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Experience is everything

Neil Peerman explains why Experience Level Agreements are replacing Service Level Agreements in IT service management

Given the events of the last 12 months, we know making predictions can be a dangerous game. One thing is certain, however: over the next year there will be increased emphasis on customer experience.

In IT service management, this means that standard SLAs (Service Level Agreements) that have been in use for years will be replaced with new Experience Level Agreements (XLAs).

Focus on the customer has intensified during the pandemic. Employees forced to work remotely or from home are completely dependent on their IT department or supplier for fast resolution of IT problems. When they were in the office, they could simply borrow someone else’s laptop or bring forward a meeting to fill in downtime while IT sorted out the problem. Now, there is greater urgency about effective resolution, with good communication essential.

This represents a change in expectations within organisations that will outlast the restrictions of lockdown or the pandemic. New XLAs covering multiple aspects of the customer experience, from a qualitative as well as a quantitative point of view, will make more demands on IT service providers. When employees cannot access the VPN or log in to business applications, it will no longer be acceptable to leave them in limbo, uncertain if anyone has picked up their ticket or is able to resolve it. There will have to be a better quality of conversation about what the problem is and how it relates to the individual’s work requirements.

When resolution is achieved, employees will need to be fully informed so they can get straight back to work with a complete understanding of potential pitfalls or difficulties that might need further attention.

Too often in IT, the end-user has been seen as an irritant who gets in the way of hitting the right SLA metrics. This state of mind will no longer be acceptable. Organisations will impose XLAs to ensure their employees are treated more like customers than ticket numbers and to increase overall efficiency. It is an important shift in outlook that will force a major reassessment of how IT service providers monitor their own performance.

Part of the increased focus on customer experience will be greater provision of self-service capabilities for employees with routine IT queries. Many of the email and messaging exchanges that occur when employees raise a ticket will be eliminated by chatbots that can resolve the more straightforward challenges without service desk involvement. While this may seem to run counter to the emphasis on customer experience, the reality is that it will provide better and more cost-effective levels of service thanks to major advances in AI-powered chatbots.

Chatbots have gained conversational abilities so advanced that most of us are uncertain whether we are conversing with a human or a machine. Using a chatbot, employees get the answers they want quickly and simply, with human intervention from IT, HR and other lines of business only necessary for more complex problems. Instead of dealing with common log-in or connectivity problems, IT staff can concentrate on more interesting and higher value work.

This is part of a wider expansion of self-service that will also encompass the creation and use of video libraries. Employees already use instructional videos for DIY tasks at home. The use of videos in a work context is certain to grow so that employees can resolve IT problems for themselves in the same way they would deal with a leaking pipe. Using a video is faster than trawling through articles and it addresses the reality that younger employees are less willing to read long texts. Over time, IT will become knowledge managers, responsible for the data in automation applications used by employees to serve themselves.

Expert intervention
Even so, there is little likelihood of the service desk disappearing in the immediate future. While IT will spend less time on run-of-the-mill matters, complex problems will need expert intervention.

Remote working needs employees to improve their IT awareness, so IT will have to collaborate with HR on enhanced training for all employees. It also puts a premium on ensuring new employees are up to speed quickly, so IT will have to work with HR on new on-boarding procedures to ensure recruits have all the hardware, software and access privileges they need, along with an understanding of what to do or who to contact when there are IT problems.

Fixing these aspects of the customer experience will yield gains in efficiency and employee satisfaction among the wider workforce and help to meet XLA requirements.

As digital workflows develop and expand over the next 12 months, the role of IT is certain to become less routine and far more customer-centred. Remote working will put new emphasis on the customer experience, which will drive self-service implementations, chatbot adoption and the introduction of XLAs. Quality of service will become very important to all organisations.

Neil Peerman is COO at Xcession, an expert ITSM implementer, application managed services provider and consultancy. Vendor-independent and customer-focused, Xcession works for major enterprises across the UK and Ireland, using a mix of on-shore, near-shore and off-shore consultants.

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