As someone who spent years working as a helpdesk technician, I know all too well how stressful the job can be. Although I was occasionally stressed because of an exceptionally heavy workload or because I was having a tough time resolving a particular issue, the vast majority of my stress was user-induced. The demands made by end users never ceased to amaze me. Because being a helpdesk support tech can be such a thankless job, I wanted to share with you a few tips for reducing the stress of end-user support calls.
1: Don't tolerate abuse
It's unbelievable to see just how irate some end users can become over a simple computer problem. I have received helpdesk calls from users who resorted to screaming, swearing, name-calling, and all manner of verbal abuse. There is never any excuse for this type of behavior from a user.
Although you will have to win support from upper management (which shouldn't be too difficult to do), I recommend setting a policy that prohibits the verbal abuse of the helpdesk staff. If possible, lobby to have this provision added to the employee code of conduct along with sanctions for those who violate the policy.
2: Set your own priorities
Most of the people who call the helpdesk with a problem want their problem fixed "now." For the first couple of years I worked in a helpdesk environment, I told the callers that their problems would be addressed on a first-come, first-served basis. Over time, however, I began to realize that really wasn't the best policy.
It is better to prioritize helpdesk calls by their urgency (as defined by you, not the user). If a user is having a problem and can't do his or her job, that problem should be considered high priority. If, on the other hand, you have a user who pesters you three or four times a day with various imaginary problems, those problems should be very low priority. You shouldn't ever have to make a user who is having a legitimate problem wait for help just so that you can appease a user with a nitpicky (and possibly unverifiable) issue.
3: Require helpdesk calls to go through a manager
As a helpdesk manager, one of the best policies I ever created required users to relay all requests for help through their managers. While I will be the first to admit that the managers weren't very fond of this policy, it worked wonders for decreasing the number of frivolous calls we received. Users are a lot less likely to call about stupid things when they know that they have to go through their boss to submit the request.
4: Set a clear policy against impromptu support
Another thing will greatly reduce stress is to implement a policy against impromptu support. I once worked as a helpdesk tech at a company with about a thousand users. The problem was that most of those users knew who I was. I couldn't walk through the building without people grabbing me and asking me to take a quick look at a problem they were having.
Things actually got so bad that whenever I needed to go to the other side of the building, I would go outside, walk around the building, and sneak in the back door to reduce the number of people I had to walk past.
One day, someone made the decision to move the company's cafeteria. The new location required everyone to walk through the IT department on the way to lunch. The flow of traffic (and all the support requests that came with it) became so disruptive that my manager had the department moved to an isolated part of the building and created a policy requiring all requests for help to be submitted in writing using an online form. It took a while for the new policy to catch on, but it was eventually very helpful.
5: Remember that it isn't your job to support personal electronics
One of the things that really used to annoy me about working for the helpdesk was having employees ask me to fix their personal electronics. During my years in the position, I was asked to fix everything from home computers to VCRs (this was the early 1990s). There was even one manager who would try to strong-arm me by threatening to have my wife fired if I didn't go to the manager's house (during work hours) and get the viruses off of her PC.
Remember that it isn't your job to fix personal electronics. If you want to repair PCs and consumer electronic devices on the side for extra cash, there's nothing wrong with that. But any user who calls the helpdesk wanting help with an XBOX 360 should simply be told that the helpdesk does not support personal electronics.
More support tips
- 10 habits of superstitious users
- 10 things end users do that drive me crazy
- 10 signs that you aren't cut out to be a support tech
- 10+ dangerous species of help desk callers
- 10 ways to decline a request for free tech support
- 10 common user questions - and some analogies that help clear things up
- 10 things to check before you start working on the help desk
Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.