In the classic cartoon, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar challenges the mighty Gaul warrior Asterix and his trusty sidekick Obelix to complete 12 impossible tasks.
Caesar hoped the pair would fail and show them to be mere mortals and not the Gods his Legionnaires feared.
Crossing crocodile-infested rivers and resisting the temptation of sirens are nothing to our heroes compared to, "Getting a hold of 'Permit A-38' form in the 'The Place That Sends You Mad'" and it nearly drives poor Obelix to a nervous breakdown.
We have all been there. Who secretly suspects that as a manager, you could enquire about onboarding a new member of staff six months before they start, only to be told you really should have begun the process last week?
Turn your mind to the valid questions a new employee has, and how many different people and departments they have to contact or visit to progress. A well-run intranet, a comprehensive induction program and a buddying system for new starters can address many of these issues, but you still need a map and guide to navigate.
How many service desks do you need?
The problem lies in that departments service employees in totally different ways. We are used to calling the IT service desk or emailing them. HR has a different email address, but it does have people you can visit in person. Facilities would prefer you to leave it post-it note on their computer screen if they are away from their desk. Procurement and Communications have digital forms on the intranet that they would prefer you to fill in first, as long as you can find them. Each department has different service desk arrangements, but the employee has only one need – they need help. They increasingly want and expect a more straightforward and better level of service.
It’s not employees shifting the goalposts, consumers are!
It doesn't seem too long ago that we took for granted that getting a web page changed or a new laptop ordered took a little longer than you wanted. Today, employees are less and less patient and understanding. So what has changed? Consumerisation.
Employees are consumers too, and consumers are enjoying a really good service experience. A single web browser like Google can help you find anything while Amazon will let you buy it. It is easy to buy a new iPhone or Android smartphone and have all your data and apps ready to go within 30 minutes. The smooth out-of-the-box experience would make anyone wonder why it can't always be like this?
Back in the workplace, the consequences of this trend spotlight service management. Consumers want answers in a way that is easy, quick, clear and even free. What we need to understand is that employees want the same things. They don’t want to feel frustrated, embarrassed, on the back foot because they can’t get on with their job. They want a “Google” like experience that is familiar to navigate and that will answer all their questions, have all the forms and make them feel like they belong. There’s an important roll-on effect too, employees would start with a positive experience and an optimistic impression about their employer!
One service desk to rule them all
Let’s be realistic, your employees should expect and have one place to go to answer all their questions and requests, regardless of which department ultimately helps them. New intranet technology and self-service portals do deliver this service. But some departments are going a step further and working together more closely under the banner of Enterprise Service Management.
Getting departments to work together on service arrangements has its challenges. For years, each department has worked to their own strategies and frameworks, professional standards and methodologies. Departmental experience and expertise still need to grow and be respected. But such an inward-looking focus does not cut it any longer when it comes to service excellence. The key is to work together and organise services to improve them in the places where the service provision genuinely overlaps.
Enterprise service management
How do you get different departments to join forces and look for ways to organise their services together? Our hero Asterix the Gaul most likely would have waded in and bashed heads together. Thankfully, there is smarter way of doing things that can bring about lasting benefits.
Firstly, agree on the end game – where service areas overlap, there is the opportunity to improve service quality and lower costs. Second, recognise and embrace the synergetic effect: expertise is better shared. Then focus collaboration across three areas: tools, organisation and process management. These three steps result in a logical, incremental change process that brings the services of the various departments closer together and helps realise both improved service quality and lower costs.
Step 1: Shared Tool
A shared service management tool improves the information stream and reduces license and management costs. Departments will still have their own methods based on their own culture but for it to work departments must agree on terminology and how the tool is set up. Employees are still dealing with different departments, and the old frustrations will remain.
Phase 2: Shared Service Desk
Employees can take all questions and requests to a single digital and/or physical desk. Departments still work according to their own methods but collaboration becomes more intensive, as operators from different departments work together and improve knowledge sharing at the shared service desk.
Achieving Step 2 leads to a significant improvement in the service quality for employees and reduce costs for the organisation resulting from sharing resources at the service desk. However, service quality can still vary as individual departments maintain their own work processes and response times to fulfil requests.
Phase 3: Shared Processes
With the areas of service overlap identified and agreed, departments work together to produce a single set of shared processes and procedures for servicing employees. Departmental management maintain a vital role in championing shared processes and recognising the authority of processes managers to maintain shared operating standards.
You can only achieve Step 3 if your organisation has the right ambition. Steps 1 and 2 quickly deliver tangible improvements in cost and service quality. A continued focus on cutting costs will not help you to progress past Step 2. The quality of services must also increase.
Improving service quality must be the driving ambition. Only then can you continue to meet increasing employee expectations by combining departments' strengths – and saving money in the process. Not the other way around. And let’s not forget, happier employees are productive, more satisfied and contribute positively to your organisation’s reputation in the market.
Improving Service Quality
Improving the service experience of employees while lowering costs is not something that every department can achieve by themselves. It does take leadership to adjust strategy accordingly and consciously choose departmental collaboration to improve the quality of services.
Enterprise service management (ESM) offers a solution. To implement ESM, strengths must be combined incrementally in terms of tools, service desk and processes, while each department maintains its own expertise. The goal is to reach shared services with higher quality, with the added benefit of considerably lower costs – helping you continue to meet employees’ expectations in the future.
And like our dear friend Asterix, achieve what some may have once deemed impossible.