Knowledge Management / article

Self-service isn't just for IT

Remember bank lines? If not, here’s a quick recap: It’s 1990. You loaned fifty bucks cash to a friend for some hairspray and a New Kids on the Block ticket, but she paid you back with a check. A freaking check. You sign the back, drive to the bank (with NKOTB playing on the cassette desk), fill out a deposit slip, and spend the next forty-five minutes of your life huffing exhaust from the car in front of you in the drive-thru.

Sounds awful, right? It was. Today, checks still exist — but you deposit them from a smartphone app. You can stay in your zippy pajamas. There’s no paperwork, no waiting, and no New Kids on the Block. It’s called self-service, and it’s changing the way we do things at work and at home, from resetting passwords to buying plane tickets.

But is self-service right for your company, your customers, and even your own organization and role? Just about every department, job, and customer relationship can be made better with the right use of carefully crafted, well-implemented self-service opportunities — and today we’ll help you better understand how to find and build them.

Why self-service?

Done right, self-service is a win/win for both businesses and customers. Businesses can save tons of money by helping customers to help themselves when it comes to high-volume, low-risk requests that eat up precious staff time. And customers get a far more efficient, convenient experience.

There are a myriad of benefits, but the big ones (when self-service is done right) are:

  • It’s more efficient. Think of frozen yogurt shops. Twenty people can serve themselves all at once much faster today than one person behind a counter once did, one-at-a-time. It’s not just more efficient for customers, either. Employees are more productive, too, and can focus on “heavier lift” areas of their job that require their unique expertise. In fact, enabling self-service is very much an exercise in prioritization: What services are worth paying your team to perform, versus what you can reasonably expect a customer to be willing to do themselves, given the right tools.
  • It saves money. When fewer people serve more customers, faster, it costs the business far less. In IT, web-based self-service requests cost just pennies, and the cost continues to decrease as the self-service infrastructure pays for itself. Contrast that with call center support, which can quickly cost $25 - $50 or more per request, and it’s a no-brainer.
  • Customers love it. Even the most social people would rather not ask for help when they don’t need it. And who doesn’t love a faster, easier way to do something that was once a bit of a pain? I’d much rather rent a movie by clicking a button online than by driving to the video store (if they still existed). I’d also rather print my own return shipping label and schedule a pickup online than call a customer service agent and drive to the post office.

Unless you just enjoy arguing, it’s hard to negate the value of self-service. But it’s important to remember that some things (like root canals) are still better performed in a more traditional, full-service setting, for now.

So when should you enable self-service, and when is full-service is a better route?

Finding the right candidates for self-service

I’ve already given quite a few examples of self-service, but let's shift out of the consumer world and into a B2B for a while. Whether you’re in IT, sales, marketing, HR, operations, or practically anywhere else in a modern enterprise, you probably perform quite a few repetitive, service-based tasks all day, every day. In all likelihood, some of these could be converted to the self-service model.

  • First, look at how you (and your customers) spend your time. A great place to start is to take a look at how your team spends your time, where your current processes aren’t sustainable, and where customer feedback has indicated you could improve. Our legal team at Atlassian did this exact exercise, and discovered that they spend an inordinate amount of their time reviewing simple vendor contracts. Later in this blog, I’ll tell you how they successfully built their own self-service portal (with enormous rejoicing from Atlassian employees).
  • Identify the services that aren’t highly specialized, custom, or complex. The key is to keep things simple. Changing a password follows the same process, every time. Writing a custom RFP does not. Even if your core services seem too complex for self-service, could you make it easier for customers to request them and track the status? Could you reduce the amount of manual back and forth, initial input and consultation, and associated with the services you deliver?
  • Give preference to low-risk services, too. You probably still want to manually review a $24 billion dollar loan request. But a purchasing contract for a $300 copywriting engagement? Our legal team recognized that the cost of reviewing hundreds of low-dollar contracts every day was greater than the potential risk the company could incur. The result? They built a DIY legal help desk for common, low-risk requests. Atlassian employees love it, and I’ll tell you more about it in just a minute.
  • Don’t just focus on IT. Information technology services are often the first targets for self-service, but they shouldn’t be the last. Today, self-service isn’t just for IT. We’ve talked with customers who have used help desk technology across nearly every aspect of their businesses, with tremendous success.


And now, a story about our legal team

That’s kind of a scary headline, I know. But Atlassian’s legal team is a perfect example of how implementing simple and powerful IT self-service technology and workflows can literally change the lives of your employees, not to mention to productivity and profitability of your business.

Just a few short years ago, Atlassian had one attorney on our legal team. One. Then, we grew a ton — but our legal team still only grew to three attorneys and one paralegal for the entire company.

Meanwhile, the volume of people needing their services internally had multiplied by a number I can’t even calculate. They had 200+% more Atlassian employees to serve, and they were receiving and responding to every single request the hardest way possible: by email.

Here’s how the Atlassian legal team combatted the inbox chaos, and ended up with an amazing (and widely celebrated) legal self-help service desk

1. First, they ditched the email.

Before they ever even thought about building a self-service portal, they recognized that their inboxes were out of control. Hundreds of employees were emailing them directly with requests. And since they had no way to prioritize or track status, it wasn’t just the legal team that was suffering — so were the Atlassian employees asking them for help. So they looked for ways to solve this.

Ultimately, our legal team turned to JIRA and started tracking their work using issues. They soon designed custom workflows to enable more consistent processes, and reports to help them analyze how to improve operations and understand where they were spending their time.

2. Then, they prioritized the biggest opportunities.

Just like I described above, they looked at each of their service offerings, focusing on finding low-risk services that would free large amounts of their time. In the end, they discovered they were spending inordinate amounts of time creating statements of work and contracts for vendor services. They brainstormed how they could make these services more efficient while still protecting the business, and came up with the idea for the Atlassian Legal Express Lane — a self-service portal where Atlassian employees could help themselves with common business legal requests.

3. They built a portal and stocked it with services.

You’d probably think our Legal Team had a bit of an unfair advantage here, given that they work at Atlassian and JIRA Service Desk product team was a mere HipChat ping away. In reality, that didn't matter. They were able to configure and deploy it entirely on their own, with no more help from IT than any other company would require.

Today, contracts under a certain dollar amount that don’t hit on any complex issues now require no legal review at all, because the risk is so low.

Of course, some contracts still require manual review and approval. The legal team expected that. But now they’re focused on the right things, and can better prioritize how they spend their time. Plus, Atlassian employees can still track these requests, get updates, and submit supporting materials — with zero email chaos.

For our attorneys, it’s way easier to know what to work on, when, and keep track of status, too.

4. They scored big time.

To put the results into perspective, we asked Matthew Rasmussen from Atlassian’s Legal for a sexy number we could share to highlight their success with self-service.

Last quarter alone, 68% of contract submissions required no material legal review, thanks to the legal team’s new self-service model.

That’s huge. They just cut their workload by nearly half in one critical area of their organization — which equates to an entire month of work for one full time employee per quarter for a team of 4!

At Atlassian, the idea has caught on. Other departments are quickly following suit, and in sharing this exact story at many Atlassian events, many of our customers are expanding self-service beyond IT, too. Check out what Twitter and Puppet Labs are doing with self-service, for more inspiring stories. If you aren’t using self-service in IT yet, though, start there.

If you are, ask yourself who else in your company could benefit? Either way, your teammates will thank you.

About the author

Christophe Capel

Head of Product Marketing, JIRA Service Desk

I can't dance but I can move and shake. Once an engineer, now an imagineer, I build, create, and generate engagement as Head of Product Marketing for JIRA Service Desk. I've spent the past seven years selling, implementing and marketing enterprise software for tech companies, and bringing products to market faster. I've even helped several of these companies grace the stage to win IT innovation awards (but I still avoid the dance floor). Find me on Twitter! @christophecapel

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