More than just support

From expense to strategic partner

TEXT: JORDI RECASENS

Supporting departments are traditionally seen as an expense and are thus an easy target when cutbacks need to be made. Yet some departments have been successful in making themselves indispensible and end up contributing directly to the operating profits. But how? Below, you will find nine tips to help your department advance from just an expense to a strategic partner.

An IT employee of the National Rail is sitting in the train, when he notices the train slowly come to a halt. He looks up from his paper. The train has stopped in the middle of a field, miles from any station. Around him, people begin mumbling – about the National Rail, about delays and about how this is the umpteenth time... They hear an announcement that the train has stopped at a red signal and that they will continue as soon as they have a green light. An old man next to him heaves a deep sigh and shakes his head.

ideas – not only for their own department, but also for the organization and its clients.

The client’s clients
If we, as consultants, look at the current supporting services, we see that the focus of the majority of department employees is directed internally, when it comes to carrying through improvements. This is certainly logical; department employees already spend enough time and energy on their own duties and tasks and, moreover, do not always understand why certain procedures and methods are introduced. Eventually, they only hear which procedures they are obliged to follow and which tools they should be using. This ‘department focus’ is, of course, necessary, and ensures professionalization within the department. However, the department should never lose sight of the end objective of this improvement, i.e. offering the client’s client a better service. This can be even better explained using an example.

‘How can we please these people?’ the IT employee wonders. Problems and delays can never be entirely avoided, but you can certainly help relieve passengers’ frustration by offering them coffee or a newspaper – or free wireless internet. Then everyone could surf the internet or work during delays and they will be less inconvenienced as a result.

DEPARTMENT FOCUS

With a department focus, you only see those people who are near you.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes
In a few years’ time, most trains will be equipped with wireless internet, perhaps because a National Rail employee once had a bright idea. He simply put himself in his employer’s clients’ shoes, and considered ways to improve service. The result? The employee contributes directly to the operating profits and is thus doing more than just his supportive tasks. Traditionally, supporting departments are seen as an expense, which, in times like these, also often means an easy target of cutbacks. A solution to this would be for the supporting service to move from the role of expense to functioning as more of a strategic partner. One solution would be for the employees of IT or Facilities departments, for example, to bring in their knowledge of their field of expertise to contribute new CLIENT FOCUS

With a client focus you look towards others on the playing field.

CLIENT’S CLIENT FOCUS

With a client’s client focus you can also see the department’s shared objective.

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By drawing a parallel with a football team, and comparing the employee to a goalkeeper, one can see that with a department focus, you only see those people who sit near you, i.e. your own team members. With a client focus, however, you look towards others on the playing field and you have a better overview of the rest of the organization. Yet with a client’s client focus, you can also envisage your department’s shared objective and the rest of the organization, symbolized by your opponent’s objective: the client that serves your organization.

Moving away from the role of ‘expense’
As consultants, we often see that the majority of supporting departments function very well, but remain an expense. If you want this to change, employees should familiarize themselves with everything that is happening within the organization (Who are my colleagues? Which primary processes are important?) as well as with the client’s client (What is our market? What is it waiting for?). Only then can the supporting department bring about improvements for its clients and for its client’s client, as well as create added value for the company and mature from the role of expense.

Jordi Recasens is a consultant and team leader at TOPdesk and, focuses on the role of supporting departments within organizations, among other things.

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BUT HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT THIS? HOW DO YOU CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THE EMPLOYEES OF A SUPPORTING DEPARTMENT CAN BEGIN DIRECTLY CONTRIBUTING

TO THE COMPANY RESULTS? WE VISIT HUNDREDS OF ORGANIZATIONS ON A REGULAR BASIS, AND HAVE GATHERED TOGETHER THE BEST PRACTICES OF COMPANIES THAT HAVE ENJOYED SUCCESS WITH THIS. READ OUR NINE SUGGESTIONS FOR MOVING FROM EXPENSE TO STRATEGIC PARTNER.

INVOLVE THE DEPARTMENT IN THE ORGANIZATION – AND VICE VERSA

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ESTABLISH AN EXTENSIVE TRAINING PROGRAMME

Ensure that every new employee follows an extensive training programme. This means not only spending several days working with other departments, but also attending a number of sessions where the history, traditions and culture of the organization are discussed together with one of the managing diractors. Many organizations already do this — we do at TOPdesk. During these sessions, our new employees are given an impression of what TOPdesk considers important, as well as the aims of the organization and how we try to achieve these.

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IMPROVE COLLABORATION WITH CLIENTS
COMPILE A COLLABORATION DOCUMENT

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An increasing number of supporting departments are making agreements with their clients. This in itself is a good development; however, such agreements are often very one-sided and detailed. Although they may cover what is expected of the supporting service, they often fail to state what may be expected of the client. In our experience, a better strategy is for both parties to agree on a combined objective, and their expectations of one another, without becoming bogged down in details. Also, put down in writing whom to consult when the caller and the service desk employee don’t agree. Agreements like these are easy to record in TOPdesk’s Contract Management & SLM module.

SPEND TIME WITH OTHER DEPARTMENTS

In addition to a good training programme, it is important that employees refresh their knowledge of the organization on a regular basis. Colleagues come and go, and company objectives and processes change. By encouraging employees to spend a day or two looking over the shoulder of colleagues in other departments, they will have a better idea of what is going on and, in this way, remain involved with the organization. At one waste-disposal company, for instance, the IT employees have the opportunity to ride in the garbage trucks and, consequently, they develop more of an understanding of how the organization operates and what it is all about.

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MEASURE THE SATISFACTION OF YOUR CLIENTS

Conducting a client satisfaction survey periodically will enable you to find out what clients think of your department. Alternate multiple choice questions with open questions such as: ‘How would you describe the communication with the Facilities department?’. An ideal way to measure the satisfaction of your clients is using TOPdesk’s Survey module. It’s essential, however, to show clients that you’re doing something with their feedback. You could publish the results or use them in order to compile the collaboration document.

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BRING IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE IN HOUSE

Encourage colleagues to spend a day or two with the supporting department. They can supply valuable information, which the supporting department can use towards improving its service. One medical centre encourages nurses to spend time working with the IT department. The nurses then know exactly what is going on within the medical centre and can make a much better assessment of how important a call from a doctor is as soon as it arrives. There is also the guarantee that the IT department will better respond to what is ultimately important for the client.

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INTRODUCE AN ELECTRONIC SUGGESTION BOX

Another way to improve the collaboration with clients is by introducing a suggestion box; you will find that employees will be more likely to share their ideas. One government body uses TOPdesk’s Incident Management to do just this. You could use the Problem Management module to group and evaluate employees’ suggestions. But remember to actually do something with suggestions, for example, by publishing a ‘suggestion of the month’ and then actually carrying it through.

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OFFER THE DEPARTMENT AND ITS CLIENTS MORE INSIGHT INTO THE WORK BEING DONE

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MAKE KPIS AVAILABLE TO THE ENTIRE DEPARTMENT

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MAKE A SELF SERVICE DESK PORTAL AVAILABLE

Often only the (process) manager uses reports and KPIs in TOPdesk to monitor the department’s performance. Yet at TOPdesk, the support employees also use KPIs. Consequently, they can see how things have gone before – they can recognize urgent situations and take action as soon as they consider it necessary. You’ll give employees more responsibility for the performance of the department, which usually leads to a better overall result.

Not only employees, but also clients of supporting departments should be given more insight into the state of affairs. Simply giving clients the opportunity to see the progress of their calls can boost the cooperation between department and client, and the Self Service Desk is the ideal platform for this. In this way, clients can track the status of their calls themselves – you can also make a services catalogue available for them. Your clients will always know what they can expect from the supporting department.

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HOLD A START-UP MEETING EVERY MORNING

Supporting departments are often too big for every team member to know exactly what every other team member is working on, and this can lead to irritation and communication problems. Yet this is easy to resolve by beginning each day with a start-up meeting. During this meeting, the most important ongoing items on the agenda are discussed, as well as who is working on what. There will no longer be misunderstandings about who will be dealing with the calls of that important client.

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