an easy task. The ability for end-users to solve their own problems must be balanced with appropriate controls and access. Defining what functions to allow, who has access, and maintaining data security is still of critical importance. An employee using an HR portal to pick out a medical plan is different than a user reporting a dysfunctional printer and must be handled accordingly.
But, we are well past a time when a crashed computer, a password lockout, or a new device registration demands a technician’s personal visit to an employee’s office.
Another challenge is “selling” the service to the business users. A portal that is not used is of little value. A method to solve this is constant communication with business customers that allow the IT department to understand concerns and challenges they find most important. This two-way communication can lead to populating the portal with exactly what the end user expects. The key is to use the language of the customer, not the language of IT professionals. Beginning with the ability to self-resolve level 1 contacts such as password retrieval or answering “how-to” questions can alleviate a high percentage of issues that take up valuable IT help desk time.
Finally, businesses that are growing or look to grow have challenges that involve costs and resources for scaling up. Reducing lower level IT service issues is a way to free technically savvy resources from mundane, level 1 tasks. Employee end-users of a business self-service portal have a vast array of experiences in the consumer self-help arena. They are used to a level of engagement that demands ease of use through interactive mechanisms, compelling graphics, and precise instructions. They are used to follow-ups such as those in online shopping that track a package automatically and sends updates. A repair ticket or install request that does not use this method may encourage duplicate ticket requests, phone calls, or a walk-in to the IT department. A portal that is inaccurate or difficult to use will find a low level of acceptance and use. The high-level of basic IT knowledge that exists today has made end-user consumers more impatient when requesting services, especially those they easily solve in their personal life. The good news is that this level of engagement and knowledge can benefit an IT department’s reduction strategy for off-loading to users some basic IT challenges.
IT Self-Service Functionality Checklist
Many of the goals of IT self-service portal functionality include allowing greater productivity opportunities for the business user and improved IT department efficiency, as well as reducing some of the costs associated with providing IT services. In order to achieve these goals the following self-service functionality should be available in the ITSM solution you choose:
- Standard and configurable request forms, metrics/dashboards, processes, interface, and navigation
- Tracking and status updates via the web and email
- FAQs and configurable knowledge base that answers common questions
- Communication on service additions or changes
- Self-service password reset or recovery
- “How-to” tutorials or videos for self-discovered solutions
- Engaging and intuitive interfaces/navigation for ease of use
- Mobile or multi-device accessibility
- Business intelligence and analytics
- Chat, forums, social capabilities, and communication tools
- Intuitive interface design
- One-click requests
- Ability to automatically identify user and equipment
The functionality of a self-service portal is defined by the activities of the users. A portal that enjoys a high level of engagement and successful experiences will be in continuous use. However, problems with access or quality of experience in the portal may cause users to by-pass its use due to confusion, lack of communication, or slow response time. Monitoring engagement, numbers of request submissions, how the portal is used, and first contact resolution are all indicators of portal success or failure.
How to Encourage Portal Usage
Functionality will aid in the adoption of your portal, but you must also design your portal to be compelling enough to make employees want to use it. There are three things that make your portal more compelling:
- IT Transparency – With the instant availability of just about everything, one thing we all have in common is that we want it and we want it now. Instant access to data adds another layer of work for IT. Departments and individuals alike contact the service desk requesting information, wanting to know how many requests their department logged, and expecting IT to go round up that information. What if, instead, dashboards and key metrics that departments and individuals needed were readily accessible in the self-service portal? This would allow them to retrieve the information that they needed when they needed it, without taking IT away from their primary roles/responsibilities. This would provide a much more compelling reason for your employees to engage the self-service portal.
- Multiple Sites – Take a look at your average employees’ tool bar or favorites bar in their browser. What do you see? Often, you will see shortcuts to all their “favorite” websites. Usually, those favorites are different departments within the organization. There’s one that takes them to HR, one that takes them to a site to fill out an expense report, and another that takes them to facilities so they can fill out a work order request. What if instead, the IT department could link all those sites in one place—IT’s self-service portal? Now, your employees have only one site they need to navigate to because they know they can navigate to any other department site from that one location.
- Ease of Use – The self-service portal has to be very easy for your employees to use, or they simply will not use it. Making your portal compelling is about making employees believe they will get faster service compared to sitting on the phone waiting for the next available rep. Simple additions to communications can also make a world of difference in driving traffic to your portal, such as including a link to a knowledge base article in a ticket response and/or blog posts.
Tips for Designing a Usable Self-Service Portal
Designing your portal like a business-to-consumer provider is a great way to begin your IT self-service portal implementation journey. In order to avoid the frustration that comes along with solving IT challenges quickly, it is beneficial to spend time developing friendly interfaces and tool bars for ease of navigation. Another element is keeping knowledge base articles, tutorials, and videos updated to reflect current needs. A customer-centric approach demands clear communication, management support, and even a marketing campaign for self-service portal success. Ensuring that you are collecting all of the important information associated with a ticket is essential and improves the resolution speed. For example, contact information, a description of the issue, the device impacted, and what has been done by the user to troubleshoot is all useful for the technician. If planned, launched, and managed carefully, issues such as user frustration, impatience, or abandonment can be mitigated.
One of the elements for self-service success involves development and access to an IT service catalog that is part of the self-service portal. Acting as a kind of online store front for all things IT, a friendly, easy to use portal provides access to any of the available services. Problems that are identified as do-it-yourself opportunities can be supported through peer-to-peer discussions, tutorials, or knowledge articles. Regardless of the service request from the simplest to the most complex, IT is expected to provide easy access and responsive functionality including constant communication on resolution status be it requesting a new computer, setting up email, or troubleshooting simple processes.
Below is a list of additional design tips and considerations:
- Understand your audience
- Gather feedback from users on what they would like to accomplish using an IT self-service portal
- Test out a small group of services with a sub-set of end-users
- Continuously moderate, review, and improve
- Maintain updated and relevant knowledge base content using the Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) methodology
- Market and encourage portal usage
- Gain leadership support to promote usage
- Brand the portal with business logo and colors
- Avoid technical jargon
- Consider integrated tools, such as Active Directory for easy access
See examples of smart designs of self-service portals:
Measuring the Success of the IT Self-Service Portal
Implementing the self-service portal is just one part of the journey. As will any other process, continuous improvement is necessary. In order to monitor and improve your portal, you can measure metrics such as:
- Knowledge base article ratings
- Tickets submitted via self-service
- First call resolution rate through self-service
- Number of visitors to self-service
- Self-service usage vs. other service channel usage
The Future of the IT Self-Service Portal
Since the use of self-service is now an everyday occurrence for many, the mysteries of how to effectively use technology are rapidly going away. There is also an impatience with traditional methods for obtaining assistance, whether it’s buying an airline ticket or resetting a password at work. No one wants to wait for service. Today’s IT departments are experiencing both the headaches and the opportunities that a technically engaged workforce provides. They demand instant solutions and want to have more control in finding and implementing those solutions. IT services are moving away from being a break/fix equipment department to providing engaging customer-focused activities that provide communication, support, and self-service opportunities to this increasingly tech savvy workforce.