Help Desk Management

Posted by on Monday 5 Mar 2001

In many organizations, Help Desks are becoming the central area for end user support. Being an integral part of the Information Technology Support function can be challenging, frustrating, and exciting all at once. This course will teach innovative and “best practice” techniques in customer service, offering support to your customers, and creating a help desk that other companies would want to model theirs after.

We will learn to meet and surpass rising customer expectations. We will also learn how to motivate and reward our staff and increase staff productivity. Overall, our goal is to enhance the support experience when our external and internal customers call us with a need or a problem.

In this course, you will learn how to evaluate your current helpdesk, improvements you can make, how to hire effective help desk employees, and how to train and evaluate those employees.

What is your dream help desk? We will look at what makes a great help desk so we can learn those techniques and apply them to our help desk.

Available – the excellent help desk is available to meet your customers’ needs. If you have a contingent of employees coming in and working 7-4, having an 8-5 schedule won’t meet their needs in the morning. If you have 24 hour shifts, but the support center is only open during first shift, offering an on-call option is a must.

Approachable – the worse thing for your help desk is to have call volume dropping off due to a perceived arrogance or having users feel they can’t call in. Since problems don’t magically disappear, a lot of these employees start calling back end support individuals to solve their problems, then you lose tracking, one point of contact, and you cost other support employees valuable time with calls they shouldn’t have to take. The great help desks are easy to call for end-users.

Measurable – the best help desks keep stats. Knowing what your call volume is, the average time to solve a user’s problem, a trend of problems all contribute to a great measurable help desk. This is important because you can identify training issues and system performance issues by tracking the calls that are coming into the help desk.

Flexible – the great support centers are flexible to meet their customer’s needs. If Marketing is running a promotion and need extra support for the weird hours for the help desk, the help desk alters their schedule to help marketing out. An excellent help desk contributes to the bottom line indirectly and directly.

Teachable – excellent help desks are always learning and growing. If you are putting in a new system, the help desk should be the first ones volunteering to learn its ins and outs and test it out during off times. If a new piece of software is being released on the network, the help desk knows the common questions before they’re asked.

All of these characteristics make a great help desk. Where does your help desk fit in?

One of the important steps in creating a world-class help desk organization is to evaluate your current offering. There are three things you need to evaluate: structure, employees, and organizational acceptance.

Structure

The structure of your help desk entails how it is managed, how the employees are broken up categorically, the technical systems you use, and any other business detail.

You should evaluate your help desk software to ensure it is meeting the needs of your customers. Does it send an automatic email to your end users? Is it easy for the PC Support team and Server Support groups to use? Does it offer all the features you need? Is it flexible to change?

Other structure areas to evaluate are call scripts and what the employees are taught to say when interacting with customers. Cumbersome scripts and long winded representatives can make end users frustrated and not want to call.

Employees

Do you employees have enough training to do their job? Are they supporting systems they know nothing about? Do they have the customer service skills needed?

The employees at your help desk are the most important part of offering the best solution possible.

There are many ways you can find out the answers to those questions. Surveying both your employees and your end users can find out if your employees feel they are undertrained and if the end users are frustrated.

Organizational Acceptance

Organizational acceptance is an important aspect in evaluating your help desk. This can be achieved through surveys, talking to management, or feedback from PC Support individuals. Some help desk groups have the hardest time gaining traction in a company which has had poor support in the past and showing your improvements doesn’t always garner the support you need.

You should evaluate your help desk on these key areas to help further your goals in the future.

> Recommended Books: The Complete Help Desk Guide (only $16.97 at Amazon.com)

An effective support center can be at the heart of Information Technology departments and can mean a positive or negative experience from an end user perspective. The view of the support center from both an internal and external customer standpoint can be the view of the entire IT department, or the view of the entire company. With this much importance on one function, why is the hiring of help desk representatives sometimes a brushed over procedure?

How many representatives should we hire?

Determining how many employees to staff your help desk can seem like a throw of the darts. There are several simple rules to follow, though to determine your own number and justification, you should set the metrics by which you are measuring the support center and how many people it will take to perform those.

A general rule when staffing the help desk is that there should be 1 support staff member for every 250 employees. If you have 5000 employees in your company, you should be able to support them with 20 people, if there are 500 employees, you can probably support them with 2 representatives. Of course, this is a simple formula which doesn’t take into account the complexities of your company and its systems.

Justification

Justifying the number of positions for the support center is a complex matter requiring measurement of data, surveys, and other techniques that may not be readily available to you. If you are just starting a help desk, you may not be able to generate this data, but if you currently have a help desk and think it is understaffed, here are some suggestions as to how to amass the data you need to support that position.

Call Volume – Measured in number of calls per a certain time period, e.g. calls per hour, per minute, etc. If you are running an electronic web based help desk, emails per hour or chat sessions per hour will work.

Average Time Per Call - the average amount of time spent on each call.

Time to Answer – the amount of time a person has to hold before reaching a representative.

Dropped Calls – the number of calls that hang up before reaching a rep.

When supporting a position to hire more employees, the important numbers are “Time to Answer” and “Dropped Calls”, if there is a significant increase in these numbers over time, it may mean you need more employees to support the amount of support you are offering.

As an IT function, it is common to hire people with a lot of technical knowledge to fill the needs of the help desk. As a customer service function, it is also common to hire just customer service oriented representatives for those positions. Of course, the perfect mix of tech
nical skills and customer service skills isn’t always readily available to hire, so what do we do?

Hire a staff with a good mix of technical skills and customer service skills. For example, if you have 10 help desk representatives at your company, hire 5 customer service oriented people and 5 technically oriented people. With this mix on staff, you can easily cross-train in your own group, achieving reps with a good cross section of skills.

Where do we find employees?

There are several methods to find employees for your help desk. First, you can recruit employees internally. There are several advantages to hiring employees from inside your company. Employees from within know the business and their fellow employees.

Second, we can recruit employees through local newspaper ads. This is a commonly used method and one should make sure their ads stand out to attract IT talent.

Third, we can use online job databases and resume collections to find qualified individuals.

Fourth, we can use placement agencies, temporary help firms, and consulting firms to hire our staff. This can be a useful way to hire as you can try out your employee before committing to them.

One of the core things your help desk should focus on when you are building or rebuilding it is the training for your employees. Training should be specific to the technology goals of your group as well as the customer service functions you need.

Cross training

As a both customer service oriented and technically oriented group, the help desk needs to fulfill both needs. Through cross-training, we can achieve both skills. If your group currently isn’t technically oriented, make arrangements for your reps to train with members from the Networks groups, the Email Server group, the Website group, etc, to understand what their function is, what they can and cannot do, and learn common tasks, such as stopping a printer job, or resetting a password for someone who has forgotten theirs. Through cross-training, we can reduce the amount of work overall through solving things the first time. This also reduces the downtime for your employees and customers you support.

If your group needs customer service skills, you should probably setup a training class for them. This training should be oriented to technical employees, and how to explain the technical into everyday words for those without your reps’ knowledge. The use of acronyms, overly technical explanations, or phrases which make the user feel stupid (“that’s a common problem, why didn’t you know that?” or “can’t you do anything right?”) all add to a poor experience for your user and may reduce calls – when the users feel they can’t call the help desk, they turn to other sources for help, like directly to your back end support employees.

Keeping your staff happy will help with your productivity and performance levels. Working at a help desk is oftentimes a stressful experience, burnout is common, employees need motivation to keep providing the excellent levels of support you want to provide.

Different ways to Motivate

There are many ways to motivate and reward employee performance other than simply cash awards. A simple pat on the back and recognition is often both wanted and needed by employees who work in support center environments.

Travelling Award – One way to recognize employees is to use a trophy or plaque and have it travel from employee to employee each week for the “Employee of the Week”.

Gift Certificates – Gift certificates for dinner or to a store are great recognition gifts.

Time off – An afternoon or even an entire day off to employees who excell at their positions can be an award for them to look forward to.

Frequent Flyer Airline Miles – Some airlines allow you to purchase frequent flyer miles, this may be one recognition that your employees would enjoy.

Award Certificate – A simple award certificate can go a long way in making employees feel appreciated.

One key element to consider when hiring employees and training existing employees are certification options. Certification can show the knowledge of your group, provide a measure of the candidates for a position, and provide the training needed for your group.

Helpdesk 2000 Certification

Helpdesk 2000, a Helpdesk support organization, is the most widely held help desk certification. It features certification for managers and employees, along with a lot of training courses and information.

Comptia Certifications

Comptia offers several vendor neutral certification options such as Network+ and A+. Both are entry level certifications, Network+ with networks and A+ with general hardware and computers.

Learnthat.com offers a free A+ exam tutorials your employees can use to prepare for the certification exam. Also, we have a resource area for you to find other sites to help prepare for the exam.

Microsoft Certifications

Microsoft offers several certifications ranging from Microsoft Certified Professional to Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

Novell Certifications

Novell offers certifications for all of its Netware products. Check out our resource directory for links and study resources.

Other Certifications

If your company has special needs, like Java, OS/2, or other vendor specific certification needs, check out our resource area for links and study resources.

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2 comments

  • John March 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Lots of words, no substance. Well, maybe not entirely, but it shows the article have been written by someone who never came close to managing or planning the HelpDesk.

    First thing – one person per 250 users? This isn’t enough even for picking up the phone, logging and processing the incidents. Any non-scripted discussion with the user will take 5-10 minutes on the average. Even with automatic HD system (users logging the incidents themselves via portal or email), reassignment, closure and communication with users is full time job for at least one person, if you have 200+ users.

    Second issue – there is no technician that knows it all – while most of the problems can be solved instantly, or from the KB you might have set up, many things require research/configuration or depend on interaction with other specialists inside or outside of your company. This will take another person’s full time schedule.

    Now, to cover first and second field to provide redundancy for holiday/training cover or days with extensive amount of calls, we end up with the bare minimum of 3 people per 200-250 users.

    The next problem is training – not only you need to keep technicians up to date with the latest technology – ideally you should keep ahead. This is to make sure that not only they are ready for major rollouts, but also for those external people coming for a meeting with the Windows 7 you don’t use in your company yet, or newer version of Office document that has been sent to one of users from one of the clients. This can be learned on-site by having a poke around only to some extent, and you still need quite a bit of time to spare… only way to go here then is professional training – might seem expensive at first, but if you take into account the downtime resulted from lacks of – maybe not basic, but let’s say systematic – knowledge, you will see yourself well in red if you don’t go that way.

    And lastly – just a simple thing that’s assumed all along, but not said out in the open – for logging, performance measurement, incident management, audit purposes and many other reasons, good HD software must be in place (unless you have less than 50 employees altogether, because overhead on the maintenance and management of it may overwhelm the benefits). Good HD software is one, that is easy to implement, manage, patch, update, learn, provides extensive functions based on the service requirements, and is good value for money, taken into account all the previous.

    • Jeremy Reis March 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

      Hi John, Thanks for your note. Your points are very good. The premise of this tutorial was that you had a second level support group in place and that the help desk is the front line support. The number of support reps that you have really depends on the environment, your userbase, what kind of second and third level support you have in place, and as you mentioned, how good your HD software is. This tutorial was written several years ago, but in our experience at some large firms, we were able to operate a helpdesk with 1 rep to several hundred users. Your environment may be different – and every company is unique. Smaller environments cause all sorts of challenges. I do appreciate your note, this tutorial really needs an update.

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