IT Policies optimize

10+ ways to help your help desk (and therefore yourself)

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 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.


About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

12 comments
pdcoty
pdcoty

Bravo! Very well said!

hickox71
hickox71

Great stuff! Yes, it is very important to keep good communication with your customers - to keep them informed asap about issue status changes and about tickets redirections to any particular helpdesk specialist. As a good example I can recommend a helpdesk solution called Bridgetrak that has a very powerful ticket autoescalation feature. In addition this tool is quite intuitive to use - all issues can be created using built-in issue templates. http://www.scriptlogic.com/products/bridgetrak

p33d33
p33d33

Couldn't have said it better Calvin. Here I am late at night working away furiously on many of what you listed above. This article brought me some hard earnt sanity! ;) Keep up the good work, your articles are enlightening. P

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Communicate and document, and these two are very closely related. As an on-site support tech, I often receive calls related to failures in these areas. First, there's the call where the Help Desk didn't know about the new equipment or configuration and attempted to fix the old configuration over the phone, making the problem worse. Then there's the call that could have been resolved over the phone if only the Help Desk had proper (or accurate) documentation. (On the other hand, the Help Desk usually documents both types of calls in such a manner that I can't tell by looking at the ticket and [u]have[/u] to go on-site.) I don't complain much about these calls, since I love to drive and the [usual] quick fix makes me look good, but in these economic times, anything that saves the client travel money can't be bad.

Techic
Techic

as a helpdesk lead a great deal of my time is spent trying to make the items on this list a reality. glad to hear i'm not just making this stuff up and that they really do make everyone's jobs easier. Good COMMUNICATION is the key!

p33d33
p33d33

Hi Nick, I've found flagging calls you felt really need to be documented. A ticket number will usually suffice. Take note of the little things that you feel should be well known and show them the ropes ~ the interest and benefits will raise the bar of all and soon the issues you'll face are the ones you may not expect. All the best. P

alashhar
alashhar

thank you for helpful tips. my department (ICT) have created a help desk section. but they did not make officially policy ( help desk description) or in other way they did not follow a standard. the help desk is working as following: (1) the employees sends their ticket by special technical support email or by calling help desk phone number (22222)for emergency. (2) each day one of the help desk staff is responsible to received the emails and forward it to any available help desk staff. (3) when any employee call a help desk phone the call will ringing to all help desk phones, and any one of the help desk is free , will answer the phone and support the user. (4)the help desk staff reported their jobs back to help desk email using outlook. this is a brief description of our help desk daily work. Notes: (1)i am not agree to the phone support, because some employees see that writing email is long way than call the help desk (short way) (2)they don't make any documentation for their support. my questions are: (a)how does any company create a help desk? (b)is there any standard that the companies need to follow to success the idea? (c)is there any application which help the help desk to report , document , and see the history? thank you all

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

These are great suggestions, Pete, and if I worked in a traditional environment, I'd already be using them. I'm a contractor working "at" not "for," so I have no direct contact with the help desk. We do have procedures to bring such problems to the attention of call center managers, but with roll-outs and installs performed according to constantly changing schedule that the help desk never gets, it's a continually moving target!

Techic
Techic

I've recently complete "remodeled" our helpdesk which seemed to be floundering due to lack of clear and thought out direction. If you have an opportunity to create a helpdesk from scratch, "Yay for you!" Here are some *suggestions* for you - hope they help. (a)how does any company create a help desk? First, decide what you will support and how (i.e. will users call a central voicemail and techs pull from that as they are available, will they be allowed to email AND call, etc). Then, CLEARLY COMMUNICATE this to both the users you support and the helpdesk staff doing the support. this is usually defined in an SLA. (b)is there any standard that the companies need to follow to success the idea? Calvin's post is a good starting point - but again PLANNING is required to tailor. if you are looking for actual industry standards HDI has always been a great resource for my firm (www.thinkhdi.com) (c)is there any application which help the help desk to report , document , and see the history? there are many. we use Numara's trackit 8.5 (THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDATION) but a google search for "helpdesk or service desk management software" will give you a bunch of applications to chose from.

p33d33
p33d33

Hi Alashhar, Judging by what you write, I guess a few simple things to start would be; 1. Create a generic email account that Helpdesk can all access to receive incoming email request. Also, when they reply it will appear from a single entity, i.e. The Helpdesk This should cut out your need for having one man 'field calls' where everyone can pick up the next available job as it comes in and manage it themselves. If they encounter any difficulties they will need escalation points for assistance. Most importantly, they will need guidance and a leader who posesses great spirit. With all your 'troops' facing forward to assist your customers, everyone is working on the same page and able to manage the workload you have. They can also inform you of critical issues that require attention and other pressing matters. You will save time by managing your email requests more effictively. This in turn will put you in a position to demonstrate how faster you can respond to their request. Your customers will easily come to realise after you politely point it out them when they compliment on your speed of service. Reading Calvins original post a few times over should give you a better idea as to how you need to 'think' about forming your Helpdesk. All the best, good luck! P

Techic
Techic

just dugg it and i had already fwd it on to my dept :).