by Nancy Van Elsacker, TOPdesk

Virtually every day organizations seek ways to provide better customer support by having departments collaborate more closely. A common complaint is that employees have trouble working together with colleagues from other departments because it almost feels like they’re speaking different languages. This is exactly the kind of problem a shared service management model can help with. Realizing more intensive collaboration is the first step toward more professional services. This is not only good for the customer, but it benefits your employees as well. Thus, the following are several examples to show how organizations navigated the path to more intensive collaboration and the benefits they enjoyed.

Trends in service improvement

From the turn of the century onward, there’s been a trend toward organizations wanting to simplify the information stream to the customer. The reason for this is to make operations less chaotic. Because of this, the shared service management trend is not going away as it increases customer satisfaction and also significantly reduces organizational costs. The shared service management model explains the growth phases observed in the market, along with the results of said phases. 

Most organizations start at phase zero — nothing shared. In this phase, each of the organization’s departments has its own processes and procedures. They hardly work together and there is a strict division of tasks. The first step organizations take toward shared service management is a shared tool. Organizations that use a shared tool already work in a single package, but still have different ways for the customer to approach them as well as their own processes and procedures. This step does provide significant savings because it reduces the number of applications used. However, customer satisfaction really starts improving in the next step: shared service desk. In this phase, a shared service desk is set up featuring all of your organization’s supporting departments. This creates a single point of contact for customers to request all services. Once all departments start using the same processes and procedures, the organization is in phase three: shared process. It is in this phase that the maximum customer satisfaction and cost effciency is achieved.

From phase zero  to phase one: The ease of working in a single tool

An example: A health care organization recently started in phase zero. Nothing was shared, but its leaders had a strong wish to collaborate more closely in a shared environment. This organization’s supporting departments hardly knew each other, despite working in the same building. Each department had its own solution for registering customer questions. During the implementation kickoff for the project, which focused on bringing together the various departments into a shared service management solution, it became clear that both the management and the department leaders wanted to work together using a single tool. Before the various departments started collaborating in the solution, the departments often had to spend days waiting for each other. This was because everything was done via email, which was not checked every day. 

Now the IT employees spend all day in the service management solution and the technical services employees check for malfunctions every two hours. It has become easier to pass on tasks, and the communication lines have shortened because everyone involved is working in the same tool. Moreover, saving money was an important motive for management. Now all calls are registered in service management solutions and the amount of work actually done is much clearer. In just a year’s time, the number of registered calls increased by 50 percent compared to the time before the health system started working in a single tool. This showed and proved that there were capacity problems, and the capacity schedule was adjusted as a result. 

In addition, the customer service improved through better follow-ups and automatic updates via email. Registered tasks and the accompanying responses are now visible to all operators and process managers. Management can step in when necessary. When you want to grow from phase zero (nothing shared) to phase one (shared tool), the main challenge is to get to know and trust one another. If there is no trust, you cannot collaborate. It is advisable that the project members often meet to discuss and address the growing pains during this phase. Weekly meetings make sure everyone gets to know one another and enables them to explain to their colleagues what the group is working on. During the implementation, the project leaders act as key users for their department, not only to answer questions about the tool, but to relay feedback to the key user meetings in order to implement further improvements. Once the project is complete, it is important to keep up the monthly key user meeting so that you can continue going through the desired changes together.

From phase one  to phase two: One service, one desk 

In 2014, a customer satisfaction survey was performed for a government agency. The survey was designed to grant insight into customers’ experiences. The survey was timed carefully and took place during the run-up to the launch of a shared service desk. This was the benchmark. Several interesting conclusions were drawn from the research, including the customer effort score, which is the effort required by a customer to get an answer or solution. Most of the respondents indicated that "some" to "a considerable amount of" effort was required to find a solution. Setting up a clear product and services catalogue and a straightforward self-service desk made it possible to greatly improve the customer satisfaction. It was clear for customers in this new situation where they could take their problems and questions. Offering the customer a single point of contact is an important next step toward the shared service desk. 

Collaborating in one shared service management tool lets an organization’s supporting departments share a portal. After all, nothing annoys a customer more than not knowing where to go for a specific service. In the shared service management model, taking the first step (shared tool) can already result in considerable savings. However, the step toward higher customer satisfaction is usually limited in this phase. In phase two (shared service desk), where the various supporting departments presented as one to the customer, the real step forwards in terms of customer satisfaction is made. 

Your service desk has representatives from all supporting departments. One of the instruments a shared service management solution provides for this is the self-service desk with a clear products and services catalogue. This is where customers turn for all their questions, problems and wishes. Buttons lead them to specific forms where they answer concrete questions about their wishes or problems. This gets rid of paper forms for good. At the back end, you use the shared service desk to make sure that the malfunction or request ends up at the right department. This saves your customer from the confusion of finding their way within the organization to find the solution they need. This professionalization means the customer is helped more effectively and in a more customer-friendly way, which in turn is an incentive for your customers to continue using the self-service desk instead of picking up the phone.

From phase two to phase three: One tool, one face, one procedure

When you are in phase two (shared service desk), your customers no longer notice that their questions and malfunctions are processed by different departments. However, this is still the case. Wherever people collaborate, procedures and cultures develop that can differ between departments, or even between groups within departments. For instance, when the IT department picks up a call they may often send updates via email, while the HR department may only email the final answer. This makes it diffcult to manage your customers’ expectations, despite this being a crucial factor in how they experience your services. 

Starting to use the same processes and procedures is quite the challenge. It requires concessions from all departments involved. Suffcient support must be created within the organization to realize phase three (shared process). Almost every organization seeks ways to improve their call or maintenance processes, as well as make them more uniform; to make services more predictable, and to monitor the same KPIs across several departments. Reports can only be truly compared when both the processes and procedures can easily be followed by all parties. 

In such situations, the process owners and department managers take a critical look at the processes and work to create a widely supported process. Both the key user input and the reports support the process managers in the further professionalization of the processes. Here it is crucial not to spend too long at the drawing board, but to make a decision after thorough discussion and then try it out for a certain period — six months, for example. After this period, the process can be further adjusted if necessary so that it better suits the desired service level.

Unity in service provision 

Regardless of the time and phase your organization starts in, no two organizations take the same path to shared service management. However, there is one way in which practically all organizations are identical: The wish to reach maximum customer satisfaction at the lowest possible cost. It’s impossible to predict the obstacles you will face on your way to shared service management. It is important to set realistic goals for your departments and colleagues. Nothing is more demotivating than not achieving a goal, while few things are as motivating as celebrating success. Taking many small steps results in a big improvement in your customer services.  

Nancy Van Elsacker is president of TOPdesk. 

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Workflow.