Given the information technology revolution within hospitals today, how your Service Desk analysts handle physicians and other users is more critical than ever. Disruptive trends such as ever more sophisticated EHRs, widespread use of devices and apps, and the growth of cloud-based services should not equate to disrupted customer service. Yet this often happens, as over-stressed CIOs with tight budgets overlook or delay upgrading user support in the heat of new implementations and more “executive level” responsibilities.
Your Service Desk is the face of IT for your users. If the Service Desk is lacking, the entire IT department will be seen as lacking. Let’s talk about preventing this ugly scenario and making you and your IT staff heroes.
Your Service Desk analysts interact with physicians, clinicians, and other users more than any other resource, and have the power to transform users into champions of your IT department. Or, they can destroy the department’s reputation and present obstacles to every future IT initiative or program. Not coincidentally, they can also thwart your ability to thrive and be successful in your role.
Many CIOs have been making great strides in upgrading service standards, processes and tools to sustainably provide a high level of support across the growing spectrum of technologies within their hospitals. Some are creating world-class service support in-house, and others outsource this increasingly expensive and complex function to outsourcers who can leverage staff and major expenses across multiple hospital clients.
Christopher Longhurst, the CIO at UC San Diego Health, understands the extraordinary value of IT service support especially well, in part because he is also a physician. On assuming his CIO role in 2016, the first initiative on his mind was unusual: customer service. “I bring both the perspective and voice of the customer from hands-on experience with electronic medical records (EMRs) and other clinical technologies… I’m interested in doubling down on the service component,” he said. He noted that even though his IT staff supports a huge array of business and clinical information systems, its consistent goal is providing a high level of service across all of them.
It is telling that an early step for Longhurst was to rename the department from Information Technology to Information Services. “We want to partner closely with our customers to understand their needs and workflows… and to be proactive in finding opportunities for improvements and not just respond to help calls.”
The “Wow” Service Desk: ITIL Standards Offer the “What” But Not the “How”
Many, if not most IT support organizations across all industries have chosen the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to define best practices in Service Desk operations. ITIL is the most widely accepted global framework for implementing IT service management, and defines planning implementation and services maintenance guidelines. ITIL is organized within five books — Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement — and describes a system that provides a closed-loop feedback throughout all areas of the support lifecycle. ITIL’s strengths: it details “what” to do. But in the face of healthcare’s new IT challenges, it comes up short on “how” IT ought to meet them.
ITIL is the first to agree with this assertion, pointing out that it should be augmented with other standards that are tailored to unique user environments. Hospital IT users have very different needs and priorities than banking or manufacturing systems users. Which other best practices are available that can be integrated seamlessly with ITIL to transform a hospital service desk into a world-class support center?
Once known as the Help Desk Institute, HDI has become an indispensable resource for Phoenix’ Service Desk outsourcing staff. HDI is a non-profit organization known worldwide for its set of best practices for planning, maturing and maintaining a Service Desk, whether an internal operation or an outsourced support center. HDI’s “Support Center Standard,” regularly upgraded since 2000, integrates seamlessly with the ITIL framework, to help CIOs understand how to put the necessary resources and capabilities in place to sustainably deliver quality user-friendly support, despite technology changes.
Here are some recommendations based on HDI’s best practices:
- Develop a Service Desk mission statement with supporting standards that emphasizes world-class service tailored to your hospital’s culture and needs. This statement must be public to be effective, to ensure user expectations evolve and analysts are committed. Get executive leadership’s buy-in. Make that mission well-known within the hospital, even using methods as basic as bulletin board signage, service analyst-of-the-month awards and anonymous complaint boxes. Archaic as these methods may sound, they touch the sensibilities of both your staff and your users.
- Craft a customer-focused strategy with operational policies and procedures that focus on the end-user experience. As we’ve all learned, a Service Desk experience can be surprisingly pleasant or downright anger-inciting. An analyst’s empathetic, kind behavior and a can-do attitude can make all the difference, along with applying the right solution to the problem. HDI offers standards for:
- Best practice scripts for standard greetings, frequent questions and closing
- Policies and scripts for managing “difficult customer behavior”
- Guidance on tone of voice and expressing empathy
- Guidance on aligning with a user’s style of speech, using questions and answers effectively, and managing the interaction
- Best practices for written interactions, email and chat support
- Learning the vocabulary of the user
- Devising a Service Desk balanced scorecard of metrics beyond ITIL’s metrics for basic incident management and request fulfillment. This effort calls for setting goals and metrics specific to your unique hospital environment and aligned with patient care processes and user priorities. The scorecard will serve the dual purpose of detecting performance gaps and opportunities for improvement, and demonstrating value to senior leadership and users.
- Leveraging continual learning to enable deployment of new services and to adapt to new circumstances. In our environment of constant technological change, continuous learning must be part of a successful support center’s culture and funded accordingly. Service Analysts have an unusually grueling job, working long hours sitting at a telephone and computer varying their attention from instant and stressful emergency contacts to waiting. Burnout and stagnation are dangers.
- Start new staff out immediately with a short- and long-term educational roadmap that includes specific courses and certifications. They will feel needed and immediately start recognizing that they can provide ever more value to the organization. These are strong motivators.
- Various resources for ongoing training exist both in the ITIL world (including ITIL certification), HDI educational resources and other online sites.
- In-person classroom training is equally important to more tightly knit the team, and share experiences and ideas. Similarly — while not training per se — gentle group competitions around meeting/exceeding standards and creating best new solutions can motivate and educate. Follow-up celebrations have a strong impact.
- Mentoring sometimes gets lost in the rush of everyday work life. Service Desk analysts may sometimes be treated impersonally (even rudely) in their user communications, so it is especially valuable to them to receive generous time from their supervisors.
- Integrating the Service Desk with the rest of the IT Department, especially with Level 2 support staff, if your desk in Level 1. We have seen alarming divides needlessly develop between these two levels of support, often due to turf wars or lack of documented accountability for specific results and follow through. Your entire IT department is a team; you must reinforce team cultural values every day.
A special note: Conducting periodic user surveys, in addition to ongoing quick surveys after every interaction is essential for sustainable customer satisfaction.
How many times are you been asked for your feedback on an online company or its services? Amazon, the New York Times, Walmart… We’re bombarded with requests for our feedback because it is important to those vendors to fine-tune service delivery.
We should be doing at least as much in our hospital IT departments when supporting healthcare. So how do we survey our service desk customers in such a way that they will engage with us and enable us to drive service improvement? I’m not talking about the quickie survey questions your software automatically asks users after individual problem incidents. Think about it…if your customers are frustrated by taking minutes to get answers from your service desk, they have no time to rate your agents’ performance at a moment’s notice.
We recommend defining your service desk from its first introductions to your customers as much more than a utility — that in fact, your staff views itself as a partner that is focused on making a definitive difference in making patients well. You should alert them that you care enough that you will:
- Deploy user-friendly, annual or semi-annual customer feedback surveys that enable customers easy ability to provide overall ratings, suggestions, and recommendations to improve your services.
- Respond to the input received in those surveys with remediation plans.
- Conduct annual group or one-on-one interviews to help flesh out issues and needs.
- Focus on customer satisfaction as the key driver for Service Improvement Plans (SIP), if needed, to be developed in collaboration with your users.
What is “wow” in a Service Desk experience? No long waits for an answer in an emergency — or any time. Human beings picking up your call with few or no auto delayers. Stated desire to help, with matching follow through. Empathy and listening well. Obvious analyst competency with support applications. Clear communications, including no unexplained silences. Professionalism. Speed and accuracy. The job done. Every hospital Service Desk can get there.