IT Policies

Help desk "open days" could help forge bond between support and users

Getting people to use the help desk can be a tricky thing but it can be made easier by building relationships with end users.

Continuing my quest for openness and accessibility for the help desk and wondering what to do whilst lounging at home recovering from surgery, I got to thinking about ways to get people to use the help desk.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One thought I was turning over in my head was an idea for Help Desk "open days." It would be a way to get people to walk into the office and meet the people who work there. I would make up a few leaflets, laminate a few cards that listed the opening hours and contact details, and hold question-and-answer sessions, so that the help desk could keep abreast of the issues that affect the users directly.

To me it is very important to keep track of what is going on not only in the IT department but also in the general user community. If there is an influx of new people in the company, we need to make sure that all the preparatory work is done, that they have logins and equipment, and that the necessary places are booked on training courses. If you have the help desk as part of the company and not some remote voice on the end of the phone, it means that people will feel easier about coming forward and asking for things.

It is also harder for them to give you a hard time if they know you as a person.

It has often been the practice of some companies to hide the help desk away in a basement or even in another building, thus emphasizing the remote nature of our work. That is fine if you are supporting remote workers, but I feel it is better if the help desk is part of the community and people look on us as colleagues rather than as another external supplier of services that may not have anything to do with the business.

My estimate is that there is a 80/20 skill balance between customer service and technical skills for the average help desk analyst, and I feel that it is important that we all recognize this balance. In the past I have encountered people with superlative technical skills and knowledge who I would never allow within a hundred yards of a customer; paradoxically, I know many excellent help desk analysts who have very little technical knowledge but who do have the skills to listen, record, and glean information from all sources in order to build resolutions.

With this in mind, opening the help desk up to visitors will give end users a better image of the IT department and will give the help desk free access to the issues faced in the real world by real users.

TechRepublic's User Support newsletter, delivered Tuesday and Friday, features blogs, tips, and white papers designed for IT support pros. Automatically sign up today!

4 comments
tech10171968
tech10171968

This reminds me of the time I worked for a TV repair shop. In this particular shop the front counter was seperated from the back area (where all the tech benches were) by an open walkway; one only needed to take a few steps to wind up in the work area. Sometimes a customer would come in with an attitude because his television wasn't magically repaired the next day; the usual procedure was to let the customer speak with our boss, whose desk was in the work area immediately behind the counter. When the customer stepped to the back to spew his venom, however, he would get a full and unadulterated view of exactly how many units were in the shop ahead of his; he'd also see all the electronics schematics, test equipment (multimeters, oscillioscopes, spectrum analyzers, ect.) being used in the repairs. The result was that the customer, after seeing just how complex his TV happened to be (as well as the complexity of electronics repair) would usually pipe down and soften his stance a bit. Having a sort of "open house" for the help desk (or even the IT depeartment) could possibly have the same effect. Once your users see that this IT thing isn't just a bunch of voodoo, is far more complicated than they'd realized, and that they sometimes contribute to the problem, they may just cut your department some slack on the next trouble call. They don't necessarily have to walk a mile in your shoes; they just have to get a glimpse of how the other half lives.

ehorwitz1
ehorwitz1

I was imagining the repair shop and started to laugh a little. If you want to impress users with the magnitude of the job, don't have the open house near Halloween, Xmas, or any of the other many holidays when your group is likely to be dressed up, decorated in some goofy manner, or tossing mini-footballs down the aisles! While I agree in general with your comments, I think it is more important to meet customers (or users, or whatever description you choose) on their own turf both phyically and during the support call. We're not in business to "protect" IT from its users; we're there to help the business succeed. That means helping people in the company to do their jobs, or at the very least, to make sure our systems don't get in the way. I think the intention of the original article was building personal relationships, which is always a good thing for so many reasons. Personalizing and connecting with that otherwise disembodied voice at the other end of the phone helps smooth out an encounter that is usually initiated because of a problem. One of my pet peeves about IT, for so many years, is one I have definitely been guilty of in the past. IT folks generally think everyone should know more about computers. We tend to look down on those who don't know more, are afraid of their computers, won't take time to learn more, or don't remember how to fix something we told them about at least once, no matter how long ago it was. Remember: The important thing to an accountant is accounting, NOT what brand or speed cpu chip is in his desktop system. The sales guy with the laptop who's always calling with problems needs to sell, place orders, and do followup, NOT worry about VPN, secure routing and whether he's backing up on a removable drive or on your server remotely. Some of these folks are interested but most of them couldn't care less about those neato details that we tend to debate endlessly. And you know what? They shouldn't have to care, or know, the things we know and care about. The technology is supposed to be a help, not a new set of hindrances. If it presents a whole new set of roadblocks and frustrations then the implementation or the UI or whatever needs to be rethought and redesigned. Sorry - I could go off on this one for days, I'm afraid. My general point is that people want and need to get something done, and our technology and help are there to aid them in accomplishing that goal. If we can make it a fun or happy or more personal encounter, or at least lessen the pain, so much the better!

ehorwitz1
ehorwitz1

Jeff: Thanks! You have done an excellent job of concisely stating most of my major beliefs about managing a successful Help Desk. There really is no substitute for personal contact - when possible - to create winning relationships that make the Help Desk AND the customer more successful. I have used "planned wandering about" in the past. Send one of the call center folks out to an office wearing a lab coat, stethescope and clipboard (or without, but try it! You'll get a great response.). They introduce themselves to the folks they don't know. Then just be personable and be helpful. Ask if the person has any questions or regular problems, like the ones they're embarrased to ask or the ones they haven't reported for some reason. Ask for permission to observe the person working, and possibly offer one or two suggestions to make the person's work easier. It's rare that a decent rep doesn't observe some simple thing that can be done more easily. It doesn't take long for the "doctor" to become a very welcome figure in the office, which translates to better relationships, more productive help desk calls and more understanding on BOTH ENDS of the phone. Basically, a win-win. Try it - it's fun and productive for all involved. Good luck!

cupcake
cupcake

When I helped establish the first internal help desk for a company way back in 1989, we came up with a kitchy (friendly, approachable) reference - OSCAR, One Step Computing And Recovery, complete with a 'mascot'. We were located right smack dab in the middle of the third floor in a 5 story building. We had an 'open house' and invited everyone to join us and gave away mouse pads, mugs, pens, stress balls with our log and phone number as well as when making 'house calls'. Whenever call volume allowed, we did do 'house calls' and offered up extra services and training. It was well received and one of the highlights of my IT career. Had one heck of a boss and the support of his superiors. I have always been sort of sad when at subsequent companies where the help desk has been referred to as the 'helpless desk'... even though I haven't done techsup in some years, I feel the pain of too much to do, not enough resources and no support from the company.

Editor's Picks