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ITIL Tattle

ITIL Tattle

Blog posts on ITIL and ITSM news and best practice from the ISG ITIL Team

Service Desk Priorities – The User or The Queue?

Which is more important? The User? Or the Queue?

A fallout from doing service management reporting is a greater appreciation of the perspectives of good service. However what good service looks like is subjective. Recently the team had a discussion about that classic service desk tension situation – the queue. The discussion was animated… and so this week’s blog take the form of a scenario which you can play out with your team. The pictures use Sylvanian Families characters and a grocery store but the scenario has relevance to other virtual service desks.

The Scenario

This scenario whilst easily articulated hides levels of complexity…

Scenario: You are waiting in a queue for a service desk. There are several people in the queue in front of you and you know the person at the front of the queue is taking much longer than is normal.

So bring perspectives we need characters:

  • Foxy, at the back of the queue
  • Vole, at the front of the queue
  • Rabbit, the service desk operative, dealing with Vole
  • Cat, the service desk manager

The Players

Foxy, at the back of the queue

The scenario is inspired from Foxy’s viewpoint at the back of the queue. Foxy has accepted one of the terms of service that one should queue and presumably do so in a respectful manner. However Foxy is now feeling aggrieved because the service desk operative, Rabbit, is allowing the person at the front of the queue, Vole,  to take too long in Foxy’s opinion. Foxy’s has a sense of what is a reasonable time entitlement. This may be based on empirical experience or a written Service Level Guarantee.

Vole, at the front of the queue

The scenario means we are guessing on Vole’s perspective. Vole may have bundled up a number of discrete requests to get handled in one visit, or perhaps Vole is looking for some social interaction?

Rabbit – service desk operative

When we discussed this scenario, Rabbit’s was the perspective we were most animated about. From the back of the queue we can see Rabbit is dealing with Vole. Rabbit is focussed on Vole. Should Rabbit be focussed on the other customers too?

Does Rabbit’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) allow for time with an individual user; or time for multiple requests from one user?

Is Rabbit’s priority the user at the desk? Or managing the length of the queue?

Cat – service desk manager

Firstly, should Cat, as service desk manager, have sight of the current service desk situation?

Is it appropriate for Cat to devolve managing the length of the queue to Rabbit?

How does Cat manage capacity and resource the service to ensure staff like Rabbit are not overwhelmed?


In the scenario, it is evident that Good Service is subjective. Vole may be very organised and not wish any frills, just to have Rabbit action several tasks in one visit. Or Vole may be talking about the weather. Rabbit does not get choose how the customer presents. Our animated discussion was around whether the way Rabbit handles Vole should be influenced by the length of the queue. Is Rabbit accountable for the queue? Is Cat accountable for the queue? Or is the queue, because it is influenced by others, something for which they cannot be accountable?

We can be vague and say both Rabbit and Cat are responsible for the queue. Similarly are Foxy and Vole also responsible for choosing to access the service desk at a busy time?

Responsibility can be diluted and relies on good teamwork.

Accountability is individual but accountability must be realistically achievable.

Is best practice that Rabbit focusses on the user, Vole,  in front of them irrespective of the queue, but with caveat that Rabbit’s SOPs and targets are written to ensure each user receives good service as efficiently as possible. A good rule of thumb at service desk is focus primarily on the user, the task is secondary.

Cat may be able to devolve some responsibility for the queue to Rabbit but as service desk manager, is Cat not ultimately accountable for the queue on an operational level? And this includes managing seasonal trends – demand management.

If, year on year, the queue exceeds the capacity of resources at Cat’s disposal, Cat needs to escalate via reports to make the business case for more resource. If the resource is not available, then Cat is asking senior management to sign off on a compromise on service quality.

In the photographed scene there is only one cash register. Perhaps Cat is already considering the business case for adding another? Or perhaps Cat is thinking about holidays?

Feel free to comment on who you feel is accountable for the queue for your service desk…

(Copyright 2020 James Jarvis, free to use for The University of Edinburgh)

(Copyright 2020 James Jarvis, free to use for The University of Edinburgh)

(Copyright 2020 James Jarvis, free to use for The University of Edinburgh)

(Copyright 2020 James Jarvis, free to use for The University of Edinburgh)

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