User self-help - a skeptical view
Continuing our debate about social media it occurred to me what a load of bollocks this idea is that users are going to support each other without a service desk.
it came to me while I was self-helping for a Drupal issue.
There are four reasons why the service desk isn't going away because of self-help.
1) About a third of the community are technically competent. They can wire a home entertainment system and understand the ten different sorts of connections; get a wifi network working to share files between Windows PCs; and work out why the kids' new game won't install whilst being swamped in tears and tantrums. The other two thirds of the human race need and want help.
And they aren't going to get effective help on a forum: they need to be talked through it. I know from all the patient people on phones who have known exactly what my issue was but also knew they had to spend the ten minutes to calm me down and convince me I was wrong.
I notice all the people who say how easy and good internet self-help is are all IT technical people.
2) The internet if full of crap. Surely nobody needs convincing of this any more. The Commons is stupid. You will find two wrong answers for every correct one. After you fix your initial issue you will then need to fix the damage you did trying the red herrings. People led into self-help by all the happy talk will soon get bitten badly enough to go back to asking someone who knows what they are talking about. Compared to help on the internet, even the average service desk starts looking pretty good.
IT support people are there because we chose them and paid them to know the answer. Helpful people online are they because they have nothing better to do, are outspoken, and think they know what they are talking about.
I notice many of the people who say how ignorant and stupid service desks are are IT technical people.
3) This is the Service Age. People want and expect service. Service is done by servants not by yourself.
I notice all the people who don't want to talk to other humans are all IT technical people.
4) Stop confusing personal experience with the corporate one. In the corporate environment people want more than help. They want a paper trail. They want to access and clarify official policy. They want to transfer accountability: "the service desk told me to delete it". Some of them even care that the problem gets logged and fixed for their colleagues, and the statistics get gathered to drive improvement.
The purposes of contacting support in a corporate environment are more than just to get a piece of technical information.
I notice all the people who can't see past the amazingness of their own personal technology experiences are all IT technical people.
The Drupal problem? I found the answer. The third answer was right. I only avoided reinstalling modules etc etc and all the other crap advice because of (a) twenty years experience with software (b) ten years experience sitting here day and night trawling the crap on the internet, honing my Google skills (c) an inner geek who won't be denied (d) a healthy dose of skepticism. [update: no it wasn't the answer. I'm still stuck. Maybe I should pay for some real tech support.]
[Update: a couple of important points I missed that have come up in comments below:]
I am guilty of my usual exaggeration to say "service desk is going away" - only a few pundits suggest that. The pitch is that service desk will have greatly reduced calls and those calls will be a lot trickier because the users will resolve the easy ones themselves. And that's true. For some users. Organisations been implementing various forms of "level 0" support ever since we had an intranet. Social media will provide one more channel for that. And it will mop up as many calls as the previous attempts did, i.e f*** all.
A Service Desk is a logical function (and ITIL defines it). Whether it is labelled "Service Desk" or "NOC" or "functional support desk embedded in the business" or "automated password reset facility provided and maintained by the Service Desk" or "level 0 self-help instructions compiled and maintained by the service desk" or "friendly guidance to users that no we don't support your bloody iPhone call Apple please", or "a community of mutual support monitored and corrected and fed correct information and harvested for problems", it is logically a service desk. A service desk is a function that manages the interface with users to ensure the fulfilment of their requests (and incidents - I count those as a kind of request). How it does that and where it sits in (or outside) the organisation may vary, but it still is a service desk.
yes we'll see less people with headsets on.
maybe we'll see lower headcounts - perhaps, actually i doubt it: so many service desks are understaffed and could be doing so much more high value stuff that if we truly want to increase service quality we'll need more people not less.
yes we'll see a changing mix of activities and skills on the service desk. Can many of those new activities still be outsourced to Indians or Filipinos or Egyptians or Chinese or Nigerians? yes
is this a qualitative rather than quantitative change over what we have now and what has already been going on for a decade? No, not really.
What's more, incidents are a smaller proportion of the average service desk's traffic than other requests. if you want to get access, process a new user, book training, get another copy of something, request procurement etc etc you still gotta come via the service desk (human or automated). Users might mutually advise on how-to, but they aren't going to process each other's requests so much.