If you're a go-to resource for your organization's help desk, you can make your job easier by making their job easier. Calvin Sun looks at some things you can do to make help desk operations go more smoothly -- which will pay off for you in return.
If you're a level 2 (or higher) person in your IT organization, or a subject matter expert, chances are you will receive requests for help from your help desk. They received a call from a customer but were unable to resolve it, and now they've turned to you.
The way you interact with the help desk staff affects their ability to support the customer and indirectly affects both you and the entire IT organization. Here are some tips on how you can help the help desk -- which will benefit you as well.
Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#1: Respond to their tickets or calls
It's tempting, if you receive a dispatched ticket, a text message, or a voicemail, to refrain from getting back to the sender until you've resolved the issue. However, responding to the help desk, even just to let them know you received their request, is a good practice. For one thing, it gives the help desk analyst one fewer thing to be concerned about. It also allows that person to tell the ultimate customer that "level 2" (i.e., you) has received the escalated matter and is working on it.
Keeping customers in the dark rarely is a desirable practice. Avoid it with your help desk as well.
#2: Don't blindside them
In his hit song "Blue Clear Sky," singer George Strait sings, "Surprise, your new love has arrived." Surprise is great in this particular regard. However, with respect to the help desk, try to avoid "Surprise, the new release has just gone into production." Many a help desk person will tell you of those times when users call up Monday morning and say, "What's going on? My screen looks completely different now." If the help desk was unaware that a new release was scheduled for cutover, they're going to look stupid to the caller because they didn't know about the release and about the new functions.
We'll discuss this matter in more detail below, but in general, make sure the help desk knows of major systems changes.
#3: Avoid talking out of school
Yes, sometimes the help desk will give incorrect information. Yes, sometimes they will do something that complicates your job. However, in those cases, the worst thing you can do is criticize the help desk in front of a customer. In the first place, that customer will wonder why you're wasting time doing so, when all he or she wants is a resolution to the problem. Second, it damages the credibility of the help desk. More important, the customer may wonder if the overall IT organization knows what it's doing.
If you have an issue with the help desk, address it privately if you can, out of earshot of the customer.
#4: Tell them of fixes or workarounds you've found
Don't keep good news to yourself. If you've discovered a fix or a workaround for a known issue, share it with the help desk. They can share it with customers, and in doing so, can reduce both their workload and yours.
Are you concerned that you may not get credit for finding this fix or workaround? In that case, let the help desk know of your findings via an e-mail and cc your boss.
#5: Include them in requirements collection
The help desk, as the front line of support, generally has a good idea of the concerns users have with current applications. So if you're developing a new application internally, or you're seeking a vendor solution, make sure you include the help desk as you do your requirements collection. They're not a substitute for end-user input, of course, but they can add valuable insight. They will appreciate this inclusion, because ultimately they will be fielding calls for the new product.
#6: Include them in documentation preparation
Many help desk people will tell you that they often get repetitive calls on the same topic. If you investigate further, you may find that these calls arise because of unclear or incorrect documentation. In other words, making a one-time effort to correct the documentation can save hundreds of hours of subsequent calls. For that reason, consider including the help desk as you prepare documentation on a system. Their knowledge of that system can help identify issues with documentation, saving the end user and themselves time and aggravation.
#7: Support their requests for continuing education
We know management, especially now, is reluctant to spend money on training. However, such training can help make us more productive. In the case of the help desk, such training can allow them to resolve more issues on the first call, rather than escalate calls to you. If you hear of training that a help desk person is considering, and you believe it's worthwhile, support that person to his or her boss. Your opinion could carry more weight than the help desk person's request alone. You will earn political capital with that person, and he or she is likely to reciprocate when you want additional training. (If they don't volunteer, remind them strongly of how you helped them get approval for their training.).
#8: Support their requests for investment in technology
In the same way, support the help desk's requests for additional technology, such as a request for remote desktop support. Again, the better the help desk staff can do their jobs, the fewer calls and tickets will be escalated to you.
#9: Keep in mind that the "dumb" question may not be after all
Stop and think before reacting to what you think might be a dumb question from the help desk. Yes, maybe sometimes they forgot to ask the standard, obvious questions, such as "Is the system plugged in?" or "Are you really logged in?" On the other hand, maybe they did ask those questions, but now they need to talk to you because the preliminary steps failed to resolve the issue. Give them the benefit of the doubt when you're faced with such questions.
#10: Be timely with status updates
If you're working on a ticket that's been escalated to you, try to keep it updated with the latest status. Even if you yourself are waiting for a development, such as a response from the vendor technical support person, it's good to provide that information. By keeping the ticket up to date, the help desk can let the customer know that the matter is still on people's minds.
#11: Document and debrief after you've resolved the issue
Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. -- George Santayana
After you've resolved the issue, take a few moments and document your resolution within the ticket, knowledge base, or other tools your organization uses. In addition, discuss it with the help desk analyst who escalated the issue to you. Is there anything you learned that you can share? Is there something the analyst could have done differently or more effectively? Did the analyst totally mess up? Now is the time to address those matters, not in front of the customer (see point #3). The more you can educate the help desk, the better they'll be able to resolve customer problems without having to come to you, freeing you for your own tasks.
Unless you take this time to document and debrief, you will find yourself solving the same problems over and over again.
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.