Business owners weighing out different IT help desk solutions often ask “What should I expect in front line service?”
What the majority of folks I talk to (and in fact the majority of those surveyed about help desks (>80%!)) is they lack a clear understanding of what to expect in a help desk technician—especially those answer your users’ calls. More often than not, technicians struggle with figuring out whether they can be of assistance or need to escalate the issue to a more senior technician (possibly someone internal if you have been outsourcing your help desk).
When you call into a help desk (here’s a little refresher on the difference between a help desk and service desk, just in case), what would you expect?
How long should you wait for someone to pick up the phone?
How should you be greeted?
Should the technician be equipped to handle your problem (say password, email, software issue, virus, database access, internet access, website issue)? How much should they know? When should they get someone more experienced involved?
How do they redirect your issue (ticket) to the most appropriate technician?
When you’re thinking about your front line technicians, these are all very important (and valid!) things to be asking yourself. What I want to drive home today is that there are some basic skills that every front line help desk technician should have.
Here are some criteria you should expect of any IT help desk technician (no matter their experience level):
Get the right information about the user— before anything else, your technicians need to make sure they know who they’re talking to. Making sure they get the basics are essential to consistent communication. If a ticket cannot be resolved within the first call, they need to hand off detailed specifics to the next tech involved. Good documentation from the first user interaction also helps help desk managers understand whether specific users need additional support outside of the immediate problem (say, if they’re constantly calling in with the same issue).
Document issues well—help desk technicians should get a sense of what the problem is. Is it new, recurring or intermittent? Is it affecting just them, others in their department or with the same role, or the entire office (this might signal how high a priority the issue is to get resolved)? Is it causing a work-stoppage (i.e., can your users function with the issue)? If the problem isn’t completely obvious, can the technician ask the right questions to recreate the issue or see what triggers the problem? (Note: good documentation as to specific symptoms and how/when the problem arises are critical parts of documentation). Basically, your frontline help desk technician need to provide all the information that someone else may need when determining next steps (if the problem needs to be escalated)—WITHOUT having another technician follow up with the SAME exact questions (which happens more often than you might think!).
Answers to basic questions— there are many basic skills that are very necessary in a help desk technician, but here are a few that are very needed (because they pop up in user issues ALL the time): how to map a printer, how to back up files, how to add a network card, understand file permissions, why machines talk to the domain controllers. I could go on here, but the heart of the matter is that you (or your help desk manager) need to make sure your help desk technicians have enough knowledge to help.
Communication with non-technical audiences—probably one of the biggest complaints users reveal about their help desk experiences is that the techs are speaking over their heads. Having skills to communicate problems to non-technical audiences is a must when working on a help desk. Make sure your people can explain things at a level their grandma would understand! No speaking entirely in acronyms! Your technicians should be making it so that your users feel well- informed and empowered, NOT completely hopeless and out of the loop.
Be polite—we expect technicians to be polite, courteous, and focused on attending to users’ issues. Make sure your technicians don’t bring their problems to the calls they’re receiving and remember that usually they’re talking to people that are upset!
In addition to basic expectations you should have in your technicians, there are a variety of problems that riddle poorly run help desks. In fact, the majority of help desks are plagued with the following three problems, all of which lead increased user downtime and frustration:
Vague ticket descriptions and documentation—the most common problem in help desks is having poor or vague descriptions of issues in the ticket. The problem with this is that it wastes your users’ times. On average, when tickets are not documented properly, your users’ issues take 3 hours longer (on more complicated issues, you may be waiting weeks—simply because that ticket is a hot potato that no one knows what to do with!).
It’s too complicated—many technicians fail to break down problems into smaller parts. If someone calls in with an issue that sounds complicated or confusing, the majority of technicians end up assigning tickets (that, when broken into smaller pieces would be easily manageable for most technicians) get assigned to the most experienced person on the team, who frequently is inundated with ticket requests. This type of process contributes to long user wait times and is a very unnecessary manner of sorting through underlying issues within a ticket.
No training process– when new help desk technicians is hired, they make a lot of mistakes—mistakes that if good training was in place would never happen. These mistakes can range the gamut: poor documentation, poor ticket escalation. They often hurt service license agreements (see here for details) that result in severely long resolution times.
Many folks say that help desk technicians should really have room to make mistakes and learn from them. I agree—mistakes are always part of the learning process. But there should be fundamentals—some of which may require at new hire training—that just cannot be overlooked (but sadly are missed more often than not!). Are you sure your help desk is working for your business? Contact me TODAY for a help desk health assessment!