The Walk-Up Experience Post COVID-19

This report was originally prepared and submitted as my 3A work report, the third of four work reports that the Co-operative Education Program requires that I successfully complete as part of my BCS/BBA Co-op degree requirements.

Executive Summary

Walk-up is a key channel in IT Service Management, where end-users can approach a service desk and get live support as needed. The walk-up channel has experienced a renaissance as IT teams have sought to balance goals of operational efficiency with an emphasis on outstanding user experience.

Walk-up has many benefits, including near-immediate service and a sense of control, comfort, and predictability for end-users. Nonetheless, it is often seen as an innovative strategy for organizations, going beyond traditional IT support channels. However, as it best serves the last-mile role of getting solutions into the hands of users, it remains a critical channel.

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly transformed Walk-up, which, unlike other channels, typically relied on face-to-face interactions. Despite increased demands on IT, most organizations adapted walk-up to fit in this unique environment, offering localized or live virtual support.

As organizations emerge from the pandemic, they are once again adapting walk-up. Hybrid walk-up experiences emerged, where service is offered on a similar live queue system to traditional walk-up, with interactions handled virtually instead. This model benefited from the best of both worlds and opened opportunities to leverage automation.

Within the ServiceNow ITSM platform, the Walk-up Experience offering has a complete toolkit for modern walk-up scenarios. Its features include a device-agnostic portal for booking and managing walk-up queues or appointments, notifications through push and email before and after support, data gathering to drive decision making for managers, and automated routing to the best IT technician for a user’s particular issue. In the long term, organizations should look toward unlocking the full potential of walk-up. This includes intelligently directing users to the right support channel while ensuring a consistent experience across channels. Opportunities also exist for walk-up beyond IT. Functions across the business, like HR, GRC, and Business Operations can leverage the walk-up model to deliver unrivaled user experiences.

1.0 Introduction

Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) is a critical function in every organization. It includes “the processes and activities to design, create, delivery, and support IT services” (Atlassian, n.d.). ITSM is often misconstrued as simply basic, end-user IT support, when in reality ITSM teams are responsible for a wide range of an organization’s technology, including laptops, servers, and business-critical applications (Atlassian, n.d.). The widely accepted Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework outlines ITSM best practices (Axelos, n.d.). Many technologies exist to manage ITSM operations. A popular platform is ServiceNow, which offers tools for the complete range of ITSM needs and workflows (ServiceNow, n.d.).

Perhaps the oldest of IT support channels is walk-up. Before the ITIL framework specified models for Help Desks and the newer Support Desk function and their associated ticketing and case management systems, end-users with IT issues would just seek out – or walk-up to – IT support personnel to get help (Wieder-Freiden, 2017). This eventually became known as walk-up (Wieder-Freiden, 2017).

Over time, ITSM teams have increasingly needed to balance growing volumes of IT issues, and optimize their staffing of support personnel, while resolving issues as quickly as possible and meeting business requirements for a certain level of customer satisfaction (Wieder-Freiden, 2017). As a result of these competing demands, ITSM has moved towards supposedly more efficient customer-facing channel alternatives, such as email, phone, and online support portals (Wieder-Freiden, 2017).

However, this trend has reversed in recent years. Many IT departments are reintroducing the walk-up experience as a structured channel to deliver both speed and customer satisfaction (Wieder-Freiden, 2017). Indeed, there are many instances when a face-to-face interaction with a specialist is the fastest and most comforting path to issue resolution (ServiceNow, 2022). As a result, about half of all organizations offer walk-up as a channel (Wieder-Freiden, 2017). End-users, who are seeking information or support as quickly as possible, are the main stakeholder in the walk-up model (A. Nayer, personal communication, April 12, 2022; I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Other key stakeholders include IT support staff who provide the support, and Service Delivery managers who oversee this offering, making key business decisions related to planning and staffing (A. Nayer, personal communication, April 12, 2022; I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022).

2.0 Analysis

2.1 The Walk-Up Experience Before COVID-19

According to ServiceNow (2022), “the main purpose of walk-up experience is to resolve the more common issues, such a request for a new keyboard, help to install software, immediately and with the comfort of a human”. In practice, a user would register for service, and be able to see their place in line, along with expected wait times (Drucker, 2022). They may receive a notification to walk over to the desk for their turn and would be able to continue working in the meantime (Drucker, 2022). Apple Inc.’s Genius Bar service is a well-known example of the walk-up experience, cherished for its personalized care and a high degree of customer satisfaction (InvGate, 2020).

Walk-up is known for providing an excellent experience and near-immediate service, and data confirms that it provides the best end-user experience by a strong margin (Drucker, 2022; Wieder-Freiden, 2017). By consolidating physical IT support into a structured channel, end-users gain a sense of control and predictability (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Face-to-face interactions like this are more personal, which results in increased loyalty and a streamlined service delivery experience (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Walk-up often provides a faster response time than telephone and chat, and much faster than email and self-serve, which leads to cost savings in the form of fewer IT support hours per issue and as a result more productive end-user time (Wieder-Freiden, 2017). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations considered structured and tech-enabled walk-up an innovative strategy (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Alongside a general push towards digitization, walk-up served a critical role in last-mile service as a channel for getting the solution directly into the hands of the end-user (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022).

2.2 Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees began working from home, often including IT support staff themselves (Bayes, 2020a; Rimol, 2021). Businesses realized they can function effectivity with a remote workforce (Bayes, 2020a; ManageEngine, n.d.).

Within IT, the pandemic accelerated the rate of digital transformation as it was necessary to support new tools and technologies to enable remote work (Bayes, 2020a). In addition, end-users who use remote services and home-based equipment require more support (Rimol, 2021). Despite the additional demands, 70% of IT professionals felt their IT team did a great job, and an additional 23% felt they did an average job (ManageEngine, n.d.).

The pandemic also affected the format of walk-up. In the short term, people were not in the office, so there was a push to ship hardware out to their home offices, but no place to talk to someone (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). In this way, the pandemic forced a greater emphasis on traditional support channels (Rimol, 2021). Slowly organizations began to broaden their walk-up experiences to include satellite offices and sometimes even at-home support (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Eventually, offices started to reopen, and so walk-up once again adapted to reduce physical interaction and reinforce distancing measures (A. Nayer, personal communication, April 12, 2022). There was also a continued emphasis on increasing efficiency of service, for example through need-based scheduling (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022). In the long-term, as executives are beginning to think about a safe return to the office, there has been a bigger push to determine how walk-up fits into the bigger picture (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022).

2.3 The Walk-Up Experience Post-COVID

As organizations began to see that they did not lose overall effectiveness despite many employees working from home, leaders started to question whether a virtual or hybrid working arrangement might be a better way to work (Drucker, 2021). With this consideration in mind, it is more important than ever for IT teams to be able to support a remote or flexible IT environment that is safe and secure, while also effectively managing the physical and digital assets employees use in their work (Drucker, 2021). In addition to trends related to the Future of Work, many IT teams are working with less staff, and organizations are struggling with a worsening digital skills gap (Bayes, 2020b).
As a result of these trends, the creation of a new breed of walk-up centers is a must (Drucker, 2021). In practice, the new walk-up experience will in many ways mimic the existing experience. Users may start by logging a ticket to gain a spot in line, then receive a notification a few minutes before their turn is coming (Drucker, 2022). However, instead of an in-person interaction, they may receive similar support through new channels, such as phone, chat, or video (Drucker, 2022). If a user needs hardware replacements, they can select from overnight delivery or pick-up at an equipment locker if they are coming into the office (Drucker, 2022).
In this new model, an end-user does not need to wait on the phone and can continue to work while they wait for a notification that it is time for their session (Drucker, 2022). A short questionnaire can direct issues to the correct person with the right skill set, shortening resolution time and streamlining the experience (Drucker, 2022). The technician themselves need not be in the office, and can support users across geographies, reducing their downtime.
A hybrid walk-up format saves money since it is more scalable than traditional service desk support and provides a quicker experience for employees, increasing their productive time (Drucker, 2022). The future of the walk-up experience also has more focus on automation and efficiency, accelerating current trends (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022).

2.4 The New Walk-Up Experience in ServiceNow

Within the ServiceNow ITSM platform, there is a full feature set called “Walk-up Experience” to support this vision for the future of walk-up. This offering focuses specifically on improving the hybrid workforce experience. It enables fast, in-person guidance, as well as the flexibility to schedule remote sessions, with integrations such as Microsoft Teams, to allow users to get help live online.

End-users get a single click experience via a self-service platform where they can book and manage appointments across mobile and desktop platforms (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Push notifications and emails remind a user before their session and allow the collection of feedback post-service. This survey data feeds into service improvement initiatives, alongside extensive dashboarding capabilities which provide Service Delivery Managers with the data they need to make well-informed business decisions (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022). In ITSM, data is more important than ever, including metrics to track service desk performance and customers’ experience with IT services (Bayes, 2020b). Beyond that, ServiceNow Walk-up Experience also has many features to talk walk-up to the next level. In the physical space, large screens can show end-users where they are in the queue and their estimated wait time (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Scheduling and skill-based routing help match users with the right support personnel automatically, providing a better service delivery experience (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Finally, service alerts ensure users are proactively aware of outages before they complete an appointment booking, reducing the unnecessary load on the IT support personnel.

2.5 Going Beyond Walk-Up

Even though ensuring an optimal walk-up experience is important, organizations are increasingly looking at the bigger picture and trying to determine where walk-up fits into it (A. Nayer, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Unfortunately, while walk-up presents a massive opportunity, it is often under-utilized and under-delivered (A. Nayer, personal communication, April 12, 2022).

An ideal scenario would be one where an organization uses walk-up when it makes the most sense and supports users through other channels otherwise. When walk-up is the best choice, the service provided is comprehensive, including services from IT and other business functions as needed.

One goal would be to reduce Level 1 service requests (those raised at the first point of contact with IT) by increasing so-called “Level 0” supports, such as self-serve and peer support (Rimol, 2021). For this to work effectively, IT needs to ensure a cohesive strategy to deliver a consistent experience and outcome regardless of channel (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Otherwise, an end-user will default to a channel they are familiar with which provides better results (S. Gill, personal communication, April 12, 2022).

Before a user logs a walk-up ticket, the intake process can direct them to a quick solution if it exists elsewhere, such as alternative knowledge bases, self-service portals, and chatbots (Bayes, 2020b). The portal used to register for walk-up can also offer immediate online support for these issues based on predictive intelligence or known errors within knowledge articles. Ideally, this happens automatically, reducing the number of direct user contacts at the walk-up site (Drucker, 2022). Survey results show that over 50% of organizations provide their users with self-serve capabilities, with 30% even seeing higher than expected adoption (ManageEngine, n.d.).

Another untapped opportunity for walk-up comes from beyond IT support, in areas across the business, including HR, GRC (Governance, Risk, & Compliance), business operations, and IT Business Management (I. Rozofsky, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Organizations should not look at walk-up in a silo, but in terms of its potential to complement the other functions of the business (A. Nayer, personal communication, April 12, 2022). Consider walk-up for HR, where an organization can automate routine tasks like picking up a badge such that all the required approvals and tasks are complete before a user arrives at the desk. As organizations settle into the new normal, over 80% of IT professionals believe that their organization will take IT more seriously in terms of budget, salaries, and recognition (ManageEngine, n.d.). It is critical for IT teams to take advantage of this newfound recognition from the business and build on that relationship (Bayes, 2020a). Walk-up is an innovative way to deliver unrivalled experiences, and an excellent opportunity to capitalize and secure on IT’s increased presence in the organization.

3.0 Conclusions

Walk-up provides a streamlined, personal, and human approach to IT support. When executed effectively, it can also be an efficient and practice channel to reach end-users where standard methods fall short, particularly in the last mile of service delivery.

However, during COVID, employees began working from home, and the typical model of walk-up collapsed. Slowly, organizations began adapting their IT services and working models as the pandemic progressed. The benefits from some of these wins towards improving efficiency continue to provide value.

As we emerge from the pandemic, flexible working models are once again shaping walk-up in new ways. Hybrid walk-up experiences succeed in capturing the best of both worlds when combined with auxiliary services like equipment lockers and video calling platforms. ServiceNow’s Walk-up Experience offering provides the complete toolkit organizations need to deliver these unique formats.

In the long term, organizations must look at the bigger picture to unlock the true potential of walk-up. This includes using technology like predictive intelligence to direct users to the right resources, as well as opening the walk-up format to other areas of the business such as business operations and HR. IT will continue to be increasingly important in organizations and investment in walk-up is an excellent way to deliver unrivalled IT experiences.


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