How to improve the quality of Service Desk functional escalations

By ITIL® from Experience©

When the Service Desk exhausted its ability to resolve an incident or is unable to fulfill a service request they typically assign it to another IT group or a supplier. ITIL® refers to these assignment as a functional1 escalation2 .

It is common for recipients of functional escalations to complain about the quality they are receiving from the Service Desk. Typically the grumble is that:

  • Key information is missing
  • Troubleshooting was not done properly
  • The incident resolution was obvious
  • This is simple; everyone should know how to do this.

At a software company, the 3rd level technical support referred to the “garbage” and the "degree of crap" coming from the Service Desk.

Unfortunately, many Service Desks are staffed with entry level, junior people starting their IT career. Of course their knowledge cannot be compared to a technical specialist with decades of experience with a specialization in a particular field of IT (e.g. network, servers, app development).

Quality issues can be addressed by implementing Quality Assurance3 or Quality Control4 methods. Quality Assurance refers to procedures in place to ensure that process activities are performed to the expected level of quality (i.e. during the production process). On the other hand, Quality Control are methods to detect problems in the outputs.

The following can be done to improve the quality of functional escalations of the Service Desk.

Quality Assurance Quality Control
  • In job ads/postings, specify mandatory minimum and desirable skills and experience
  • Test candidates (e.g. technical exam from an examination body)
  • Use simulations to screen candidates (e.g. provide candidates with a user's email and instruct them to write how they would describe this event when logging the ticket in the ITSM Tool)
New Employee orientation/onboarding
  • Pair new employees with a senior Service Desk Agent to be their mentor
  • Have an onboarding checklist to ensure that nothing is forgotten
  • Use a Lesson Plan1 when training to ensure that key points are covered
  • Give new employees specific objectives/milestones they are expected to achieve in a certain timeframe (e.g. at the end of 3 weeks you should be able to...)
  • Review new employee performance at each milestone
Continually train staff
  • Provide the Service Desk Agents with problem solving methods like Kepner-Tregoe
  • Get the IT specialists to provide lunch and learn sessions about common problems received from the Service Desk
  • Make knowledge transfers to the Service Desk part of the Release Management process
  • Provide sufficient funding for training
  • Hire enough staff to ensure that staff has the time to attend training
  • Add an activity/task to the Change Management process that a knowledge transfer must be done to the Service Desk before the change can be done (See What is a change)
  • Using the Call-Center's Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), have each agent "page" the supervisor before they hang up the phone/end the chat with the client to ensure that nothing obvious was missed
  • If the call center has a rule by which agents are expected to complete the user's call within say 20 minutes, review this rule as it may be causing unnecessary escalations
  • Service Desk Agents assigns every incident and service request to a Team Leader for review before being assigned outside the Service Desk
  • Have step-by-step procedures that must be followed prior to escalating (e.g. check)
  • Specialists must return incomplete incidents and service requests to the Service Desk with an explanation why it is being returned even though it increases resolution/completion time
Quality Reviews
  • Review Service Desk Agents work using pre-established objective measurable criterion and provide them with a scorecard incident or service requests (see Should the incident be reopened or a new one logged and Should a service request be reopened or a new one logged))
  • Report on the number of re-assigned incidents or service requests back to the service desk due to incomplete information or when the process was not followed
Leverage features of the ITSM Tool
  • Provide Agents with Templates/Model incidents and service requests to complete so that they only have to fill in the blanks
  • Make knowledge articles available to Users and staff (see What is another term for User).
  • Use skill based routing available in some ITSM tools

Another approach is to engage the IT specialist team(s) who complains the most to create and review knowledge articles and checklists mentioned above. The message is, “help us improve" by: a) giving the Service Desk something to follow, b) if they do not give anything to do, they will get everything assigned to them. However, the deal is that if the Service Desk staff does not follow what was given to them, they need to escalate the issues to the Service Desk management and they will have a talk with the culprits.

None of these methods is a silver bullet in itself. Several methods should be used simultaneously to improve the quality of the Service Desk escalations. Lastly, try to avoid creating additional layers or tiers in the service desk organization. This unnecessarily increases resolution time and depletes skills at the front line resulting in more escalations.

Seeing an increase in the First Call Resolution metric, a reduction in the number of hierarchical5 escalations and a reduction of complaints by co-workers around the water cooler are indicators that these methods are working.

Last updated on: 2016-12-09

IT thrives when doing root cause analysis for technical problems, however its poor at doing process root cause analysis.

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