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IT Service Portals and Human-Centered Design

If you are working within an IT Service Management team, you have probably sat in many meetings where you are discussing how can we drive self-service portal adoption? You may have put up posters, sent out emails, tracked usage, redirected inbound service requests – and yet, you are not there – but why? Some teams are looking deeper and incorporating human-centered design to help drive IT self-service portal adoption.

Human-Centered Design (HCD) is a design and management framework that involves the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. It’s about making products, systems, and services more usable, and thus more effective, by focusing on the needs, desires, and limitations of the end user.

In human-centered design, it’s important to drop any preconceived notions you might have about users and their needs. Instead, you learn about users’ needs and challenges by observing and talking with them. Rather than having a specific outcome in mind, human-centered design calls for keeping your mind open to various possible solutions.

This approach is one many organizations use when implementing self-service portals as part of their IT Service Management (ITSM) and Enterprise Service Management (ESM) strategies.

Implementing HCD requires empathy, a deep understanding of your users, and a willingness to iterate your solutions based on real-world feedback. But when done right, it can result in a more efficient, effective, and satisfying experience for all users.

Design Principals

Human-centered design is based on a few fundamental principles that are applicable to the implementation of an IT service portal within an organization. They are as follows:

  • Users are involved in the design process from the very beginning. Critical design decisions are evaluated based on how they work for end-users.
  • Importance of requirement clarification. The team always tries to align business requirements with users’ needs.
  • Introducing user feedback loop in the product life cycle. The team collects and analyzes feedback from users regularly. This information helps the team to make more user-focused decisions.
  • Iterative design process. The team constantly works on improving the user experience; it introduces changes gradually as it gains more understanding of its target audience.

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving that focuses on users’ needs and requirements by researching and observing how people use certain services, and identifying how their experience can be improved.

The Three Phases of Human-Centered Design

Once you understand the principles, you can start the design process. To do this, you should follow the three phases that make up human-centered design:

  1. The Inspiration Phase – Here, the goal is to learn directly from the people you are designing for by immersing yourself in their departments and gaining a deep understanding of their needs.
  2. The Ideation Phase – In this phase, you take what you learned, identify the opportunities for design and come up with possible solutions.
  3. The Implementation Phase – In the final phase, you bring your solution to life. Once your platform is in place, you can measure its success based on how people are using the tool.

The Benefits of Human-Centered Design

In the context of self-service portals and IT Service Management, HCD can bring several improvements:

  1. User-Friendly Interface: HCD helps create an intuitive and easy-to-navigate interface. By understanding user behaviors, preferences and needs, designers can develop a portal that’s not only functional but also enjoyable to use. This can increase user engagement and satisfaction.

  2. Efficient Problem-Solving: HCD can aid in presenting solutions to common problems or frequently asked questions in an easily accessible way. This reduces the need for users to contact support, freeing up resources for the IT department.

  3. Improved Accessibility: HCD promotes accessibility, ensuring that the self-service portal is usable by people with varying abilities. This includes designing for different devices, browsers and screen sizes, as well as considering users with disabilities.

  4. Feedback Mechanisms: Incorporating feedback mechanisms allows users to communicate their issues or suggestions. This data can then be used to continuously improve and adapt the service to meet evolving needs.

  5. Personalization: Understanding users on a deeper level can allow for personalized experiences. For instance, the portal could suggest relevant articles or solutions based on a user’s past behavior or role within the organization.

  6. Increased Adoption: A well-designed portal, built with the user at the heart, is more likely to be adopted by users. This can lead to increased self-service usage, reducing the load on the IT service desk.

Human-Centered Design in Action

At Grand Rapids Community College Kelley Webber, a support desk coordinator, saw the value in implementing a human-centered design approach to the college’s ITSM strategy. Establishing an IT service portal was supposed to make life easier for tech support staff because they wouldn’t have to spend as much time on the phone trying to understand the nature of users’ issues. However, Webber and her team found that fewer than 5 percent of support tickets were being initiated through the service portal, while 60 percent still originated through phone calls. They set out to redesign the service portal and service catalog to make it more user-centric so that more stakeholders would engage with it. 

Employ a Focus Group

To do this, they shook up the format of the focus groups. “We had users sit down at a computer, and we watched them interact with our IT service catalog to see their reactions,” Webber says. “We realized many users didn’t understand the verbiage or icons we were using.” 

For instance, the service portal had a category for “Telephony Services,” but most students didn’t understand this term. “They thought it was a made-up word,” Webber says. The newly redesigned portal will use the service catalog category “Campus Phones and Conferencing Services” instead. 

Using User-Focused Vernacular

What’s more, end-users didn’t know they should choose the service category “Software Requests” if they had a problem with their mobile campus app, because they didn’t realize apps and software were the same things. “We had an old-school mentality that it was all just software,” Webber says. The redesigned portal will change the name of this service category to “Apps and Software” to make this clearer to users. 

But the biggest lesson to come out of the focus groups was a reminder of why it’s important not to make assumptions. Webber and her team thought that simply redesigning the service portal would lead to greater use — yet they learned many students weren’t aware of its existence. “We never stopped to think whether students even knew how to get to it,” she acknowledges.

To read more about Grand Rapids Community College’s experience designing a user-friendly service portal, check out: Human-Centered Design Helps Grand Rapids Community College Engage with IT Users More Effectively.

Combining a Well-Designed Portal with Knowledge-Centered Service

With a well-designed portal in place, utilizing human-centered design, the next step is to build out your knowledge base. A knowledge base is a method of self-service that gives users the power to solve their own problems. It houses articles that contain documentation of common issues and provides solutions.

Knowledge bases are an incredibly valuable resource when thoughtfully created and managed well. Here are just a few benefits of having a knowledge base as part of your service portal:

  1. Help to continually lower inbound call volume: When users can go to the knowledge base to help them figure out how to solve a problem, that means they don’t have to call the help desk or put in a ticket. This translates to time saved for IT professionals who can now spend their hours doing more complex tasks.
  2. Increase customer satisfaction: Being able to utilize self-service means customers don’t need to wait around for the attention of someone who can address and solve their problem, and no wait almost always means happier customers!
  3. Provide customers with the answers they need when they need them: Immediacy holds immense value. Being able to receive a solution just moments after a problem arises is essential for customers who work in fast-paced environments.
  4. Crowdsourcing knowledge helps maintain accurate content: Although some people might think they’re a know-it-all, no one person can be an expert on everything within an organization. Cumulating the knowledge of various people helps increase the accuracy of the content in these articles.

As with human-centered design, building a knowledge base has its own methodologies – the most successful being Knowledge-Centered Service® (KCS). KCS is a methodology that provides businesses with a strategy to best solve problems through an abundance of available knowledge. The clear structure and framework of KCS allows for feedback and helps organizations to publish information more accurately.

6 Steps to Getting Started with KCS

Implementing Knowledge-Centered Service can involve a lot of moving parts. The following are six steps to help you get started: 

  1. Identify a core team: Having a small core team to help you through the implementation process, as well as the upkeep once KCS takes off in your organization, is essential. When creating the team, look for volunteers, people from customer service areas and those with attention to detail and a passion for change.
  2. Training: The Consortium for Service Innovation offers a KCS Academy, a KCS Practices Guide, and a KCS Adoption Guide. Additionally, TeamDynamix offers process consulting that you can take advantage of as well.
  3. Pilot with your core team: Once your team has been identified, you should establish a KCS style guide, solidify processes, roles and permissions, practice maintenance, and coach each other. All of this will allow you to avoid confusion and inefficiencies in the future.
  4. Train your customer service: If you are able, getting trained externally is ideal. Your KCS team has the opportunity to make a real impact on your organization, so it is important that they have proper training. Also, this training will give your team adequate time to grow before branching out to the rest of the organization.
  5. Branch out: At this point, you can find more volunteers who are ready to implement KCS. If there are no volunteers, start with smaller areas of your business and get those teams on board. Share all the benefits that your pilot team gained from KCS with these new people. Be sure to make it worth their time and make KCS part of their core workflow.
  6. Spread success: Be sure to document internal knowledge, incorporate KCS when working with outside areas, share articles internally and externally, and broadcast your metrics. Share information like article usage and increased first contact resolution- any metric that will encourage growth.

Learn more about knowledge bases and TeamDynamix here.

This article was originally posted in February 2021 and has been updated with new information.