Have you ever had a positive experience calling a help desk?

I am taking a job working at a help desk (with the goal being to use that as stepping stone to advance back to Desktop Support or something more). ((Author’s Note: I originally wrote this article before starting my very first Help Desk position. I have since completed that contract and moved back to Desktop Support full-time but the issues remain the same everywhere and it’s something I feel needs to be addressed.))

During the interview, one of the questions brought up how the Help Desk solves about 55% of the issues from calls and email. However, the satisfaction with the Help Desk is around 25-30%.

I was asked what I would to increase satisfaction with the help desk. I responded how I would bring my experience to the position so when people called in, they would get someone knowledgeable, helpful and able to bridge the gap between tech speak jargon and terms anyone could understand.

They were satisfied.

Then I got to thinking after the interview, have I, as an advanced user / support monkey EVER had a positive experience with a help desk? Have I ever called the help desk anywhere… Dell, Honeywell, Unisys, GE and been satisfied with my experience? I couldn’t think of a single time.

Now, let’s think about this. I know what’s what. Usually when I call the help desk it’s for something I cannot accomplish on my own. I need parts or I need something done which I lack the access to do (server access, password resets, issues which require escalation).

I get frustrated because the help desk is a barrier to accomplishment. In my eyes it’s mostly staffed by people who have little or no technical knowledge and need to be told exactly what you’re looking to do.

What is it like for the 60-year-old call center worker, or the English-as-a-second language city worker? What about your own mother or father (assuming they are not internet rock stars). How many time do they get frustrated with the computer not doing what it should do?

The problem with most help desks is there is zero focus on real customer service and support. The idea seems to be to filter people out as quickly as possible and if their situation cannot be resolved with the script given to read, then nothing can be done.

Someone calls in to the help desk already frustrated and looking for help. Instead of friendly, helpful service they’re asked to repeat their information two or three times. Asked to wait as the slower-than-molasses help desk person types in their information. Waits for the PC to load whatever it loads. Then, they can ask what the problem is. By this point you’re now made an already frustrated person wait longer. And become more frustrated.

Now is the part that matters. Does the problem get resolved? Does a password need to be reset? Is there some simple troubleshooting or setting modification to be tweaked to help this person out?

This is where most calls end in frustration. This is the part of the call where the help desk worker (I loathe to call them techs) can either provide a solution or not. It’s been my experience most of the time there is no solution to be had. Even for simple problems, like password resets or simple account changes.

The people at the help desk are not skilled and knowledgeable enough, nor are they willing to work outside their given script in some cases to get the issue resolved.

I have adopted a policy of continually calling a help desk until I can get what I want from them, usually on behalf of a flustered and irritated user who is fed up with the helpless desk.

It boggles my mind how little attention is seemingly paid to this first level of defense in technical support. Ideally, your help desk should be staffed by knowledgeable people who are able to troubleshoot and correct commonplace issues. These should never make it to “level 2” or a desktop support tech.

Now I’ve done a lot of complaining so far, here’s some ideas for improving the situation.

  • Hire skilled workers for your help desk.

No, it’s not glamorous. No, it’s not going to be the most fun job in the world. But if you offer some money for the position, you’ll find skilled workers such as myself. I am making the move from desktop support to a help desk position. The money is better and it’s with an organization where the room for change and advancement is a real possibility. If you make the position attractive and sell it as the first line of IT defense, you’ll find your techs. Get people into the system who knows computers and are excited and willing to help. This will get your customers and employees talking about how good their help desk support experiences have been and soon you’ll have a world-class help desk staffed by rock stars.

  • Train your help desk employees.

Make sure they understand computers. Make sure they’ve got a good grasp of Windows, Office and Internet Explorer basics. If not, train them. Make free classes available to them or mandatory. Make sure they’re up on the latest software versions your company uses. This goes hand in hand with finding good people from the start. Some of us love technology and keep up on the latest and greatest. However, if you offer classes on what your company uses specifically it will help everyone better serve that customer base.

  • Stop skimping on where it matters most.

Stop sending call centers to India. You’ve doubly exacerbated your issue. Now, you have unskilled, script-reading help desk employees who are now much harder to understand. There have been many, many times I’ve had to call the help desk on behalf of older users especially ones who are hard of hearing because they cannot understand the help desk. At all.

Skimping on this level of support does nothing but breed bad feeling towards your company. Your customers or employees have paid for your product or service. At least treat them like someone who helps you stay in business. Your customers will go elsewhere quicker than you can say “help desk” so start treating them like first class citizens, not an annoyance.

  • Create an easy-to-use, sharable documentation system.

Wikis. Word Docs. Message Boards. I don’t care how you do it but meet with your team and decide what works best for them. Once you have a good system in place, this may require some trial-and-error until you find the right one, encourage people to use it. Make documentation writing and updating fun. Offer incentives for those who add to the pile. Offer perks or little prizes to make it fun. You’ll soon find that you’ll have a nice compendium of commons problems, basic troubleshooting steps, simple installation, lists of software for certain tools and where to find them like spyware and anti-virus.

Don’t look now, but you’ve just built a knowledge base worthy of any world-class organization. This will only help you. Instead of sitting around thinking, “now I know I’ve seen this error before, but I can’t recall how to fix it” you can go to the knowledge base and look it up.

The end result of your knowledge base should serve two purposes. First, the moment a new hire comes aboard, they should be able to find a procedure to install any software your company uses in easy to understand, jargon-free English. The best test of this is to let someone completely nontechnical read over it. They don’t have to complete the process but they do need to understand the process. Second, when you have a central hub of information and have planted the idea on the heads of your support team, whenever a new, recurring issues arises you can bet one of them will document it. After that, everyone else will refer to it for guidance instead of emailing around or asking how to fix the problem.

You’ll be faster and correct more problems at step 1 instead of having to create a ticket for a desktop tech. You’ll educate your workforce at the same time you’re helping them. Remember, if you help your help desk, they’ll be able to better aid the rest of the organization.

I will be joining a help desk in a little under a week with my new job. It will be an interested change to go from single-handedly supporting 150-400 users to working on a team supporting 5,000 remotely.

I think a lot about how IT support is mostly customer service, with computers. That’s so often overlooked in the IT community. Yes, we’re a bunch of geeks who love our toys and machines. However, you still need to make your customer happy. You need to be able to translate geek speak into words your mother can understand.

I’m sure you have other ideas and solution. Or perhaps I’m totally off my rocker. Tell me in the comments!