The help desk is becoming an essential analytical resource for FM
FM is largely a people business and that will not change overnight. Technology simply helps the human side of FM to be better at what it does. The best FM solutions today, and into the future, will be a combination of human (user-centric) service, backed by smart technologies.
Imagine for a moment, an emergency-services call centre that didn’t have a human interface! What would happen? …it would (quite literally) be a disaster. And, similarly, in FM, it is unimaginable (despite all the current news of advances in artificial intelligence) to conceive of an FM help desk with no human interface.
The help desk (or service desk) is a vital part of any service management function or business. Whatever size of operation, and whatever level you work at, you will have some interaction with the help desk. It was once merely a filter, between service users and busy service staff and contractors. Then service managers learned that, by upskilling the help desk, they could deal with many issues before they became ‘jobs’. And their service operations would become more efficient by ensuring that knowledgeable staff direct service operatives to the right jobs, at the right place, with the right tools and materials.
Technology is releasing human time, to add more value
Today, as with most aspects of business, technology is playing an increasing role in help desk operations. This is taking some tasks away from the help desk staff, such as:
- Simple bookings (room-only bookings, with no complex catering or set-up)
- Online service requests (empty vending machines, broken lights, toilets needing cleaning)
- Sensor-generated work orders
As regards the latter, there are now many applications of sensors to generate work orders. A few examples are listed below:
- Vending machines which send a work order to suppliers to restock products before they run out
- Coffee machines which send a work order to the technician when maintenance is needed
- Soap dispensers which send a work order to request to be refilled
- Catering facilities which count the numbers of plates taken, and request restocking
- Cleaning tasks based on occupancy sensor data – activity-based, rather than prescribed tasks
These are just a few of the time-saving sensor-generated work orders now being placed every day, in facilities around the world.
The move from telephone to online service requests has also created more free time for help desk staff to do other, more value-adding, activities. This tends to depend more on the culture of the FM client organization. Online service requests are more common in ‘tech-savvy’ organizations, whereas some other organizations see more advantage in maintaining a human and personal touch.
The human interface is here to stay
Whether or not your organization sees more advantage in maintaining a human and personal touch, there will always be a ‘human’ help desk. The work orders which still need a human interface will mainly be those which are more complex, such as:
- Complex room set-up (needing choices of catering, AV technician support, etc.)
- Raising larger work orders, where a discussion may be required.
- Enquiries which cannot be dealt with by simple online tools (e.g., service requirements which do not fit into the existing service matrix, or involve a number of services).
Of course, in some circumstances it can be far more appropriate, and better for all involved, for a conversation to happen – for example, taking a call from a frustrated or angry customer.
But then there are other, more recent developments in the skills and value of the help desk. Now, and increasingly in the future, the help desk activity will include data analysis and feeds into reporting, rather than acting as a ‘mailbox’ for passing on user requests.
Data everywhere … needs data analysts
With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), virtually any device can now be monitored from a distance, and can provide useful data (see “At last, a Facilities Management company can do more, with less”).
In addition, data is created from all the calls and online service requests, jobs raised, closed, etc. In the past, the help desk would be running at full capacity dealing with service requests. But as more of their work gets automated, goes online or is generated by sensor technology, the help desk operatives have more time to become ‘analysts’.
Some clients may ask, “So, when orders are raised online (i.e., by a customer), or even automatically (by ‘smart sensors’), do you need a help desk?”
The short answer is ‘Yes!’, but the work of the help desk is just not the same as it was. The skills needed are moving towards analysis, and away from simply raising orders. The help desk will be different; the role profiles that will be needed to work with the data will be different too.
How do you train staff to be analysts?
How do you train staff to be analysts: to understand, interpret and use data in order to increase efficiency, impacting Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) directly?
This is going to become a common question, and challenge, across many industries. But let us not be afraid of technology. Yes, it is true: some jobs will go (or change). But technology will create new jobs. The help desk is no different – in fact, it is a small example of the change happening across the commercial world.
Help desk data analysis jobs do not necessarily need to be very highly skilled. So, many current help desk operators can be trained in new skills such as collation and analysis of data, and reporting. For example, this role can include spotting trends and ‘hot spots’. This may involve:
- Analysing data to identify trends: perhaps in a service area such as maintenance, where a ‘problem building’ can be identified. if it can be flagged to the FM in advance, this may avoid a total failure sometime later.
- Identifying ‘hot spots’: perhaps a regular occurrence which can be linked to an event (e.g., a weekly meeting, involving many visitors)
Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
The FM market has been developing SLAs, performance measurement and KPIs for over two decades now. Help desk staff should be able to influence the future service delivery, based on analysis of data in relation to performance against these targets. This may be on one, or multiple, FM customer accounts, wherever that customer has its sites (around a city, country-wide, or even global). This has advantages in that:
- Help desk staff can be trained to fully understand customers’ SLAs and KPIs
- Data and reporting can be consolidated more easily for regional, or global reporting.
Help desk upskilling: a factor of scale
Help desk operators can be trained not only in the use of the software, and alignment with specific customer accounts, but also engaged in upskilling, allowing further development of staff.
Part of the upskilling (and development) of the help desk staff is linked to scale. Where multiple client accounts are supported through a Service Desk, this allows some operators to become additionally skilled in analysing issues for a specific service line (or group of services).
Tactical FM planning: smoothing the peaks, and filling the quiet periods
The help desk can progress from an operational resource, to provide support to tactical FM. This means moving above the ‘day to day’ activity, and analysing longer-term opportunities to improve service delivery.
For example, why are there more calls and service requests on a particular day every month? Is it because of the monthly sales meeting? What can be done to improve facility users’ experience, and minimize distraction from their job. Perhaps the car parking can be improved on that day? Perhaps some desks can be reserved for the sales team to drop onto to catch up with emails. What about the weather forecast for next week? Will it cause additional issues? All of this is useful analysis which can help any FM to make decisions which lead to improved customer satisfaction.
How does the client (and customers) benefit?
With the automation of some help desk functions, and consequent release of operators’ time, a variety of additional activities can be pursued by well-trained help desk staff. It is a gradual progression, in all cases, from dealing with the immediate operational tasks, towards more tactical FM support. It is a journey, and there are places to start right along the route.
As an FM, you really just need to ask what else your help desk can do for you.
We’d really like to hear your view on these evolutions. Feel free to contact us anytime.