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ITIL Tattle

ITIL Tattle

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

Service on a spectrum

Service desks exist on a spectrum from call logging to expert, and the University has the full range of service desks currently.

However, what are the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches?  Where is the best place to position your service desk?

Let’s describe the two extremes ends of the spectrum initially.

Call Logging

This sort of service desk is requires no technical knowledge, which means it’s easy to staff, and easier to have extended opening hours.  You can contact someone who has all the usual interpersonal service desk skills.  They will be friendly, reassuring or sympathetic (as the situation demands) and articulate.  They will be polite and polished, but unless you have a simple enquiry, they will need to log that for you and escalate it to someone else.  If you’ve made contact during the extended hours, you will need to wait for core hours before the enquiry can be answered.

The call will be accurately recorded and escalated to the team who are going to be actively resolving the incident or service request.  This means that a “Single Point of Contact” is achievable, regardless of the breadth of enquiry, making it easy to know where to go for assistance.

This service desk provides value in accurate escalation and human touch, but they generally don’t resolve calls themselves.  Think of them like the best switchboard operator or receptionist that you can imagine.


At the opposite end of the spectrum is the service desk staffed with experts.  They can answer every enquiry that arrives themselves, without ever escalating anything.  The downside is that they are expensive, and when a single point of contact is attempted, that can be very, very expensive, as the service desk needs to be staffed with every possible expert to cover the breadth of enquiry that could arrive.  That’s before we consider extended hours, where even more experts are required (assuming a work/life balance for staff, but then experts can prefer work!).

So, what’s your experience when you contact them?  Well, realistically you first need to know which expert you require – the single point of contact is unlikely to be achievable after all but, at best, you will know that there’s a “single” point of contact for each expert domain.  So, if you can pigeon hole your enquiry into a particular domain, you stand a fighting chance of knowing which service desk to contact.  Unfortunately, multi-discipline enquiries are not uncommon – how many questions or issues now have an IT component?

Having found the correct service desk, things are looking up, in that you are now communicating with the subject matter expert who will be able to fulfil all your needs.  Almost.  Occasionally you encounter an expert in their field who considers that honing their interpersonal skills would have detracted from becoming an expert.  More frequently, experts are not dedicated to answering routine enquiries, instead they are also running the service, so may not be available at key times or may be less patient with an individual’s issue.

Ultimately, your issue will be resolved, but you may not be satisfied with the experience!


Moving away from the extremes, most service desks find themselves somewhere in the middle.  Here the interpersonal and technical skills are of balanced importance, and more incidents and service requests are dealt with at the service desk – which means they need more access to the knowledge, skills and tools to do the job (“shift left”).  A single point of contact is still possible, but some queries will still need to be escalated to the expert teams.

But how do you get to this happy middle ground, given the breadth of knowledge that would be required?  Do you need to continually train your service desk staff in a little bit of every topic?  That would be one way of doing it, but there’s little training available specifically for generalists!  Instead much training is geared towards creating experts, so bespoke service desk training may be required from your particular pool of experts.

An alternative is to rely heavily on knowledge management, and train the service desk staff to effectively and quickly search for knowledge, so that they don’t need to carry the breadth in their heads.  Knowing how to do something is only part of the battle, though. Staff will also need appropriate access and permissions to be able to avoid escalations – it’s no good knowing how to fulfil a service request if you don’t have the necessary permissions to actually do it!

Imagine now that you contact a skilled service desk, backed up by knowledge management best practice.  You know the single place to get help, and there you’ll find someone with the same friendly, reassuring and empathetic outlook as the call logging service desk.  However this time there might be a slight pause as they search for an answer.  Then, they provide the assistance you need without having to escalate the enquiry!

What would be your preference if you were contacting a service desk?  Whether you work at a service desk, or are in a second line role, with another team providing your service desk, where does it sit on the spectrum?  If you don’t know, look at the “first line resolution rate” for a clue…

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