IT Policies

Call priorities - Are we giving the end user the best service?


In recent years there has been a trend for helpdesks to become nothing more than call loggers. The desk used to resolve a lot of problems without passing them to back line support, but now the emphasis seems to be on improving call statistics rather than resolving issues. This can lead to delays in creating resolutions and may even be affecting global warming.

The real skill that helpdesks can offer is communication. They excel in getting to the bottom of problems and, if empowered, can resolve most issues thrown at them. In the early '90s, I worked on a helpdesk where our first time resolution rate was in excess of 95%. It soon became clear that the call stats weren’t being monitored for getting things done but for how long it took to answer the initial call to be picked up.

After this, we passed more calls to second line so that we could achieve the expectations of the ACD. In turn, more calls were passed to field engineers, necessitating field visits. Although the field force usually have better practical skills, their communications skills are often not as well developed. Given the chance, the helpdesk could resolve more calls at the first call, but this would mean a change of tack in the industry.

We are missing an opportunity to skill up our helpdesk analysts and make them a more valued part of the support establishment. It can also increase the staff turnover of the helpdesk, as people get bored with simply becoming human answering machines. The trend has been towards a call centre approach, with operators working from scripts. True, they can get through the initial calls more quickly, but is the end user getting a better service?

I maintain that they aren’t.

Calls might not get answered as quickly, but a few seconds longer wait would mean an overall reduction in down time, and this is the goal that seems to be getting lost in the rush to produce a good set of call statistics in order to have a pretty pie chart to display at monthly progress meetings, surely another case of “Death by Powerpoint”?

I feel that the decision makers at the top of organisations are becoming too remote from the true reason for the existence of the helpdesk, which is to support the end user and get their problems solved so that they can get back to being fully productive as soon as possible.

With the helpdesk being empowered to reset passwords and deal with network problems without having to eat into the second line department’s resources, we used to have a great system of maintaining services and freeing up the specialists to do the jobs they are paid for, and it also gave us a sense of pride and involvement.

The helpdesk is often perceived as the poor relation of the IT department, but they have their own distinct set of skills that are of equal value to any other team.

Do you have any examples of the dumbing down of the helpdesk? Have you seen an increase in the number of inquiries that are passed to back line teams?

Let me know what you views are.

8 comments
Mihnea D. Mironescu
Mihnea D. Mironescu

I guess this strategy brings some savings in the short-term: junior staffers cost less and are easily replaceable, working by respecting a script makes people a bit like dumb robots, so no trouble finding a replacement if (when!) someone leaves. I believe the author is right in saying that just answering a call in a few seconds will not increase customer satisfaction unless it's backed up by real skills. Then again, this Call Center approach is more about the cost cutting than anything else. It offers a greater flexibility for the company -- it's easier to use the follow the sun helpdesk in this manner. Just get the call logged and somebody will eventually solve it. I worked in a big multinational, and the local support team had a lot more to do than logging calls. They did the workstation installations, software installations, user support, resetting passwords, all that didn't require interactive logon on servers. I believe they could have been delegated a few more activities (like managing acces to resources and managing mailboxes) but the core infrastructure was ran by another support group, so that was not an option. I agree that the customer benefits the most from getting quality support the moment he needs it, and that's only possible through skilled and experienced tier 1 support staff.

gleen
gleen

Having worked on the help desk for a fortune 500 company for almost five years with no problems, along comes the new corporate way of thinking.....yes death by powerpoint! About a year ago the company I worked for went to a call center environment. Metrics are ok as long as they are realistic or are tracked to point out the people who goof off. The help desk went to a system where your goal was to only spend 6 minutes and 45 seconds for each call a minimum of 40 calls per day, 80% resolution, not to mention having to log off the phone to go to the bathroom. To me this is just passing the buck kinda attitude, which I couldn't work by only doing half the job. I told my supervisor the metrics may make you look good but it's killing the rest of the company because the other departments because if billing cannot be done because they were told a tech is coming onsite this effects the bottom line. So in essence the metrics only look good on paper kind of like a personal home budget it works on paper but in reality it doesn't. But my comments fell upon deaf ears. This is no way to work and produces extra stress having to play beat the clock. When I call a help desk for tech support I want to receive help not be told a tech will have to call her back. So in closing I would like to say bring back tech support and leave answering the phone to an operator.

fractalzoom
fractalzoom

As IT organizations implement ACD metrics and set performance targets, the key is to stay focused on the underlying reason we're doing the exercise in the first place - SUPPORTING THE BUSINESS. It's not about the metrics, it's about the support, and if we focus only on the metrics for their own sake we run the risk of making decisions that are good for the metrics but bad for the business. Don't make policy based on metrics. Instead set metrics designed for the desired outcome - SUPPORTING THE BUSINESS!

patgardner
patgardner

I manage the Help Desk for a statewide application. Not only are my 1st Tier expected to log the call, but to resolve it as well. It is a rare occasion when my 2nd Tier is involved, and rarer still when we have to contact the developers. Logging is done, but not to tell me how quickly they get a call completed. We use it to identify user training issues, and/or program bugs or enhancements. The Help Desk personnel are included on all system upgrades or new installations. This is different from some other places I have worked, where Help Desk was expected to get their knowledge via osmosis!

PGS-AU
PGS-AU

One should look at the qualifications 'required' in Sydney for 1st level helpdesk staff. Uni degree + MSCSE + Notes + AD and several other 'high end' apps - all for $40k (AUD) on a 24/7 basis. Those just starting are having a bad time getting a foot in.

bdash
bdash

Having suffered at the hands of various call centres, especially our own notorious Telstra, I agree entirely with Jeff Dray. I now have the delightful experience of being Helpdesk Manager for a company that actually believes in the end result not just the stats and is willing to invest in staff and training to make it happen. In fact they even resent being called a "call centre" but insist on the term "Helpdesk" or "Customer Service Centre". Helpdesk Manager's Heaven !!.

jlawrence
jlawrence

Lack of internal training for the front line call guys and company de-emphasis of support have to be two of the main contributors to this. Companies will either pay lip service to quality as a function of your business or actually decide to sell the best darn widget in the world. The TS guy are the people that need to know the product inside and out, from a technical standpoint, so that they can efficiently convey the correct information to the customer, not run down a punch list. Any company that's knocking down 95% of the questions directed at them will have happy customers. I think someone made a bad managerial decision there. Better diagnostics, documentation, and a comprehensive error list other than 'Err.Number & " " & Err.Description' are necessities to supporting customers. But, as most of us in development know, there is little time devoted to documentation and diagnostics, because marketing needs the product shipped. Add to that the managerial concept that Support is a cost center, generating no real revenue, and you can see why calling Support has turned into a cringing, mind-numbing experience for most customers. At the other end of the spectrum is the user who refuses to read any documentation. I see a lot of SI's using Tech. Support to help in the design of their systems, because they have no knowledge of the product that they are working with. This usually results in a bad software experience for the customer as well as the systems integrator --- and the company that sells the product suffers from higher support costs and gets an ex-customer who will probably not buy the next version. What's the answer? Use intuitive interfaces, keep the product documentation organized and up to date, design some smartware to help the user diagnose his problem, and train the TS guys up, for starters. A good, free knowledgebase can help reduce calls, and generate revenue when more than the standard KB stuff is needed.

datababe
datababe

I do see this as a growing trend, first hand experience. I am increasingly receiving relays from 1st tier support with no more description than "pc is slow". I was at first attributing this to more novices at the helpdesk - but this article has given me a bit more food for thought.

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