Incident versus Problem

In IT the service desk is face to the customer. The Service desk staff needs to be very skilled in 2 domains. Firstly, they need to have a customer service orientation. And this is absolutely independent to the technical knowledge. However, in this post I like to concentrate on the technical component.

When a new task comes in it is the service desk who is evaluating the task. Yes, the customer qualify their issues in the first place. Then the service desk checks it against a number of factors

  • who is impacted by it? It is important to know if it is a single person issue or a wide spread problem. For an internal service desk it is also a factor if the issue is logged by or for a very important person.
  • is there an SLA associated with the issue or the customer? This means are there contractual obligations that need to be fullfilled. Different customers may have purchased different levels of service response times.
  • what is affected? production in a manufacturing plant is a critical component compared to a broken printer in a department.
  • and finally is this a problem that has been reported before or is reported by multiple people. If so, is there a work around?

Now while the task is being solved by the service desk or handed to a specialist, the customer is kept informed until the task is resolved. The customer ultimately confirms that the task is closed.

During the process we encounter 2 very different types of issues: Incidents and Problems. Incidents are events that are not part of the standard operation. The goal of the service desk is to restore normal service as quick as possible. That is quite different to problems. Problems are errors where multiple people independently report the same or similar issues. Problem can have an unknown cause that need to be investigated. Once the cause is identified the problem becomes a known error. The service desk will advise a work around until the root cause is corrected. Compared to an incident the goal in dealing with problems is to minimise the impact and prevent recurrence. To deal effectively with those different issues and keep the customer updated, most service organisations have people in 2nd level support. These are specialists in technical issues and skilled in problem solving while the front line staff is primarily skilled in customer service.

This is the main reason in my opinion that outsourced or automated service desks don’t work. Customers want to speak to a person who understands their language.


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