by Bob Lewis

Customer Elimination Management, One More Time

Oct 18, 2010
IT Leadership

Run your Service Desk the way companies should run Customer Service, not the way they do run Customer Service.

Run your Service Desk the way companies should run Customer Service, not the way they do run Customer Service.

ManagementSpeak: Nobody has to manage the help desk queue. If everyone does their job, the queue will manage itself.

Translation: You’re Nobody.

This week’s contributor made herself a somebody by providing this excellent example. An anonymous somebody, but a somebody nonetheless.

Here’s one way it goes wrong.

I’m booking travel to a client I visit on a regular basis. Round-trip airfare has been about $450 since I first started working with them. This time, though, quotes $1,300 for the same trip, or $900 with one connecting flight.

I call a live human being who confirms the new rate, and, after doing some checking, explains that Delta no longer provides a round-trip rate for this destination unless I stay over a Saturday. Otherwise I’m paying for two one-way tickets.

I figure it’s an oversight.

Given the sheer number of routes Delta has to price, it’s easy to imagine the Rates department simply missing this one. So I contact Customer Service (or, more accurately, “Customer Service”) to let them know. They reply:

Thank you for contacting Delta Air Lines.

We do not guarantee fares unless the ticket is purchased. To price our product, we consider market demand, competition and cost. Each market is evaluated independently. is designed to offer lower fares to passengers who are able to comply with the conditions for purchase. The fares offered on are, in most cases, the lowest available fares.

Fares can be complex and are not always related to the distance flown.

It is fairly common practice for some airlines to offer promotional fares to stimulate travel with no consideration for the cost of providing the service. To price our product, we consider market demand, competition and cost. Each market is evaluated independently. We are working hard to control costs to be profitable at lower fare levels and still provide the kind of service which has been a Delta tradition.

We strive to keep fares as competitive as possible without losing money.

Additionally, we are committed to offering the community convenient schedules and a large volume of seats to many destinations.

Again, thank you for writing. We appreciate your selection of Delta and will always welcome the opportunity to be of service.

In my reply I point out that as neither cost nor market demand are likely to have tripled, and as their competitors charge $300 for the same destination (one layover), their explanation makes no sense. I receive no further reply.

While business users aren’t customers (a point made here so often as to be tiresome), too many IT Service Desks have these characteristics in common with the Customer Service departments most businesses run:

  • With every contact, the credibility of the entire organization the Service department represents is on the line.
  • All procedures are rooted in the assumption that the caller is at fault.
  • The Service department is required to admit no mistakes by the rest of the organization, regardless of the issue being reported.
  • Should the issue turn out to be an actual service problem, the Service department’s authority is limited to escalation.
  • Those to whom issues are escalated have every incentive to deny there’s a problem, including a political price for admitting to a mistake.

Which is likely why Delta’s Customer Service department gave me its version of, “It isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.”

Luckily for you, your Service Desk doesn’t have to defend anything as indefensible as airline pricing (more evidence: If demand truly influenced price, aisle and window seats would cost more than center seats).

Here’s the alternative: Inform everyone in IT that from here on in they should assume every issue reported to the Service Desk represents a preventable problem.

Every contact. Until proven otherwise.

A caller doesn’t know how to bold text in MS Office? Preventable through better training. Slow system response? Preventable through better capacity management or performance engineering. Enterprise application doesn’t handle an unusual business situation? Preventable through system designs that allow for exception processing.

Yes, yes, yes, preventable is different from being worth preventing. Some Service Desk contacts are the proverbial five buck problems that don’t justify fifty buck solutions. Which only means some governance group should evaluate the preventable issues to decide which are worth preventing.

One more suggestion: For every reported issue that isn’t a clear “cockpit error,” when those on the receiving end of an escalation close the ticket, give the Service Desk authority to bounce it back if the claimed fix is clearly ridiculous, or to escalate it if it isn’t a fix at all but instead is synonymous with the assignee lacking the authority to address the problem.

Risky? Perhaps. But remember, with every call to the Service Desk, your credibility is on the line.

What could be riskier than that?

Bob Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, a consultancy focused on IT organizational effectiveness, business/IT integration, and helping organizations become more adept at designed, planned change.