This entry is written as part of the "Thought Leader Spotlight" blog series, which aims to highlight some of the most influential and well-respected minds in the IT industry.
When I first found Mr. Atkinson on Twitter, I was very intrigued with his knowledge of IT Service Management and his passion for customer service through his #HDIChat series. It finally dawned on me - why don't I write a blog about his work, and have him answer questions on some of our industry's hot-button topics like virtual agents, IT Service Management, and his upcoming projects with HDI? After all, he is the Customer Service Guru.
But first, let's learn a bit more about Roy.
Roy Atkinson is the senior writer/analyst for HDI, and has made a big impact as a thought leader in the realm of customer service, help desk and the IT service industry. Roy has been interested in customer service since his youth, transitioning from bagging groceries to working the customer service desk at a high-volume store through high school and his college career.
Roy eventually established himself in the world of IT, securing himself a paid position at an international think tank in Maine where he essentially was their IT department. He then went on to become a consultant with the Apple Consultants Network for four years, and eventually moved onto work as IT Desktop Support supervisor for the Jackson Laboratory in Maine for over ten years. While there, Roy became a member of HDI and a local chapter officer eventually taking on a chapter advisory role when he was hired as an writer/analyst for HDI. Also, fun fact - he is also a touring musician, songwriter and producer before moving into IT!
Roy combined his experience in customer service with his forward-thinking perspective in IT to become an admired influencer in our industry. Having the opportunity to speak with such a great thinker in the space, I wanted to pick his brain on what he thinks about growing technological trends in IT and Support, and how those trends affect how we think about customer service today.
Roy explained his definition of 'Customer' in simple terminology - "In ITIL, the customer is the one who agrees to the service. I'm pretty vocal in my thinking that anyone who receives service and support is given the label of 'customer'."
The following answers during this interview were Roy's opinions of his own:
How did you first react when someone gave you the title of ‘thought leader’?
When I came to work at HDI, I was already outwardly vocal on ITSM and customer service, and I brought that social media presence to HDI. I had already developed some sort of reputation, and was tagged in a top 20 list. It started to dawn on me that people respected what I said,"People are now taking me seriously, I thought.."
Here at SunView, we released Willow, a virtual chat bot assistant that uses artificial intelligence to analyze user questions and provide immediate support. There was an article you published, “Is the Automation Storm Coming to the Service Desk?”, how do virtual agents help transform the service desk or augment the staff user?
Here’s what we are seeing in research: HDI partnered with two different organizations to see some aspects of automation and how it is being adopted. The work of IT staff isn’t going away – it’s shifting. When companies were asked the question, “Has IT staff increased, decreased, or shifted?” 45% of the respondents said that IT said the work is shifting. Only 8% of organizations said that there is a decrease in IT staff. Many pundits have predicted an automation storm. The 'storm' that is coming is not necessarily a hurricane; it’s more of a shift in current.
In the early days of the help desk (long before I had a job in IT) it was all mainframe, of course. The help desk was doing a ‘catch and dispatch’, where someone called the desk and the desk put a call in to one of the mainframe providers, who would send an engineer out to fix it. The help desk would simply record the info, then get someone from IBM or DEC out to fix the issue. Now IT has evolved tremendously to solve the issue on the first call, and technology skills and abilities have ramped up. The next shift is to have AI and other forms of automation able to absorb a lot of the redundant everyday 'push a button' sort of task that have been non-value added for the service desk.
The beauty of AI is that natural language processing can sit behind chat and can connect to the right resource about what is happening right now. AI can act as a first level triage for the service desk. So it’s not Level 0 unassisted support, not Level 1 human-assisted support – it’s something in between. We can get some repetitious work off the plates of support analysts and free them up to do more valuable work. That means they will have to adjust their skills.
I think we are a long way from having automation replace people – the human’s ability is more than capable. The jobs are not being replaced, the tasks are. But if people cannot keep with the change that is coming, then your job can potentially be in trouble.
I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon of people losing their job in 2 years because I am not seeing that - I’m seeing changes along the way. It is my job to make sure that people understand the hype cycle (AI and automation for right now) and how it’s here, it’s increasing, but we need to see what the advantages are. We better start thinking about adjusting, and we need to make choices on what we want to automate, and do/not to do, and it's all something people need to start thinking about.
You were featured as one of 20 of the best ITSM thought leaders according to the recent SunView Software blog. Is there anything from your highlighted work that you’d like people to know more about?
Most of what I do is pretty well documented, my blogs live on the SupportWorld site for HDI. I think what folks need to understand is the future of technical support as I see it coming and the research backing that up.
Just from viewing your Twitter account, it is quite apparent that you thoroughly enjoy talking about customer service. What excites you about discussing customer service for IT staff and how it impacts the IT Service Management community?
For many years, we’ve heard that “happy employees make happier customers.” What we did a couple years ago is look at data from our annual research, and I asked the question while looking at the research: What if we look at just the organizations that have satisfied or very satisfied employees and see if there really is a difference in their customer satisfaction levels. The answer was yes – companies that had happy employees had a higher percentage of customer satisfaction. To bump customer satisfaction by 5% in this industry is considered enormous.
When people contact support, it’s not just a technical problem – it’s an emotional problem. There is definitely an emotional component in addition to of a technical one. It is important in the technical support world in accomplishing the job as well, and that means providing the support in a way that makes them feel better.
You host the #HDIChat that is held every Friday. Which chat topic has showed to be the most resonant for your IT staff listeners?
A: We have unfortunately discontinued #HDIChat, but the recap topics can be found on my profile for HDI, and will potentially come back with a interactive social presence in the future. It may be an online hangout or some form of chat, but for now it is no longer running.. Now with the #custserv chat, that takes place every Tuesday night -- that is a very popular chat on my own personal account on the view of the customer service world.
Of course, we have Enterprise Service Management (ESM) becoming more popular. The very basic tenets of customer service are applicable for all. The principles and processes are—in many ways—the same across areas of the business. When you take the tool and processes of ITSM, and use them as a foundation across the enterprise for other areas, for HR, finance, and often for the company’s customer service department, the principles are very much the same. The similarities outweigh many of the differences, but the differences are important. An “incident means something very different to HR from what it means in IT.
Fusion 2017 is coming up in October, what important topics are you looking forward to covering while at the show?
There’s a broad variety that has changed like everything else. I am the chair for the DevOps and Agile track. DevOps quickly became a very relevant topic at FUSION. We also have SIAM (Service Integration and Management). Service management used to be primarily about ITIL® but now the topics are more broad as different methodologies are more developed and built to work with each other.
Service management is just one area at FUSION. There are workshops that provide guidance on knowledge management and performance management, leadership sessions, IT security sessions, sessions that help IT show its value to the business that they are a part of. With over 80 sessions, it is important for people to look at the website and see the breadth and depth of the conference.
What legacy would you want people in the IT Service Management industry to remember you for?
It would be nice if they remember me as ‘Oh, the customer guy! I remember him.” From CIO and through the whole staff, I want everyone to remember that customer service counts, and customer experience counts. I hope I have contributed to pushing the importance of customer service, and if I have done that, I have done my job.
It is obvious that the customer needs of IT Service Management products are always changing. Are there any trends that you are seeing with other companies that you feel are being overlooked or undersold?
I think there is a little bit of both – I think in recent years there has been a broadening of the products to include more of the business, which has become much more common. 60% of organizations say that they are using service management outside of IT, and many tools are flexible enough to adapt to different situations. People can open a case with Facilities, resolve a case with HR, and pretty much anything else you can do with customer support. IT has an opportunity to lead.
The key is that in order to broaden service management, you have to be doing it well. Your business partners are not going to look at you well if your service or product is not helping them. You have to have your own ducks in a row, and you need to make sure that your service is helping. You do not want to tell them how to do their jobs; you want to help them do their jobs. IT can lead in this perspective, but they have to do it right, and they have to do it well.
So that is the first edition of the Thought Leader Blog Spotlight series. Have any other thought leaders you would like to see on the spotlight? Let us know in the comments!