Foster partners with UW-IT to offer 24/7 customer support to students, faculty and staff

Technology Service Center employee and student looking at phone

Whether by email, phone or in person, help desks across the UW are focusing on the customer experience. In the photo, UW-IT customer specialist Omari Stringer helps fellow student Kate Cormier to log on to eduroam, the UW’s encrypted Wi-Fi network.

By Ignacio Lobos

Ranked as one of the premier business schools in the nation, the UW’s Foster School of Business knows a great deal about customer service and the power of a well-run help desk.

So when Foster sought to increase the capacity and responsiveness of its various help desks, and offer 24/7 support for students, faculty and staff, it jumped at the chance to participate in a UW-IT pilot program that promised to do just that.

“By partnering with UW-IT, we wanted to see if we could increase capacity to better serve our Foster community, and save money while doing it,” said Jeffrey Balaz, who manages an IT help desk at the Foster School. “How we communicate and how quickly we react to the needs of multiple audiences are very important to us.”

Last winter, UW-IT unveiled its Enterprise Service Desk (ESD), a new for-fee service available to existing customers of UW Connect, a service management tool built on the ServiceNow platform. UW Connect has been configured for the University, allowing multiple units and departments to manage and deliver their own customer-focused services. And because UW Connect offers a common system to deliver support, it now allows UW-IT to seamlessly provide the ESD service.

When a departmental help desk is unavailable, the ESD steps in, and provides the same single point of contact for email, telephone calls, and routes customer requests. It’s what customers are used to, and now they get that same service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

With ESD we gained capacity in multiple ways. ~ Jeffrey Balaz

With ESD, “we gained capacity in multiple ways,” said Balaz, whose team uses UW Connect during regular work hours to help resolve customer requests. “Most importantly, our students, faculty and staff could reach a live person 24/7, even when we were closed or unavailable to take a call because we were working with other customers.”


Focusing on the customer experience

The Enterprise Service Desk is an outgrowth of continuing efforts to improve the customer experience delivered by multiple IT help desks on all University campuses and at other UW locations. This is no small feat, as the UW is larger in population on any given day than many small cities, with tens of thousands of calls for help coming in each quarter. Years ago, with less robust tools and fewer ties among service desks across the UW, the customer experience was a bit more frustrating.

As the central IT organization for the UW, UW-IT has led efforts to strengthen the partnerships between central and decentralized IT so everyone can provide a smoother, more seamless customer experience for the entire UW. About four years ago, these efforts led to the implementation of UW Connect, a unified, automated system for accessing and delivering customer support.

UW Connect is proving to be a useful system for many units and departments. ~ Mary Mulvihill

“UW Connect is proving to be a useful system for many units and departments,” said Mary Mulvihill, the UW-IT Service Management Office director who oversees the service. “It is a highly effective tool, with constant updates and more capabilities to meet the needs of the UW community. With the addition of the Enterprise Service Desk, we are growing capacity for the University.”

UW Connect has been configured to allow any department or unit to implement it for their own use. Foster and about a dozen other departments rely on the tool to help their customers; these include Facilities Services, Center for Shared Services, Integrated Service Center, and soon UW Bothell.

At its heart, the UW Connect tool provides a single system of record for tracking and managing service requests, including whether a customer issue has been resolved. It allows a help desk to organize and prioritize work, automatically create records and route inbound emails to a particular group. It is also rich in metrics tools that allow departments to track how they’re doing, and where they need improvement.

UW Connect is based on the ITIL service management framework, a common set of IT best practices. It has allowed departments to speak the same vocabulary, follow similar processes, and deliver better and more seamless services. In the growing arsenal of service tools, ESD now allows UW-IT staff to step in, akin to a pinch hitter, when a department can’t answer a call or email.

We have been on UW Connect for several years, and it has been great. Now, with the Enterprise Service Desk backing us up when we need it, we are delivering an even better experience to our customers. ~ Jeffrey Balaz

“We have been on UW Connect for several years, and it has been great,” Balaz said. “Now, with the Enterprise Service Desk backing us up when we need it, we are delivering an even better experience to our customers.”

The pilot also refined the ESD service, which is now offered to all UW departments and units that are currently subscribed to UW Connect. ESD comes with a lot of flexibility. It provides customers with the option of fulfilling overflow work, after-hours work, or taking on all the email and phone support for departmental help desks.

“Our partners throughout the University are helping us fine-tune our services,” said Karalee Woody, assistant vice president for UW-IT’s Customer Service & Support. “Ultimately, we all want the same thing – increased capacity for departments that may not have the means to provide 24/7 service, and tools that provide customers with the easiest, fastest pathways to get help when they need it.”


Foster works hard to keep up with customers’ needs

Foster’s growth has challenged its various help desks, with an increase in the number of calls and emails from students, faculty and staff. That’s why about a year ago, they started looking at ways to meet the demand.

“We needed a minimum of 1.5 full-time positions to increase hours of operation, but it would not have been enough for 24/7 service,” Balaz said. “The Enterprise Service Desk has given us 24/7 support at a very affordable rate. Financially, it was win-win for us.”

UW-IT Enterprise Service Desk specialists Omari Stringer and Colin McCarthy discuss how best to handle a request for help that had just been routed from the Foster School of Business.

“They are screening and turning things around in two to three minutes,” Balaz said. “We have been very pleased with the response time. If we are on duty but busy and a call comes in, they pick it up at the ESD after just four rings.”

Balaz said the trial by fire for the new service came recently, when a faculty member had problems with classroom equipment at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. In the past, a call would have gone to voicemail because there isn’t any Foster help desk coverage during the weekend. This time, a UW-IT customer specialist picked up the call.

“If there’s an emergency, someone will resolve it on the spot or escalate it to someone who can do something about it,” Balaz said. “The ESD quickly passed the phone call to one of our computer operations people, and we were able to get someone there fast to resolve the technical problems. And the class went on.”

There was an added bonus to the pilot, Balaz said. Their partnership with UW-IT lives up to the idea of one University.

“We didn’t know how things would go working so closely with the UW’s central IT department. But we formed a tight partnership,” Balaz said. “It wasn’t Foster School IT with UW-IT telling us what to do. We were one team working together to do the best for our Foster School customers.”

Learn more:
UW Connect was created to improve the customer experience, and the Enterprise Service Desk is another way to increase customer satisfaction.