IT Policies

Five easy ways to eliminate those annoying help desk calls

Nearly all IT departments are overworked and understaffed right now. And in many organizations, no area is feeling the crunch more than the help desk. Here are some ways to reduce the volume of those help desk calls.

Nearly all IT departments are overworked and understaffed right now. And in many organizations, no area is feeling the crunch more than the help desk.

In fact, IT departments say their help desk staff is just slightly more than half the size it should be, according to a 2011 survey from Robert Half Technology. On average, the companies surveyed employed one held desk staffer for every 112 users. However, when asked what the ideal ratio would be, the average answer was 65 to 1.

To make things worse, those too-small staffs often spend a lot of time fielding calls that can be preventable, are frivolous or just downright annoying. That includes simple questions most computer users should be able to answer by now, as well as calls about personal technology the IT department has no responsibility over.

Fortunately, it's possible to reduce the volume of those help desk calls by increasing training, creating or tweaking policies, and taking other steps.

Here are some things IT departments can do to cut the volume of help desk calls:

1. Create a social help desk

One of the effects of the consumerization of IT and the growing BYOD trend is that more users are working with technology that they understand and enjoying tinkering with. Also, the ubiquity of smartphones and other advanced gadgets means many people are more comfortable with technology in general.

IT departments can use that to their advantage by creating a social help desk where users can answer each other's questions and offer advice to their peers. Many companies are having success by setting up support groups for users with personal smartphones - for example, IT can create a section of the company's intranet where iPhone users can post questions or collaborate on wiki documents.

2. Have a help desk liaison in each department

Another benefit of users' increasing tech knowledge is that most or all of the departments in a company probably have at least one person with enough expertise to answer at least basic support questions. IT can recruit some of those people and have them act as an initial contact for when the rest of the department has tech problems.

IT can seek out volunteers for that role, and will often find some people who are more than willing to help. That can greatly reduce the number of basic questions that come through and give IT staff more time to deal with serious issues.

3. Write policies on what calls are accepted

Users often turn to the help desk for help with their own technology equipment - and that's becoming even more common now that the line between personal and work devices is blurring. In some cases, that's not a problem - many help desk staffers are more than happy to offer advice to help out their co-workers.

But in other organizations, things might spiral out of control and the help desk could be constantly fielding calls to fix personal issues. If that happens, it's time to make a policy about what calls the help desk will answer and make sure the rules are communicated to all users.

4. Educate users - and follow up

Help desks often have to answer a distressing amount of calls from not so tech-savvy users who have basic questions about Office applications or other common software. Many organizations attempt to limit those calls by offering basic computer training for users who need it - but often, they don't do enough to follow up and make sure the education is having the desired effect.

Offering training sessions on a regular basis can help, but IT departments should also make sure they're providing users with adequate reference materials so they can answer questions on their own. That can include print-outs, or an easy-to-navigate self-service IT support website. Staffers can also use calls as an opportunity to remind users about the tools that are available.

5. Let users know a problem has been reported

Many help desk calls involve several users - for example, when a department's printer isn't working  or if there are hiccups in the company's Internet connection - and a lot of time can be wasted by all of those people calling in to report the same issue.

IT can cut down by informing all affected users that a problem has been reported and that it's being worked on. For example, a notice can be posted on the help desk portal, if the company uses one, or a quick email can be sent to all necessary users. That will also give people an update on the status of the problem, which they'll appreciate.

Conclusion: Train the help desk, too

In some companies, the relationship between the IT help desk and the rest of the company isn't so great. Sometimes, users are to blame for the way they communicate with the help desk - but the IT staff can often do things better, too.

So in addition to changing user behavior to make the help desk run more smoothly, IT departments can also focus on keeping help desk employees trained in the key soft skills they need to deal with users.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

15 comments
gscratchtr
gscratchtr

can work, however. We used to call them "help desk level zero" meaning, "before level one". We knew that when we got a ticket from one of them, some basic things had been tried, some basic information had been collected, etc. However, the departments themselves did sometimes complain about their people's time being spent on this. we offered to transfer some of their budget to us and give them their people back (or transfer their people to the real Help Desk).

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

1. crowdsource and devalue the profession 2. many companies already do that - seems like common sense... 3. ditto 4. Good luck; most companies do not provide such in-house training; it's not part of the "core mission" or whatever. Setting it up and maintaining it as pertinent to the IT department is, but teaching other departments is not. Maybe users can start educating themselves, but is that within their job description, to know everything about everything? Are we not teams? No, we are devo... 5. See point 3 for more... 2, technically...

plegal416
plegal416

Training the users and the IT staff are a higher priority than listed in your article. Failing to make solid training and well-designed instructional materials available is a common mistake too many businesses make. Managers who believe IT isn't worth an investment because it doesn't produce revenue are sorely mistaken - we keep the moneymakers working...

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Having a social helpdesk is, on the surface, a good idea but it would ultimately create as much work as it saved. The Social helpdesk app, forum software, SharePoint page or other area for sharing such ideas would ultimately need to be set up and maintained. The users would need to be given rights to such a system (sometimes awkward in companies using extremely tight security). User posts would need to be monitored and moderated. Recurring questions being asked would have to be investigated and a root cause found. HelpDesk may not get to find out about indicators to more serious issues as users sought peer help for their little piece of the issue. IT staff would ultimately get involved in many ways. If you think I'm being negative, have a look around the Internet at the wealth of user generated peer-to-peer help forums. You'll find a lot of good stuff in there but it's nearly always from a group of tech savvy or expert users. The rest is usually misinformed, short-sighted or downright wrong information. Apply that to your users. How many threads would be started that would end up in a user posting a workaround that your IT team would rather people not use? How many systems would have their reliability, security or usability reduced as a result? How many user-answered questions would have been answered correctly if the user asking for help had pressed F1 and bothered to search for the answer? I like the idea of the social peer-to-peer helpdesk but, ultimately, a lot of IT users in a corporate environment aren't bothered about the right way to do things - just A way to do things. Perhaps a combination of options #2 and #1, plus some training for these expert users, would generate the sort of social helpdesk you would ultimately want to have. An 'Expert Users panel', if you will. Before you start telling me I'm wrong and that "I'm not giving users a chance" and that "modern tech has changed the playing field" and that "everyone goes to the Internet for help as it is so why can't it work here" know that we've tried something similar and it was largely ignored or used to distribute work-arounds that broke other components or security on the PCs. Users aren't usually malicious but they're busy with their own jobs and don't have the luxury of time or patience to sit and think an IT issue through when, a) There's IT staff for that, and b) Their managers are pecking them to do their own jobs. In my experience they just want someone to tell them how to get around it and crack on. Nice idea, could work in the right environment but my experience says 'Nope. Not here, at least'

waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

Ideas 1 & 2 will work but other departments may not be happy. The company is increasing IT staff and non-IT departments are paying the salary. These volunteers who are helping their peers with BYOD and answering basic questions have their own work to do. Depending on the salary and knowledge of the volunteer it may be more cost effective to simply transfer budget from other departments to IT department to staff help desk properly. If this is not feasible politically then you can do the equivalent by asking for volunteers.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Give staff the tools they need to properly field calls. Don't just hand Tim the mail clerk a headset and no training. Umm ahhh and I dunno, aren't going to fix anything. Also create buffers and proper procedures (maintenance hours) so the help desk is not bombarded with silly things - password resets, slow network, etc. It just generates tickets and make life hellish for both sides. Most importantly communicate to your helpdesk what is going on so they are not left in the dark. They are the first line of contact with the end users.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Please tell me that you didn't refer to them like that directly - the connotation there seems a little harsh, even though it certainly doesn't seem to have been intended to insult.

spdragoo
spdragoo

Not to mention that the other major problem I have with #1 is that it assumes that the widespread use of smartphones & tablets means that the users are that much more "technology-savvy"...which so far has no evidence to support it. Case in point: my brother-in-law works in the research division at an HVAC company. He has a smartphone (Android-based)...but while he knows how to use some "cool" apps on it, and he's pretty smart, he isn't at the level of "tech geek" that allows him to swiftly navigate to specific settings on it, let alone handle any technical issues/problems without calling tech support. He'll turn 29 in a few weeks, so he's firmly in that "Gen Y/Millenial" group that supposedly is demanding BYOD for their jobs. I think he's a much better representative of the masses of smartphone users out there than the handful of "techno-geeks" that are trying to push BYOD & "social help".

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

is it assumes users are interested in participating and creating content. My users haven't show any interest in using our existing in-house social tools for knowledge sharing on subjects more directly related to their daily jobs. The other suggestions are pretty good, and we do the second and last ones to some extent.

gscratchtr
gscratchtr

a 'social help desk' sounds like a good (and cheap) idea, but if you frequent the many 'forums' and such sites on the Internet, you will find lots of content: some correct answers, many partially correct answers, some wrong answers, some arguing, a *lot* of assumptions about the akser's knowledge, the same question posted many times, etc. I don't see how such could be effective in a serious, business environment.