Build Your Skills: Create structured training for new help desk staffers

Bring new help desk staffers up to speed faster with these tips

When you began your career at the help desk, did you receive formal training or did you simply sit down and start to take calls after being shown the logging system and where to get soft drinks? My guess is that most of you had little or no training and were forced to learn the ropes as you experienced different types of calls.

Things have gotten a bit better over the years, but help desks are still notorious for lacking a structured training program that ensures staff members know what they are supposed to do. Because there are so many things to know, the only way to guarantee consistency is to make sure that every member of your team is provided with the same training. I'll share some tips to help you create such a program and keep it a team-oriented task.

My experience
I once joined a help desk for a three-month contract. It was a government organization concerned with the protection of rivers and water quality. A coworker showed me the logging system. Unfortunately, that person had been shown the wrong way by my predecessor, so the error had been perpetuated for many months. As a result, most of the call logs were entered incorrectly, and no helpful statistics could be gleaned from the archived calls. It caused a fair ruckus, and everyone was looking for somebody to blame. After the smoke cleared, we concluded that a proper introductory training package could have prevented the situation.

What should the training include?
When a new person joins the help desk, start him or her off with a set program of training that covers each of the routine help desk tasks. It needn’t be an arduous process—simply a session with a more experienced member of the team who can work through an agreed process document. In addition to all common help desk tasks, the program should include sections on:
  • Company policies, especially the Internet-use policy.
  • Supported and unsupported software.
  • Where to find information.
  • What to do in the event of fire, accident, or injury.
  • Service Level Agreements.
  • How to use the logging tools.

Beginning the training program
Start the training process with a review meeting involving the team leaders, and establish the items you want to cover in the training. Build a plan that covers the core skills needed and then review, review, and review again.

It will soon become apparent if something has been omitted. Each person undergoing the training process should be encouraged to give constructive criticism. Allowing the new employees to help build the program gives your staff buy-in—they will feel part of the process and will be more likely to support what you are doing. In turn, you'll gain valuable help from them.

You may choose to deliver some of the training via automated systems such as CBT and e-learning. You might supplement those portions with peer-to-peer learning, mentoring, or coaching, especially if you discover that an individual needs additional training.

As your training program progresses, you will see certain team members specialize in their favorite fields. Although the help desk pro needs to be an all-rounder, this specialization should be encouraged. Nobody can know everything, and people do want to advance their careers after their help desk experience, so you should encourage the building of skill sets as far as possible.

To capitalize on these specialties, schedule time for individual coaching and group sessions during a new employee’s training week. A different team member could run each group session to give him or her a chance to demonstrate particular strengths.

This type of session could also be useful for updating all team members on skills with new products. As a product becomes available, it's a good idea to allocate a team member to evaluate it and prepare a presentation for the team.

Training benefits new and experienced help desk pros
Training helps both the trainee and the trainer. The trainee gains a new skill, and the trainer reinforces his or her technical skills while building communication skills. In addition, training provides a way to learn a lot about new team members and builds a sense of camaraderie.

You may also improve your processes and procedures as a result of training. A fresh perspective from new recruits may reveal opportunities for improvement that have been overlooked by others who are too close to see inefficiencies.

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