How to get customer satisfaction with an outsourced IT helpdesk

Discover how to manage outsourced helpdesk problems to improve customer satisfaction levels

The question: We have outsourced our IT helpdesk to India, and our users constantly complain at town-hall meetings to executives.

How should I position this when I next present to our UK board? The IT director responsible for the project now has an executive position in the company in another region.

The solution

Focus on your SLAs and take ownership Roger Rawlinson, director of consultancy, NCC Group

It really comes down to the service-level agreements (SLAs) that are in place between you and your customer. Is it that you are not meeting the SLAs - in which case you have to sort it – or are the users' expectations unreasonable? Even in the latter case, you still need to address the problem as this is all about perceptions.

I am interested that you specifically mentioned the outsourcing of the helpdesk to India. I assume in mentioning it that this is the basis for the complaints, in which case you need to get to the bottom of the nature of those complaints. I

s your outsourced supplier in turn meeting your SLAs? Remember that in contracting out the business process to India you have not passed on the accountability. It is your problem, you need to understand it and, if your supplier is not providing the required level of service, then you need to own the problem and resolve it.

Focus on the issues and not the personalities, remind people of the decision-making process that led to the outsourcing and the business decisions made at the time so that the context is understood and appreciated.

It may be that a “lessons-learnt” approach needs to be adopted, so that the company can build and grow on what it has learnt. Give the board members options for improvement, rather than leaving them with issues and problems.

Finally, on a personal level, when presenting this to your board, make a virtue of it. People like to hear, “We have a problem. I have analysed and understood it, and this is what I am doing about it.” What they hate to hear is discussions about blame or, even worse, an abdication from owning the problem.

Use metrics to assess the situationBen Booth, Global chief technology officer, Ipsos

Before taking this forward you need to find out the realities of the current situation. Hopefully, you will have some measures to show how well calls are being responded to, both before and after the outsourcing, and also you will know the costs before and after.

Perhaps you also do regular user surveys, which can help tell whether these complaints are universal or just from a vociferous minority.

Once you have a basis of fact you can present to the board on what happened before, the current situation, and options going forward. You can then speak authoritatively, and present the board with a range of options, which might include living with the present situation, a change in outsourcing parameters, or bringing the helpdesk back in-house.

Use diplomacy to get a review of processes Robin Laidlaw, director of consultancy, NCC Group

Many years ago, when I studied in the USA, I attended a superb series of lectures at Stanford about decision analysis. The enduring thing I remember from those lectures was the phrase “you can have good outcomes from bad decisions and bad outcomes from good decisions, so always remember the circumstances when the decision was made – it could save you your job.”

So at the time, the decision you write about may well have been good the outcome, apparently, is bad. I think this gives you the platform to approach the need to change, diplomatically proclaiming that although the decision was good, the outcome has not been, so a review is needed.

Some embellishment of this basic approach ought to give you the means to get a review without exposing the former IT to any criticism.

Make your firm an “expert customer” of IT servicesChris Potts, director, Dominic Barrow

What are your people complaining about - the fact that you have outsourced to India, or the levels of service they are experiencing?

If it is the former, then you need to be robust in tackling people’s feelings about the decision and get them to focus on the actual service they are getting. If the service experience has deteriorated since the helpdesk changed hands, then the people who are complaining have a valid point.

You will need to decide whether this shows the original sourcing decision to have been a mistake, or that it is was the right decision but is being poorly executed - and to what extent the root cause of poor execution is about you, the customer, or the supplier.

One of the strategic benefits of outsourcing is that a company learns – sometimes the hard way - how good it is as a customer of IT services and what it will need to do better to get the service experiences it wants for the price it is prepared to pay.

A company can also discover that it has unwittingly outsourced a core competency and must therefore bring it back in-house. For most companies, that is unlikely to be the case with an IT helpdesk.

Take a two-pronged approach: review and resolve the specific service issues that people have with the outsourced helpdesk use this process to explore, highlight and then execute what the company may need to do better to become more of an “expert customer” of IT services.

Perform an in-depth analysis of the outsourced IT helpdesk Aswin Nagarajan, manager, Ernst & Young Technology Security & Risk Services

IT helpdesk outsourcing is maturing among the outsourced classes of IT services and represents a lower risk-reward ratio, and the board should be in agreement of its value.

In addressing the complaints from end-users, it is important to diagnose the underlying issues causing dissatisfaction. Carrying out a proper diagnosis can help strengthen the case for outsourcing the function, and help to highlight the necessary actions needed to solve the customer dissatisfaction. I would suggest two possible ways of achieving this. If there is budget available, conduct a performance diagnostic for the outsourced function.

Do this by conducting a performance review that includes a review of the SLA and key performance indicators – both historic and current – to determine service levels and compare this with internal baselines and industry benchmarks.

Then review governance arrangements in the retained organisation and managing of the outsourced relationships to drive service levels. In some cases, it may also be worthwhile to conduct a supplier risk assessment, including process, technology and people risks of the service provider that impacts service delivery.

Following the review, ensure that the root-cause analysis addresses the concerns reported by the end-users. Present to the board your findings and recommendations, which may involve changing suppliers or renegotiating the contract and the underlying SLA or initiating a joint performance-improvement programme with the current provider to deliver better service levels.

Leverage your internal IT capabilities to handle this form of rapid assessment or find the right IT advisor or partner that can help you with this activity.

If budget is not available, instead prepare a business case outlining the need, potential costs and benefits of conducting a performance diagnostic for the outsourced IT helpdesk function. Use the board meeting to get an approval and go ahead to execute a diagnostic and implement ensuing recommendations.

Improve communication channels to boost service levels Joe Peppard, professor of Information Systems, Cranfield School of Management

You could, of course, land your predecessor in the mire and claim that this is a situation you have inherited, say that it really has nothing to do with you, that service levels were not adequately specified and that the consequences of the outsourcing deal were not fully thought through. And that you, of course, would have done things quite differently. Although this may be true, the fact is it is now your responsibility.

This is a situation for you to shine. It is also a situation where you have to navigate the political landscape. From my research, IT leaders struggle here, but politics are a fact of organisational life and do not always have to be negative. My advice would be to look for the win-win outcome.

When you present to the UK board, acknowledge the problem. The board will know the background, so there is no need to dwell on history. Instead, come up with a solution. Do your homework.

I am assuming that this is indeed a problem, given that end-users seem to be constantly complaining. You need to check this out. What is the nature of their complaints?

Often, not all users feel the same way but just a segment. Making some tactical adjustments with service delivery may address many of the users” concerns.

A big contributor to user frustration can be lack of communication, which can be fixed relatively easily and generally has a quick payback.

If the problem is more significant, perhaps talk through some of the issues with the IT director responsible for the outsourcing decision. Elicit his views. Perhaps some of the helpdesk should now be brought back in-house. Cost-value implications should be factored into any recommendations that you propose.

Try to focus on the positives, and talk with higher management Sharm Manwani, head of information management, Henley Management College

You are right to carefully consider the positioning. In my first role as UK head of IT, I had to present the status to an international IT audience that included my predecessor. It was a challenge to explain the full range of issues without it coming across as a personal attack.

It is advisable in these cases to separate facts from opinion and to start with the positives. Presumably there was a business case for the outsourcing of the helpdesk. Is the cost-reduction target being met? If so, you could show the numbers on this.

On the service side, there is no point trying to hide the issues. Do you have some statistical data to support or balance the negative stories? How long has the outsourcing of the operation been going and are there any trends that you can highlight? Are there some areas of the service that are working well? You should be able to identify these through your key performance indicators.

This analysis of the data should help you position your recommendations so that you are not seen as having a knee-jerk reaction. At the same time, you need to avoid coming across as someone who says that the service is 99% positive so we can ignore the 1%.

The final bit of advice is to talk to the IT director who led this project and share your findings. You might be pleasantly surprised at the reaction and receive some constructive advice. If not, you will at least be forewarned.

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