Released on JANUARY 19, 2024
The British comedy, The IT Crowd, was inspired by an encounter with a PC tech with poor people skills. While IT Service Desk and IT Service Management have both changed drastically since it’s 2006 debut, the stereotype of socially inept geeks answering tech support calls lives on.
But there’s a shifting of the IT Service Management landscape. The principles of Customer Experience are beginning to play a larger role within ITSM. Evidence for that is presented by today’s guest, Doug Rabold. Doug’s background in consultative sales informed his approach to IT service. Today, Doug is a recognized ITSM thought leader and CX influencer, and he shares the emergence of a new breed of metrics – XLAs, or Experience Level Agreements.
Connect with Doug on LinkedIn
Music courtesy of Big Red Horse
Rob Dwyer (00:03.027)
Doug Raybold, you, my friend, are next in queue. Welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Doug Rabold (00:08.918)
Doing great, Rob. Thanks for having me on.
Rob Dwyer (00:11.483)
Joining live from San Antonio, is that where you are?
Doug Rabold (00:16.934)
Live from San Antonio, Texas. Yes, sir.
Rob Dwyer (00:20.115)
Now I didn't know this until earlier today, but I grew up in the St. Louis area. Is that right?
Doug Rabold (00:27.458)
So I lived in high school. Yeah, in high school, I lived 42 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri, in a little wide spot in Southern Illinois called Greenville. And then I went on to attend University of Illinois and stayed in Urbana, Champaign, and Chicago area for about nine years. So yeah, definitely a St. Louis connection. Yeah.
Rob Dwyer (00:50.427)
Yeah, for sure. So for those who are uninitiated, and they should be initiated, but I never take things for granted. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do today.
Doug Rabold (01:07.746)
That's a great question. And, you know, I only half jokingly say I have three full-time jobs. So, you know, I do have a day job that, you know, is the thing that pays the bill. So I work as a CX portfolio manager. So I work with multiple global companies, primarily in the manufacturing, energy, gas, and automotive sectors. Designing experience management offices, XLAs, that sort of thing for them.
I also am the national chairman for HDI, which for those of you who are in IT service management, may be familiar, we're one of the premier service management organizations, and I'm the chairman, national chairman of the local chapter network for HDI. And then I do some, I speak and publish under my own consulting brand, which is Bold Grey Consulting.
Rob Dwyer (02:04.507)
Did I just hear Darth Vader in the background? Did that just happen?
Doug Rabold (02:07.37)
You did. I forgot to silence my phone. Let me put it on airplane mode so it doesn't breathe at us.
Rob Dwyer (02:13.863)
It's a wonderful ringer. I think I have R2-D2 as my ringer. So we're peas in a pod here. Today, I wanna talk to you about something actually that you just mentioned and something that I think for a large part of the audience will be foreign to them.
Doug Rabold (02:26.967)
Rob Dwyer (02:40.403)
but will also make a lot of sense. And that's the term XLA. So a lot of contact center people listen to the show, a lot of CX people listen to the show and probably have a lot of experience with contact centers. They've probably heard of SLAs. Can you first walk us through what SLA means? And then tell me what the heck is this XLA thing?
Doug Rabold (03:05.411)
Doug Rabold (03:10.494)
Yeah, so SLA's are service level agreements. And essentially those are sort of those standard metrics that just about everyone measures and monitors in a call center environment. And that could be whether it's in frontline customer support or whether it's in IT service management. I mean, service desk.
that have a lot of the same SLA's and KPIs. And so, you know, sort of the things that most people measure are, you know, sort of your standards, average handle time, mean time to resolve, first contact resolution or first level resolution, you know, sort of the whole gamut of traditional metrics that we measure. In...
A lot of them are very productivity focused. They're focusing on efficiencies, how much, how often, how fast, you know, they're very volumetrically driven, very quantitative. But where a lot of them miss out, and it's interesting when like...
CSAT is obviously one of those things that everybody just falls in love with. And they love to be able to, you know, promote to their executive leadership teams, go to the C-suite and say, Hey, we've got a 95% CSAT, aren't we great? And yet those same executives that they're, that they're touting that to are saying, so why, when somebody passes me in the hall, one of my peers from the C-suite passes me in the hall, that they say, you guys suck, you know? So, so, you know, it's.
Rob Dwyer (04:38.916)
Doug Rabold (04:40.958)
And it's really funny, I actually, when I present at conferences, I often do an exercise and, you know, I'll ask people, Hey, you know, raise your hand if your CSAT is 85% or better. And of course, just about every hand in the room goes up. And then I say, keep it up if it's 90% or better. And still most of the hands are raised, a couple may drop and, you know, I'll say 92 and, you know, a few more drop. But by the time I get to 95%, still usually about half the hands are in the air and I'll be like, okay, great.
Now, do you really believe that out of every 100 calls you take, that only five people are dissatisfied? If so, keep your hands up. And usually there'll be one or two people that keep their hands up. So even we don't believe some of these metrics, right? They're very quantitative, but they really don't get to the sentiment. They really don't get to the feeling behind that what we should be doing. And so this is where XLA comes in and XLA is, is what's known as experience level agreements.
And this is sort of a movement that started off in Europe about 10 years ago, but really just started gaining traction a few years ago. And I've been fortunate that I was one of the first people that Alan Nance, who was one of the preeminent people involved in IT service management, the ITIL framework and what have you, early in its evolution.
and is now on the front end, leading edge of this XLA movement, sort of experience management driven. And so when I look at what we want to accomplish in frontline support, whether that's in a call center or in a service desk, is we want people to go away feeling good about their interaction. And XLAs help us get there.
And so what they become is much more qualitatively driven. And so instead of looking at things very formulaically, and by that, traditional SLAs tend to be within a cycle. And so this is within my sphere of control, and so this is what I'm measured on. Now, if I have to escalate this issue to somebody else, they have their own metrics and their own SLAs that they're beholden to.
Doug Rabold (06:57.206)
But nobody is really measuring things horizontally. We have this sort of vertical mentality on who is responsible for what, and SLAs measure there. But nobody's really looking at it horizontally. There are a couple SLAs that may exist. Like, Mean Time to Resolve kind of gets there because it's end to end. But again, it's really not a qualitative. It's still quantitative. It's still numeric in value. What's the time involved? But it doesn't really drill down to it.
How did they feel about how long it took? I mean, I'm willing to take longer to get something resolved if I have an issue, as long as it gets resolved. And I have confidence that it's not going to happen again. And so this is really where that XLA comes in, is it draws in data points from various elements. So there's sort of the level one XLA, if you will.
XLA 1.0, which is the technology, the digital experience, if you will. How do our tools and technologies enable a positive experience for someone? And then XLA 2.0 goes kind of the next level, and that's the people and processes. Do we make it, when we're providing support, do we make it easy for somebody to, you know?
that sort of customer effort, if you will, do we enable them to have a positive experience? And then we get to XLA 3.0, which is the really cool stuff. And that's the personalization, which we've talked about in call centers for the last several years, but I'm not really sure we're there yet. But XLA 3.0 is how do we take all these various data points from all these different interactions that we have with somebody and actually personalize it to them.
not just necessarily from a line of business, but next level is how do I tell you, Rob, what I should be presenting to you? And not just through machine learning, which says, I know you browse this on Netflix for the last five days. So this is the next movie you should watch. But actually, presenting things to you that you don't have any idea that you want, but based on the data that we've gathered, presenting to you what you should have.
Rob Dwyer (08:59.659)
Thanks for watching!
Doug Rabold (09:17.206)
So that's sort of the whole XLA framework, if you will. And in the, what did I pull that off in five minutes? Yeah.
Rob Dwyer (09:26.883)
That was a master class in five minutes. It strikes me that SLAs are probably easier to measure, right? You talk about quantitative and they are, and I think that's why people tend to go towards those because they're straightforward, they're easy to understand. Do you find that?
people struggle with XLAs for the very opposite reason that they are a little more squishy and a little more challenging to understand.
Doug Rabold (10:04.958)
The, I find the biggest challenge with XLA isn't so much that they're squishy because customers are demanding squishy now. I mean, that's just the reality. Everybody wants a positive experience. Um, the challenge is in the paradigm shift that an XLA that may be appropriate for one customer, one client. And, and I'm thinking of it in, in terms of, you know, when I go in and, and
and work with these multinational or global corporations. I may work on another engagement with one of their direct competitors. And of course, they think that because we're direct competitors, whatever XLA they're doing, I should probably do too. And that's not the case at all because one organization may have very specific level of maturity that they're at today.
Rob Dwyer (10:53.809)
Doug Rabold (11:02.514)
They may have very different goals and objectives that they want to accomplish in different timeframes. So one of the differences between SLAs and XLAs is SLAs are usually permanent. I mean, you put them in place and it's kind of you set it and forget it, right? XLAs are not like that because what people are expecting from you as a service provider or as a support provider is it evolves over time.
And so these change, they're not permanent, they're not set in stone, you know, you don't carve them into a tablet and have Moses take them to the mountain, right? The XLA changes evolves, and I mean, frankly, you could get to a point that, hey, it's like, we don't even need to measure it anymore. We got this now. And so you throw it out and you start another one. You also don't try to boil the ocean. So you don't try to get everything done.
you focus on a couple of wildly important goals that you want to accomplish in six months, 12 months, 18 months. But that should really be what you focus on when it comes to XLA. So because there's this difference between goals, objectives, and level of maturity, direct competitors may have very different XLAs that they should put in place. So while there's standards and practices that everybody should have within a small range.
This is what your FCR should be. This is what your AHE should be. This is what your ASA should be. That's not the case with XLA at all. It varies dramatically from one org to another.
Rob Dwyer (12:39.071)
That's really interesting. I wonder, have you run across anyone who's moved from one org to another and struggled with that very distinction and that they have a certain expectation because the bar was here at a prior organization, they come into a new organization and the bar isn't there yet or maybe the bar is wildly higher. Have you run into that?
Doug Rabold (13:09.858)
So I haven't yet. And the reason I say that is most organizations that are on this XLA journey right now aren't even to that level of maturity that we're there. But I know that day is coming because more and more organizations now are saying, hey, we need XLAs. Our customers are demanding a positive experience. They're demanding more from us experientially than what we've been providing them.
Rob Dwyer (13:22.549)
Doug Rabold (13:38.77)
And that's clear from our voice of customer analysis. And so, you know, as XLAs gain traction and as people like myself are going out there and developing them and implementing them at different organizations, that's going to start happening. I'm really curious for the day that we get, you know, sort of voice of agent feedback saying, hey, why are the things that are being looked at today so much different?
Rob Dwyer (14:06.835)
Hmm, yeah. Okay, I'm about to paint with a really, really broad brush here and I don't want anyone to feel offended by this. In my limited experience, I find that people who work at the service desk are a little bit different than people who work in customer service or people that...
typically are working with outside customers, right? Service desk is typically an internal function. Do you find that there is a challenge in changing the mindset of the people that work in service desk who are like, I just, I'm here to solve problems, I'm here to identify challenges and solve challenges versus
people who are in customer service who probably have for a little bit longer thought about the experience and you know making the customer walk away from that interaction happy. Do you find that there's a challenge there?
Doug Rabold (15:18.506)
So that's a great, great question and very insightful, Rob. And I'm glad you asked it frankly, because I look at it as I have one foot in two different worlds right now. I originally sort of became a thought leader, if you will, or whatever you wanna call it, influencer thought leader, whatever, in IT service management. So I kind of, my second career, my first career was in sales and sales management.
completely different industry, non-technology. But I always, in my sales career, focused on the customer. It was always solution-based sales. I never sold a flavor of the day. It was always, you know, people buy things for two reasons. Either they're trying to approach pleasure or avoid pain. It's one of those two things. And so all I had to do was find out what their motivation was and then provide a solution that would help them achieve that goal.
Um, and so when I moved into it, I started off at the bottom. I mean, I gave up six figures in, in sales income to earn $32,000 my first year as a, as a level one technical analyst. But I really wanted to learn that business from the inside out. And I did. And, and so I really approached it service desk from that same lens. I want to provide solutions. Um, but I also wanted to do it in a fashion that.
wasn't just following the steps, but how do I make it as least painful as possible for you, the customer, right? So I came to this with a different lens. And I sort of developed a following because of that approach. I advanced in the service desk community pretty rapidly, but what's very interesting is, as I started talking about experience level agreements and as I started...
I'm looking at customer experience in ITSD, IT service desk. Um, I really sort of, you know, you know, sort of my, my one foot started moving over into the call and contact center environment. Um, and really what, what I see happening is, is there's this convergence going on to where, you know, and I've made demands of, of some call centers that I've worked with in the past.
Doug Rabold (17:41.578)
I need you to be more technical. And then conversely, I've worked with IT service desks and said, you need to be more people focused. You need to be more customer centric. And so it's just a matter of, I see this convergence happening. And ultimately I think there's gonna be a lot less dichotomy between the two. I think you're gonna see where it's shades of gray instead of black and white.
Rob Dwyer (18:10.759)
Yeah. Yeah, I also wonder, is it also potentially a challenge sometimes in that an IT service desk, particularly if it's insourced, is always inward-facing? And there's not another option, right? My customers aren't going to choose to go somewhere else like they do when it's
customer-facing, outward-facing. Do you ever find that organizations, and this is probably more of a culture thing, struggle with that because they are inward-facing and their customers are captive, I guess?
Doug Rabold (18:57.066)
I think there's less of that than there was probably five to 10 years ago. And, and the, the difference became the evolution and advent of cloud computing with cloud computing, the power dynamic between customer and provider changed dramatically because, and you know, there's, there's the
the term out there of shadow IT. Well, shadow IT is simply, I'm sick of dealing with my, you know, with my existing internal support team. I'm going to go somewhere else because I can have somebody else spin something up quicker, probably cheaper and faster than, than you going through the full governance structure and, you know, architecting it and building it and then implementing testing. You know, I mean.
That advent of cloud computing changed that power dynamic dramatically. And I think the perception of we're the only game in town from internal support teams has shifted. I don't think that exists anywhere near what it was 10 years ago and probably not even what it was five years ago. That's been a sea change is all the SaaS solutions that are out there that can be spun up in days as opposed to months or years.
Rob Dwyer (20:20.071)
Yeah, I absolutely agree. That has changed the nature of a lot of things as it relates to business and their tech stack and where people can work from and the capital investments that are required for business. I remember at the beginning of last season, so it's been about a year and a half, I had Sandy Murphy on the show.
And we talked about just the barrier to entry of starting your own contact center, which used to be a big deal, right? You had to have not just seats and cubes and a lease space, but all the telco equipment that goes with that, all of the computers, like there was a huge capital investment required to start a contact center. Today, with little to no assets,
Doug Rabold (21:15.396)
Rob Dwyer (21:18.659)
I can spin up a contact center, have global agents supporting whatever, and all of my infrastructure, if you will, can be based in the cloud. And I can have managed services taking care of everything as opposed to having to in-source all of it.
Doug Rabold (21:43.114)
Rob Dwyer (21:46.367)
So let's talk a little bit more about these XLAs. I mean, I feel like we've gotten a pretty high level overview, but can we dig into if I am maybe just starting my journey? What are some of the kind of first level things that I should be paying attention to that maybe I haven't been paying attention to?
Doug Rabold (22:16.494)
Sure, and that's a really good question. So, you know, when I kind of went through XLA-1, XLA-2, and XLA-3, XLA-1 is just what data do I have? What is being measured today that I can use as inputs? And that's one of the things about XLAs is they're not, you know, we...
We have surveys that tell us what our CSAT is, and we have all these different ways that we collect information. But usually there's not necessarily a strategy behind it. And so one of the keys is finding out what exists, who's measuring what, where is it housed, and how can I get my hands on it? And so usually there's some sort of governance structure around the XLA, and I mentioned Experience Management Office. So that's usually the governance.
And, you know, one of the functions of the experience management office is, you know, sort of capturing and documenting where these different data sources are. And another is actually identifying, prioritizing what we should be focusing on XLA-wise and then determining when should we stop measuring this one and spin up a new one, that sort of thing. But the first priority is always finding out what data exists.
And I mean, it can seem like data points that are seemingly irrelevant, particularly in the call and context. I know we don't think about boot times, you know, but some XLA's can be inward facing to your point. They can be inward facing. And so, you know, if an agent's, you know, one particular agent's system is
you know, a boot time of two and a half minutes versus the average boot time of 43 seconds or whatever that is. Um, there's a problem. And, and so it's probably impairing them in other ways too. We're just not seeing it except maybe from their performance metrics, those traditional SLAs that were, or KPIs that we're measuring on them, but we don't think beyond the facade, we think it's agent focused as opposed to the fact that
Rob Dwyer (24:30.14)
Doug Rabold (24:33.962)
in the XLA 1.0, it could be entirely, or at least partially based on the technology that we've provided to them. Or if they're, to your point, if they're tunneling in through a home system, it could be network related, it could be their system itself. I mean, there's all these different things that, these data points that we can take a look at. So we need to look at things non-traditionally. And the first step in that,
in that journey is finding out what data points we're collecting and who has them that we can take a look at.
Rob Dwyer (25:10.587)
I can tell you right now, as someone who not all that long ago migrated from traditional hard drive to SSD, my experience changed dramatically to your point about boot times. It's night and day, how much faster I can go through restarting my machine. And that was a good five to 15 minute process before. And now it's
Doug Rabold (25:26.145)
Rob Dwyer (25:40.039)
It's just a couple of minutes for a full restart. So that's a really interesting point. And I think something that is often missed because we focus on agent behavior. We focus on the things that are highly visible and that we typically have really good reporting on. And there's some potentially hidden data that we're not looking at.
Rob Dwyer (26:10.463)
Can you share with me just a story of success? Like, tell me about an organization that you worked with and kind of what they were doing, what things were like when you started with them and kind of what that journey looked like.
Doug Rabold (26:30.062)
Sure, and I can't name names, but I can kind of give general scenarios. And, you know, I'm going to kind of talk out the other side of my mouth, because one of the things that I mentioned previously was that most XLAs should be individuated. If there is one sort of universal XLA that we should look at, and of course, it's going to have different jumping off point because of level of maturity.
who says that their agent onboarding experience is phenomenal is either lying or deluded. There is always improvements that can be made to agent onboarding. And so, you know, one of the things that I always do is I always, whenever I start an engagement is I talk to the people on the front line. People on the front line, one, know what's wrong, and two, probably have some ideas on how to fix it. So that's always my first stop is talk to agents.
Rob Dwyer (27:06.891)
Doug Rabold (27:30.638)
And what would make it easier for you as an agent to do your job? And they have great ideas. And I guarantee you, their leads, and especially their managers and directors, would have never come up with these things. Because they're thinking in their role, but they're not thinking of usability.
So when it comes to agent experience, one of the first things, and it sets the tone for their career, if you will, or at least their tenure with you as their employer, how is that onboarding experience? And where could we reduce friction from that onboarding experience for them? And I mean, it can vary, but you start looking at these various touch points that...
along their onboarding journey that we could improve. And there's always room for improvement. Even, I mean, there are some organizations that have got it down to a pretty good science, but even at the science level, there's still room for refinement and improvement. So, you know, I've worked with organizations that, you know, when they did onboarding surveys,
You know, and that's another thing is you got to get that voice of agent when it comes to how that onboarding experience was. Well, I mean, we improved that onboarding experience from those VOA surveys about the onboarding experience dramatically. So, so that's, you know, I would say that's probably the most universal one that I could give all the others would be much more specific and probably not as applicable or
you know, probably as well understood by your audience.
Rob Dwyer (29:21.259)
Yeah, I mean, it makes a ton of sense that by having a more improved experience as I'm starting in my role, that I'm going to give a better experience as I'm functioning in that role. I mean, that's, I think, relatively intuitive and often overlooked because we get, like, a lot of different things. We get into
This is the process. This is how we do it. And we just leave it that way. And there are all kinds of things that change that get in the gears of that process that we don't really think about. Or there are simply opportunities to make it better that we're just not taking advantage.
Doug Rabold (30:13.278)
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I mean, frankly, if you stop and think about it, I mean, people brighter than I have said that, you know, you treat your agents the way you want them to treat your best customers. I mean, that's, that's just the front line. EX always come before CX. Employee experience always has to proceed positive customer experience. That's, that's just a reality. And I'm, I'm not going to speak for you, Rob, but I can speak for myself. I know I've onboarded to companies that I was like, what the hell did I get myself into?
I mean, I'm not just talking on day one. I'm talking by like day 10. I still don't have a laptop in my possession. And yeah, I mean, these are challenges that if we're not addressing them, we're setting a tone for people, like the people who should be taking care of our customers to be dissatisfied. And if we're, if we're causing them to be disengaged and dissatisfied from the start, they're never going to, we're.
Rob Dwyer (30:43.035)
Doug Rabold (31:10.314)
you only get one chance to make a first impression, right? I know some people dispute that, but I'm a firm believer that it becomes extremely difficult to overcome that impression.
Rob Dwyer (31:12.991)
Rob Dwyer (31:20.755)
It does. Luckily, I haven't had to onboard to a new company in a very long time, but I knew a lot of people who have, including very recently and in roles that you would think we should have these things figured out, right? Highly compensated roles, not entry level. And it's still a problem for some really large, recognizable organizations that they can't figure out how to.
For instance, get someone a laptop in a timely manner. And it's really hard to actually do your job when you don't have the equipment that you need to do your job. And it's just waste of money for the company. So I hear you. Doug, if there is one thing about XLAs that we haven't talked about that you would like to reinforce.
to everyone out there, maybe we have talked about it, but you don't think we've talked about it enough. What would it be?
Doug Rabold (32:28.002)
So I think that the thing that I mean, part of it's reinforcement, part of it's gonna be addition. And that is these evolve. And the classic example I give is,
Doug Rabold (32:45.694)
When it comes to SLAs, right? SLAs, you put them in place, like I said, set it, forget it, just keep monitoring it, keep reporting on it, and hopefully everything is green. If not, you know, it goes red, and then you put in place a service improvement plan, you get it back to green, and everybody's happy again, right? XLAs are very different in that you don't set them and forget them, you set them and continuously monitor.
continuously actively engage. You evolve them if you need to or you drop them if you don't. And the primary example I give is if you put XLAs in as a permanent thing, all you've done is you've changed an XLA into an SLA. You've just created a new SLA, right? And the prime example I give is if you built an XLA in say September of 2019,
Rob Dwyer (33:28.05)
Doug Rabold (33:39.606)
and you were monitoring it and let's say it was about the agent experience, right? And so you've got these agents sitting in a call center somewhere and they have a need for something to be fixed. And so they call their service desk, right? And the service desk dispatches somebody, boots on ground in the call center and they come out and they check the cabling, check the system, reboot, reinstall applications, whatever they need to do.
And yet, and then you fast forward to, oh, say March of 2020, six months later, there is no boots on ground. We're not going to dispatch somebody to your living room where you're sitting, you know, because we managed to get a laptop in your hands so you could work from home. And so if you build these XLAs, it's very easy to just change it. Okay.
Rob Dwyer (34:16.084)
Doug Rabold (34:31.658)
the world around me changed. And that's sort of the stark example. So the world around me changed and now I need to come up with something new. Well, with SLAs what happened in those cases is you had these waivers. And so we waive our performance, you get exceptions for months and months and months. I mean, how does that change the perception of the support we're providing? It doesn't, because the experience...
Just because we're in a different environment now, it doesn't mean that the expectation of experience has changed, right? So the people that agent is talking to, while they may be receptive to hearing a baby crying in the background or hearing a dog barking, you know, that sort of thing, while they're working from home, the level of service that they expect, the support that they expect is still the same. And so quality, if you will, qualitative.
Rob Dwyer (35:05.624)
Doug Rabold (35:28.262)
expectations haven't really changed. And so this is where the XLA comes in handy is, you know, for whatever you were doing before the world changed, now you can just scrap it and start something new without going through this whole waiver process. It just goes to the governance change board in the experience management office and you build a new one that makes sense for the world we live in now.
Rob Dwyer (35:51.123)
I love it. I love it. I'll tell you. Chatting with you right now at this very moment, all I can think about is my next margarita with you, so that's the experience that I am looking forward to. It's already been too long and it hasn't been that long, so thank you for joining me here and I'm serious. I'm looking forward to that next margarita, so we need to make it happen soon.
Doug Rabold (36:02.166)
Doug Rabold (36:21.802)
Alright Rob, yeah, Margaritavilles are all over the place, so we'll find one when next we meet, my friend.
Rob Dwyer (36:28.431)
Alright, sounds good. Thank you Doug. I appreciate the time today.
Doug Rabold (36:34.038)
You too, Rob. Thanks.