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Dan Kane
Dan Kane
Business Process Consultant at ServiceNow

First Contact Resolution is the last refuge of a scoundrel

Posted about 4 years ago

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
- Samuel Johnson, April 1775


This quote came to mind after reading a comment on another ITSM blog. The comment indicated that the core service desk metrics needed for senior management were first contact resolution (FCR), mean time to repair/resolve (MTTR), SLA compliance, and customer satisfaction. This was just a given. I come across that and similar perspectives frequently through client interactions and other online discussions, so I assume this perspective remains fairly mainstream.

In his famous quote, Samuel Johnson decried the use of insincere patriotism, especially as a means to sway public opinion or change parliamentary votes. The end may occasionally justify the means (One could argue that the unbridled use of “patriotic” messaging in the USA during World War II to raise money and strengthen support for the war effort was a critical element in defeating Hitler and his allies. I don’t bring that up to spark a debate over that justification — only that this is a fairly mainstream opinion here in the States). On the other hand, everyone reading this article can likely come up with MANY examples of governments using patriotism as a means to justify horrific outcomes. Fill in your own examples.

The point I wish to make is that Johnson wasn’t denouncing patriotism. He was denouncing patriotism as the means to an end. This is where we come back to ITSM. Can we really use MTTR or FCR as a means to determine the quality of service, and more importantly, the value to our business? Don’t assume a great FCR means the service desk is maximizing their value to the business. What if the resolutions they provide are nothing but band-aids for an open wound? One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons is one with Dogbert doing tech support. Dogbert interrupts the caller, saying “Shut up and reboot” and then “Shut up and hang up.” The outcome is the much revered improvement in average call handle time. The reason it resonates with me is that it so closely matches reality. How often do we promote metrics that, while well intentioned, actually encourage less than optimal behavior?

Of course relating Johnson’s quote to ITSM metrics is an exaggeration. Most ITSM metrics gathering exercises are well intentioned. Many of the mainstream ITSM metrics are popular as a response to perceptions of lousy service from internal IT. It really mattered that we showed improved responsiveness to incidents, because that’s what the rest of the business saw everyday. Today, however, our business partners expect more from IT, and they want it to cost less. We have to be very careful how and where we spend our resources. Reliance on traditional operating metrics may temporarily improve morale in the “troops”, but it can severely hurt where the business really needs IT. If you need to choose how to use your resources, should you put your efforts into getting SLA compliance over 90%, or going live with Marketing’s new campaign on time with little-to-no errors? Let’s put it another way: what is the ROI of each option?

IT people. myself included, can act like attention-starved puppies sometimes. We’ll do anything to get immediate positive feedback, regardless of the consequences. It feels so good to be the hero that gets the PC working for a coworker, forgetting that the new customer campaign depends on that kiosk you’re developing being ready for UAT by the end of the day.

Using MTTR or FCR to show executives how well IT performs is certainly not the act of a scoundrel, but we can be easily fooled into behaving like it. Look at what you measure and the targets you set. Do you know the ROI of reaching those targets? You may be surprised at the result.


(This article was also published at the Hazy ITSM blog)

Comments (1)

Stefano Ferroni
Stefano Ferroni
Beta80Group

Dan, you’re absolutely right.
A telco I worked for had its IVR redesigned.
Senior management chose “reduction of inbound calls” as the only KPI to measure success with, and linked incentives to that.
As a result, the IVR tree was so complicated that it was almost impossible to speak to an operator; the number of inbound calls dramatically dropped; line managers got their bonuses. Only customers were not happy, but who cares?

A few conclusions can be drawn.

First, KPIs suffer from something similar to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the systems.
When KPIs are coupled with bonuses and incentives, they act like options in the stock market, with a strong leverage effect.
Negative side effects in this case can be much greater than the positive ones, as in the case of the IVR.

Second, quality is a complex set of attributes. In my opinion, qualitative KPIs may be (unsurprisingly) better at measuring service quality.
Quantitative KPIs should be carefully designed and artfully blended to obtain a suitable set of measures but, most times, they are more suitable to detect bad quality than to ensure that the required quality has been achieved.

ROI considerations may be very helpful if they lead IT to adopt a perspective centered on business alignment.
Again, all implications must be fully understood in the ROI analysis. The IVR project I mentioned was said to have a positive ROI, since it reduced the number of the operators in the call center …

Posted about 4 years ago | permalink

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