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How to Integrate a Help Desk Bot into Your IT Service Management Solution

Posted by on March 04, 2019

Integrate Help Desk Bot

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of technology in the 21st century. Through innovative applications like deep neural networks and machine learning, computer programs are increasingly able to replicate the conversational and decision-making capabilities of human beings. With AI, organizations can automate technical processes and even conversations with their customers.

Cherwell is bringing artificial intelligence into the ITSM space with a help desk bot that will allow IT organizations to automate service delivery and request fulfillment and provide better service to users with fewer resources. With a well-implemented virtual agent or AI help desk bot, IT organizations can add genuine value and return on investment to operations. To stay ahead of the curve, it's important to start preparing now for the integration of artificial intelligence and ITSM. Here's how to get started.

What Is a Virtual Agent?

The virtual agent applications deployed by IT organizations these days bear little resemblance to their "chat bot" predecessors. In the past, chat bots were only capable of very basic interactions and could barely hold a conversation with a user, much less perform any useful function. Today's virtual agents are not only more sophisticated in terms of the way they interact with customers and provide useful information, they're also capable of performing functions all on their own, reducing manual workload and operating costs for your IT organization.

A virtual agent performs several functions, the most important one being customer service. Virtual agents today use machine learning to better understand the flow of conversation between the agent and the customer and how to fulfill requests. A programmer uses data and transcripts from previous customer service interactions to train a virtual agent on how to interact with customers. Organizations can also brand their virtual agent, create a unique avatar or image that represents them, and program them to speak to the user in a desired tone or style.

RELATED: Understanding the Differences Between a Help Desk & Service Desk

Virtual agents are for more than just chatting though—they can also fulfill requests for the user. From the user's perspective, this process can look much the same as a genuine interaction with a human operator. From the perspective of the IT organization, a virtual agent that facilitates automated service delivery represents a decrease in manual labor and valuable cost savings.

There are several technologies that underlie the most advanced virtual agent technology available today:

Machine Learning

A new IT operator needs to learn about your IT organization and the services that you provide before they can start serving your customers. Similarly, a help desk bot uses machine learning to understand your IT organization's customer service processes and how to interpret different types of requests. Bots can use records of help desk interactions to understand how customer service interactions are structured and how customers ask for specific services.

Natural Language Understanding

Virtual agents use a technology called natural language understanding (NLU) to better understand the intention behind human speech. Interpreting human speech has been one of the major challenges of AI programming, especially because human speech is unpredictable and does not always follow specific patterns. Natural language understanding helps virtual agents understand the context of an active conversation, better interpret and understand the request that the user is making, and verify that request before completing it.

The earliest chat bots were programmed with scripted responses that they could return in response to specific keywords or phrases. This meant that the user had to say the correct phrase or word to trigger the desired feedback from the bot. Today's virtual agents use much more sophisticated algorithms to understand the needs of a customer in-context, and may even ask questions to verify those needs before venturing to fulfill the request.

APIs

To deliver accurate information and knowledge to users, and to access the information needed to automate service requests, IT organizations use APIs to connect the virtual agent to the organization's back-end systems, such as the knowledge base, service catalog, and other data. When the help desk bot receives a query, it can search for the answer or additional information in any database that it has access to.

Understanding the Business Case for Help Desk Automation

A help desk bot introduces automation features to the IT organization that can be leveraged to reduce manual labor costs, streamline processes, and save time. IT organizations should be familiar with the most important value drivers of help desk automation.

Automated Self Service

Many IT customers would rather solve their problems through a self-service model rather than interacting with an IT agent or Tier 1 Operator. Self-service is a convenient way for users to resolve the most common technical issues they experience while minimizing the work load for IT agents. Organizations that offer self-service implement a service catalog where users can find answers to their most common problems and follow instructions to resolve them independently. A help desk bot can be used to automate service delivery through the service catalog. This ensures that the services described in the catalog are deployed correctly and consistently, and makes it easier for users to resolve IT issues on their own.

Automated Request Fulfillment

Imagine a situation where a customer needs to reset their email password. In some IT organizations, the user would have to log a ticket with the request and wait to be contacted by an IT agent before they could finally access their email. IT organizations with self-service capabilities might have a knowledge base that lists the steps that a user can follow to securely reset their own password. The user would access the knowledge base, then follow a five- or six-step process to set up their new password. With a help desk bot, users can chat directly with a virtual agent and request to have their password changed. Once the request is verified, the help desk bot can automatically perform the steps to fulfill the request and notify the user that the request was completed.

Dynamic Ticketing

A help desk bot can also be implemented to help users fill out more informatively and complete support tickets. It can fill out incident or request forms by asking the user one question at a time and using the responses (and natural language understanding) to either fill in information on the ticket or route the ticket to the correct person or department. Over time, through machine learning, a help desk bot learns the best questions to ask, how to categorize tickets correctly, when to automate request fulfillment, and when to ask a human agent for assistance.

Dynamic ticketing helps to ensure that incident management and request fulfillment tickets are convenient for users to submit while reducing errors and turnaround time for fixes.

RELATED: 3 Ways Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) Improves ITSM

Are You Ready to Integrate a Help Desk Bot Into Your ITSM?

Whether your organization can effectively integrate a help desk bot into your routine IT operations depends on several factors. The maturity of your IT organization and processes, your relationships with users, and the IT sophistication level and habits of your customers are all important considerations. IT organizations should assess their current infrastructure and capabilities to determine whether a help desk bot will integrate effectively with existing processes.

Live Chat Is a Viable Precursor to a Help Desk Bot

In the past decade, steady innovation has changed the way that IT organizations communicate with their customers. Traditionally, the IT help desk functioned a lot like a call center, and IT organizations depended on voice communication to facilitate customer interactions. Today, many IT organizations have implemented a "live chat" or "web chat" service that allows IT operators and service agents to communicate with customers through a website text interface. For these organizations, the implementation of a help desk bot will simply change who answers those live chat queries: today, a human; tomorrow, a robot.

If your organization has yet to adopt live chat as a means of communication between service agents and customers, you should understand why the shift represents a major change for your customers. Many customers appreciate the flexibility and convenience of accessing IT services via live chat, feel comfortable typing long messages, and appreciate that the interaction takes up less of their attention than a phone call would. On the other hand, you may have customers who would prefer to talk to someone on the phone about their IT issues.

IT organizations that have implemented live chat are a step ahead when it comes to introducing a help desk bot for ITSM, especially given that their customers are already accustomed to communicating with IT through an instant messaging system.

Strong Knowledge Management Is a Critical Precursor to Effective Help Desk Bot Deployment

Organizations with well-developed Knowledge Management processes and capabilities will have an easier time implementing a help desk bot than those without. An effective help desk bot can automate service requests by referring users to the information that they need—but only if that information is both present and accessible by the help desk bot. Knowledge that your organization has must be well-organized, usable, and searchable in a knowledge base before a help desk bot can reliably pick through that information and find something that a user wants.

The Knowledge Management process itself, which comes from the ITIL® 2011 framework, depends on the capacity of the IT organization to collect data about its activities, organize that data into information in a database, analyze the data to extract knowledge from it, and use that knowledge to develop wisdom about how things are that can be used to inform business decisions. When the organization generates knowledge, that knowledge is put into a knowledge base, or a central repository of data controlled by the organization. Some knowledge bases are readable by humans, while other are only readable by machines (they contain data that can only be meaningfully analyzed by a powerful computer). Organizations with large knowledge bases can leverage a help desk bot to more efficiently deliver that knowledge to customers.

Help Desk Bots Can Automate Your Service Catalog

While good knowledge allows a help desk bot to deliver the right information to users, the automation features of help desk bots depend on a well-formed service catalog. A service catalog represents a comprehensive listing of all IT services that users can request from the IT organization. This set of known request types can include things like provisioning servers, changing or updating a password, or even requesting a piece of new IT equipment. Frequently, the catalog itself is digitally maintained inside a self-service portal where users can access the catalog, get information about IT services and how to fulfill them, and take advantage of time-saving options for self-service.

Organizations that have spent time building their service catalog may be able to use virtual agents to automate some of the most common or simple requests, reducing the workload on IT operators who would otherwise have to deliver these IT services manually.

Establishing a Self-Service Culture That Benefits from Artificial Intelligence

Before an IT organization can begin to draw on the benefits of automation that come with help desk robots, it must develop a strong culture of self-service among its customers. If a group of customers insists on having a one-to-one phone conversation with an IT operator for every issue, it will be difficult for the organization to draw on the value of AI help desk support.

IT organizations can grow a self-service culture in many different ways. A great starting point is the establishment and promotion of a robust self-service catalog where users can access IT information and resolve their own IT issues without logging a support ticket.

Extending ITIL Beyond the Boundaries of ITSM

Help desk bots are a key technology that can allow IT organizations to take the principles of ITIL and expand them beyond the IT context to bring benefits to other departments. ITIL provides a framework for dealing with service requests and incidents within the IT organization, but the same framework and methodologies can be applied to other departments that receive incident reports and service requests.

With the availability of intelligent help desk bots today, organizations can integrate service management solutions across human resources, security and information technology. A single virtual agent can serve as the triage point for all requests within the organization, routing them to the appropriate department or person based on a more engaging and intelligent front-end experience and automating request fulfillment whenever possible.

Summary

Virtual agents combine API technology, machine learning, and natural language understanding to understand user requests, source information from the IT organization's internal databases, and automate service requests. The introduction of artificial intelligence into the ITSM paradigm will help streamline request fulfillment and self-service options for users, reducing the support burden of IT agents and increasing the efficiency of the IT organization.

IT organizations can prepare for a successful help desk bot or virtual agent deployment by building out their knowledge base and service catalog resources, establishing a strong self-service culture within their customer base and offering diverse avenues for incident and request reporting, especially live chat. Cherwell ITSM software offers IT organizations the features and flexibility to build and customize IT processes that function with help desk automation.

Interested in what Cherwell can do for your organization? Request a demo today!

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