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Don't blame the tech: Why UX matters in your ESM catalog

Torrey Jones Principal Consultant, GreenLight Group

Enterprise service management (ESM) has been with us for some 20 years, but many organizations still struggle with these systems. They find themselves facing configuration issues or, more commonly, discover that users simply avoid the system, choosing instead to make an end run so they can talk to a live person who can hold their hand through what ought to be a simple self-help process.

Why do some enterprises find ESM so difficult, despite all of the resources available? It's probably not their choice of ESM tools, but how they're implementing the system. ESM catalog design isn't difficult, provided you go about configuring it the right way. A lot of that has to do with how you present the catalog, to whom you present each catalog entry, and the steps you take to encourage self-service.

I've watched organizations wrestle with ESM for 15 years. Here are five ways you can   optimize your ESM catalog—and maximize its value.

1. Use SEO tactics to help users help themselves

If you want users to be able to check their vacation hours through a web-based app in your service catalog, don't bury that tool under an entry called "employee time tracking." Instead, give it a more logical name that will percolate to the top when users search for it.

What might they search for? Terms such as "vacation time," "time off," "PTO," and "holiday time." Your ESM system may even be able to tell you exactly what terms people are searching for, so you can include the most commonly searched-for terms among your catalog items.

Use your hard-learned SEO skills to give catalog entries names (and descriptions) that make sense. You'll likely see that once users discover they can easily find what they need to help themselves through the ESM portal the first time, they will continue to use it for future requests.

2. Use entitlement groups to make the most relevant catalog offerings visible

Entitlement groups are a way of organizing your catalog offerings so they appear only to relevant departments and users. This is a common component of ESM tools, but too many service catalog implementations don't go far enough in building out and fine-tuning their entitlement groups.

For example, a single human resources group may find itself inundated with options related to everything from payroll to benefits to vacation time. But a large enterprise is likely to have staffers focused on very specific HR tasks, so many of those tools may not be relevant for everyone.

You may want to create one group focused on HR benefits and another on recruiting, with different services authorized for each. Similarly, additional groups may be aligned hierarchically. You might have groups called HR Manager Requestors, HR Director Requestors, HR VP Requestors, and so on, each with access to different offerings.

This type of design lets you more easily enforce access to specific catalog offerings, and it decreases confusion among your staff. Also, this can all often be automated based on employee attributes such as job title, department, location, and so on.

3. Reduce the catalog size to make it more navigable

This may seem obvious, but many service catalogs are mired down with redundant, overlapping, and outdated offerings. For example, an HR catalog may have one app for "first name change" and a separate one for "last name change." Extrapolate that across hundreds or thousands of offerings and you can see why service catalogs become sprawling and unwieldy, to the point where users don't want to interact with them anymore.

Consolidate catalog items whenever possible. In the above example, a single "name change" offering could have a dropdown menu letting the user specify first or last name. You can also leverage your internal UX design talent to survey users about how they prefer to interact with the service catalog when it comes to menu designs, user interface, and the like.

4. Use self-help content the right way

Just as it doesn't make sense to have a half-dozen service offerings that perform roughly the same function, it makes no sense to have several self-help articles or knowledge base entries that cover the same ground.

Consolidate help content wherever possible so that when a user searches for aid, the most relevant content immediately surfaces. Again, your UX design team can be of great assistance on this front.

5. Improve accessibility to your online self-service portal

Just because you have a catalog of services from which users can draw doesn't mean people will use it. They must to be able to find the catalog, and you must constantly remind them of its presence.

A link buried somewhere on the corporate intranet isn't enough. You need to market the catalog actively and consistently. It may help to think of this in terms of an external-facing marketing project, by answering these questions:

  • How do you best reach your customers (in this case, internal employees)?
  • What messaging resonates with them?
  • How do you present a value proposition that they’ll connect with?

Experiment with different approaches—whether that's web-based, email, mobile, or other avenues—to find what works best.

Artificial intelligence presents a compelling opportunity to help on the accessibility front, with chatbots deployed that can interact with people via email or chat to answer common questions. Simple natural-language processing technology can direct a query such as "I need to change my name" to both the appropriate service catalog item and the relevant help material that explains how to use it.

If a user still can't figure it out, the bot can give directions on where to go for additional support—and can catalog issues for future help content.

Don't blame the technology

It's easy to pin the blame on your ESM vendor if your deployment isn't working out, but that's rarely the culprit. More likely, your catalog hasn't been deployed with the user in mind.

If you're unable to remedy ESM issues on your own, don't be afraid to ask for help. Any number of consultants are ready to help you make better sense of your ESM deployment.

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