IT Policies

Five tips for reducing the stress of user support calls

Spend enough time on the helpdesk, and your nerves are likely to get a bit frayed. Here are some survival tips to help make the job less stressful.

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

About

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.

5 comments
sipeki
sipeki

I like point three, gets my vote. But "..There was even one manager who would try to strong-arm me by threatening to have my wife fired.." really did this actually happen. Sounds a bit like Jacknory to me.

V.H. Scarpacci
V.H. Scarpacci

1. Abuse If you have abusive users they are not only abusive to the helpdesk personnel. They should be reported to their manager and/or HR. 2. Priorities This is true for any position. Whenever I think my day is all planned and " I'm going to get things done today, that is when a switch dies or the router at a remote site craps out. Sometime there is just a trump card played at the most inconvenient time. 3. Manager If every ticket at the helpdesk had to go through my manager two thing would happen. 1. My manager would get his job done. 2. One of the support tech would lose their position to the demoted manager. There should be clear guidelines to what constitutes a level 4 vs. a level 1 ticket that any reasonably competent tech should be able to follow. 4. Impromptu Support This is a tricky area. When I am ask to answer a "quick question" my answer depends on the situation. If I am headed somewhere to fix something I usually respond with "Send me an e-mail and I will get back to you as soon as I can." or "Open a ticket with the helpdesk." This then requires the user to evaluate weather or not this is worth their time to actually send the e-mail or open the ticket. 5. Personal Equipment Good point. There is not a personal job that should be required to be done for anyone, not even the CEO. However, what I have done, since I work at a non-profit company, is to bill the user at retail rates as a donation back to my company.

jkiernan
jkiernan

How else am I supposed to remove the toast my kid jammed into the VCR if not for my helpdesk lackeys? This article shows no compassion for overworked managers with young children.

fernandorap
fernandorap

Thanks for 5 tips for reducing the stress of user support. Especial number 5

OurITLady
OurITLady

Everything else would be valid if only I could get the backup to say no to impromptu support or to make them stick to the procedures. Although we do have a process the end users are supposed to follow when raising support requests, getting permission to say no if they step out of that process is difficult at the best of times. Also, having a manager that actually stays after hours to "help out" with personal electronics and has every gadget under the sun on his desk at work definitely does not help the cause.

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