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Escaping Groundhog Day
By Peter J. McGarahan, Founder and President, McGarahan & Associates


From the movie Groundhog Day:

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

New Year, is it really?

There were painful moments in my PepsiCo career where I felt we weren’t celebrating the opportunity of another new year, but reliving the last year over and over and over again! I guess that is why I appreciate and enjoy the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray even after many, many viewings. Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman for a local news station. Every year he goes to Puxatawney, Pennsylvania for the Puxatawney Phil event: commonly recognized as Groundhog Day. On awaking the 'following' day he discovers that it's Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, and then comes the realization that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day. Because of the social influence of the movie, Groundhog Day is no longer simply a day, but a term that is emblematic of a repetitive situation.

In A Time for Reflection, I stressed the importance of reflecting on your accomplishments, disappointments and your services in general. There is nothing worse than spending valuable time and resources on delivering services not valued by your customers. There is also little value in delivering services that are not properly aligned with business goals and objectives or not focused on achieving any end ‘business value’ results. And I have no patience for support managers and organizations that chose to lay victim to the forces of Groundhog Day. Many of us live the same day over and over, symbolically if not literally. Like Phil, the only way to escape our predicament is to change, if not ourselves, then at least our circumstances. Let’s discuss some of the most common Groundhog Day situations faced by support organizations worldwide.

Crisis? What Crisis?

Another outage! Another unplanned, unscheduled maintenance! Here comes the flood, the wave of calls from customers all wanting to know what’s wrong, when is it going to be resolved and why did I know before the Service Desk again? We all know the result of a call spike on your service level commitments, but let’s address that in the next section entitled Promises, Promises. There you are again, placed in a reactive predicament, where your only focus is survival. New day, same crisis, different game plan. This time you are prepared with a Crisis Management plan in hand entitled “How to Survive Call Volume Spikes” (the Tenth Anniversary edition of my first article available on www.mcgarahan.com). There are five proactive measures you can immediately address within your support organization to handle any call volume spike arising from a service interruption, outage or crisis.

1. Place an emergency message at the front of the ACD menu letting your customers know that you know there is an outage, what services it is impacting, who is working on it and the estimated time of resolution or time of next status update.

• Measure the abandons from the greeting box during an outage, they are considered “positive abandons” and are treated as a means of proactive communications rather than waiting too long in the phone queue.

2. Have the Service Desk act as the central point of communications between the IT groups and the customers. It is critical for customer perception that the IT groups keep the central point of communications in the loop at all times.

3. Contact key customer liaisons in each of the functional business departments that are impacted by the service disruption.

4. Post a broadcast message or update on the systems availability calendar on the company internet portal.

5. Ensure all of your team has an individual role in managing any crisis and the way to become pro at it is to practice, practice, experience, debrief, continuously improve, practice, practice......

Promises, Promises

It’s important to know three things when managing a support organization; the demand for your services, the availability/utilization of your resources and the adherence to Service Level commitments. You need to only look here if you are continually missing your service level commitments on a regular basis, experiencing the same indefensible conversation with your boss about increase staffing or wondering why nothing adds up at the end of the day. Are you able to tell a cohesive story for what’s really happening in your Support Center, day after day after day? In educating your Support Center professionals, make sure they know the WHY these seven activities are important:

1. Track 100% of all incident and request activity.

2. Don’t make promises you cannot keep. It’s hard to commit to resolution when escalating an incident – but more realistic to commit to a response time when business impact and urgency are clearly defined and prioritization has criteria, logic and substance.

3. Measure each professional’s daily utilization/productivity for schedule adherence, availability, incoming calls, talk time and after work time (handle time) and outgoing call talk time.

4. Adherence to SLA commitments and knowing where you missed, what caused you to miss and how much did you miss by!

5. Reconciling phone schedules, adherence to ACD day-part reports to help you understand better where and why you are missing your SLA targets and what action you could take to ‘tweak’ the resourcing and scheduling to better meet the demand. That is of course if you are not missing them Grand Canyon wide.

6. Debriefing at each staff meeting and giving every Service Desk professional to give share their experiences and thoughts as to why you are missing service level targets and what can be done to correct the situation.

7. Spend time on the phones with your professionals and get first hand knowledge of the situation – better to know than to assume.

Does anyone know......

I hate it when I have to look for answers to problems that I have already solved. I also hate when I know that a service or an answer to my question is on a website or should be on a website and I can’t find it. As I travel around to support centers globally, I still hear that frustrated cry from service professionals as well as customers alike, “Does anyone know where I can find.........?” Let’s look for an opportunity where we can leverage one initiative with another to solve some very real pain points and create some very real business benefits and return on investment.

I recommend that when you look to solve your knowledge drain that you look to implement Knowledge Management with a Self-Service phase built into the Roadmap. As you are creating knowledge articles to be used by Support Center professionals in resolving incidents on First Contact, you can begin to prepare these utilized nuggets of knowledge for customer access through a self-service portal. This strategy certainly sounds a lot more exciting than continuing to let your customers and Support Professionals locate the answers to their questions and solutions to their problems on their own.

Migrate Migraine

At anytime, if you find yourself looking for a tool or an upgrade or replacement to a current tool in use that you stop, breathe and think of not making the same mistakes again. It’s Important that you know the root cause of whatever pain points you are currently living with on a daily basis. Is it process related, tool related, feature/functionality or people related. Address the problem head-on and remember that no tool by itself ever solved a problem within a support organization. As you gather requirements and research solutions, options and alternatives – remember it’s a fresh start. A chance to start again, from the beginning with a Lifecycle approach - the opportunity to strategize, plan, design, transition, operate, maintain and continuously improve.

To migrate old data or not to migrate old data! The answer is not to migrate any of the old data – PLEASE! Take the time to design it with a fresh new approach, processes, categorization, escalation and notification rules. Learn from yourself and others as to the best practices and approach for implementing good processes from good requirements that are configured rather than customized – sounds like a winner to me.

Here you go, we go ‘live’ today

In implementing any new service or providing support for a new product, system or business application – it is critical to have a transition process defined and documented so that everyone can be successful. At the core, it is certainly helpful to know what the expectations are from your group in supporting this new service, system or business application. Additionally, the support leader has to champion and lead the effort to get in front of these developers and technologist with the transition plan. Here is what my team needs to be successful in providing Level-1 services for this service, system or business application. In short, I don’t want to have to answer the phone and figure it out. I need training, documentation, FAQs, SLA commitments, Known Errors, workarounds and resolutions in addition to escalation paths, categories and important data gathering templates for inclusion in escalation. You do have a choice before accepting any new services, system or business application – we do it right at the Support Center or you can do it yourself – your choice!

Hire slow, fire fast

I’ll cut to the chase on this one – don’t make the same hiring mistakes twice. A bad hire can hurt really impact team morale and performance let alone causing you lost productivity in valuable management time. Take the time to better understand the perfect profile of the person you want and that can be successful in your organization. It is also important that in your support strategy and structure you have made a cultural decision to hire the best and offer candidates an opportunity to learn, grow and move on to bigger and better opportunities within the organization. If this is your philosophy, a great way to attract new talent is to have a Career Advancement Book or Wall that highlights the Support Center Professionals who have chosen opportunities outside the Support organization and are enjoying a successful career within the company. And it all started here......

The Paperweight Report

Reporting is one of those necessary evils that comes with the job. Reporting is more an art than a mathematical science. It’s more story-telling than data, tables or graphs. To do it right you should have different perspectives and audiences about reporting; you and your day-today operation, your senior management team and their hot buttons/priorities and your customers and what’s important to them. Take advantage of the reporting opportunity and present business impacts and Support Center pains that you need senior management’s attention for corrective action. Highlight areas where the end-to-end service delivery is not serving customer’s expectations according to service level commitments. Recommend action aimed at the problem and use the data to support it.

Don’t spend time creating reports that are not noticed, not read and not actionable.

Take the time to do it right. Take the time to do it differently based upon what you have learned from prior days and experiences. Don’t wake-up to yesterday ever again. Take the time to change and rid yourself of Groundhog Day Hell!

“Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"” Robin Williams

About the Author
Peter McGarahan is the founder and president of McGarahan & Associates and acting Chairman of the IT Infrastructure Management Association. Pete’s value to the service and support industry is his thought leadership. As a practitioner, product manager and support industry analyst and expert, he has influenced the maturity of the service and support industry. His passion for customer service led the Taco Bell support organization to achieve the Help Desk Institute Team Excellence Award. IT Support News also named him one of the “Top 25 Professionals in the Service and Support Industry” in 1999. Support professionals voted McGarahan “The Legend of the Year” in 2002 and again in 2004 at the Help Desk Professionals conference for his endless energy, mentoring and coaching and his valuable contribution to the support industry and community. You can reach Peter McGarahan at pete@mcgarahan.com or 714.694.1158.

 

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