The real story behind service desk performance in law firms


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13-May-2019 11:30:00

In my last piece, I talked about Problem Management and how it is often confused with Major Incident management. In fact, while the two are linked, they are very different beasts. However strong your Problem Management, you must be ready for business critical incidents.

As a managed services provider to the legal industry we get to see the mechanics of existing Service Desks before we engage. Our approach is to take 12 months’ worth of tool and Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) data and analyse it to the point where almost every second of a Service Desk’s life is accounted for. The results make interesting reading and raise a number of issues that are handled in ways that are pretty much unique to the Legal industry.  

To manage, first you must measure.

Basic metrics of a Service Desk’s performance can be constructed in a number of ways but the ‘giveaway’ measures are usually;

• First Time Fix (FTF) - We define this as a fix applied on the first call without further escalation or input from elsewhere,

• Service Desk Resolution (SDR) defined as a fix applied by the service desk without escalation regardless of time taken,

• And finally, Abandonment rate (taken from the ACD and usually split with a threshold.)

The ACD metrics tend to be a fair reflection of fact, but a Service Desk tool will only produce statistics based on input, so it is important to ascertain exactly how comprehensively the staff use it before relying on the data. (Our view would be that everything should be recorded for a number of good reasons but that’s a separate article on its own.)

‘Requirements’ versus ‘Needs’ – an important distinction

So, assuming the content, definitions and categorisations are correct it is then possible to start taking a view of the effectiveness (or not) of a Service Desk. But before any judgements can be made it is important to understand the culture of a business and ‘requirements’ of the user community. I use the word ‘requirements’ here because this is the first issue that occurs in Law firms, but not in too many other commercial environments. When assessing a user group for support we would usually be thinking about ‘needs’, by that I mean what type of support does a user actually ‘need’ to be able to perform his/her role to an acceptable standard.

From this set of needs we would build the most efficient way of delivering them to achieve maximum service for least cost. (The key word here is ‘efficient’). However, uniquely, in some Law firms a culture exists where a user’s ‘needs’ are confused with a user’s ‘requirements’. This can be as simple as the standard mantra of ‘I know the business is a Blackberry house, but I require an iPhone’. This is not to say the user shouldn’t necessarily have an iPhone, but the distinction must be made that it is not something they need to do their job.

‘Role Model’ – best practice service desks

When building Service Desk models however, ‘needs’ versus ‘requirements’ can produce sizeable cost differences and cause huge issues with Service provision and not just because one of the Partners insists on Apple kit. As a Service provider our starting point with a Service Desk is always efficiency. By that I mean, how is the fastest, most efficient fix speed and accuracy achieved to enable the user to return to working (billing) as fast as possible.

As a starting point, the way to achieve the greatest efficiency is to build a desk that fixes as many issues as possible from that central desk location either on the phone or by using remote tools. To achieve this it is important to make two things clear to the business. The Service Desk staff at the first line are just that, and are not permitted to wander off and perform desk side fixes. An analyst at a Service Desk can achieve far more by not spending chunks of the day physically moving around. Evidence proves, that when configured correctly a model like this can achieve 90%+ SDR which supports the argument. Users are required to call the desk and not encourage face to face attention from IT. Genuine desk side fixes are then attended to by a dedicated team of a size applicable to the volume of work.

So, why isn’t everyone doing it?

The issue with this model for some Law firms is that users, and by this I mean Partners, are able to, by the nature of their position, dictate their ‘requirements’ to IT which are often understood or accepted as needs.

The most costly of these ‘requirements’ is the perceived need for a Support Analyst to physically attend a desk for the simplest of issues or in worse case scenarios actually ‘hang around the work place just in case there is a problem’. This has a double whammy effect on costs. Firstly, desk side support staff are more expensive than service desk staff, and are not as productive because of the amount of time spent in transit between floors, buildings, rooms etc., so why have more of them than are absolutely necessary. Secondly, instead of a user receiving a fix remotely in a short period of time, he or she will wait for a desk side visit, chew the fat with the Analysts, move out of his/her seat and finally get back to work after a needlessly long period of time.

The Partners reticence to change is understandable though. The combination of the constant pressure to account and bill for every minute of your working day with any past frustrations or even just perceptions of unreliable, faceless Service Desks is more than a fair rationale for wanting excessive desk-side presence to ‘sort your IT problem out quickly’.

However, if proper time and investment is made to address Service Desk issues and turn it into a responsive and high-performing operation, Partners’ confidence and satisfaction will definitely increase, but at the same time the whole firm will immediately benefit from the efficiency gains and subsequent increased billing and profit.

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Pete Canavan
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About the author

Pete Canavan

Pete Canavan is Support Services Director at Plan-Net. An accredited ITIL Service Manager, he has a proven track record in IT with special expertise in the Legal & Financial Services industries.

With two decades in the IT field, Pete has acquired extensive experience in business relationship development, service transformation, project and people management, training and client/supplier relations.

Pete's other passions, besides Plan-Net of course, are his family and football.

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