CXO

10 bad habits IT helpdesk professionals must break

Customer service workers are often the face of tech companies. Here are 10 habits IT employees must break to become more effective at their jobs.

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Image: iStockphoto/AndreyPopov

Demand for helpdesk technical support jobs exceeds that for support specialists and desktop support positions, according to a recent study of IT job postings by Igloo.

Unlike some jobs in the industry, these tech support positions tend to be easier to obtain, though salaries may be lower, and positions are often entry-level. "However, the position is vital to the success of an organization and demands people who are patient, knowledgeable, problem solvers," the report stated.

A number of common mistakes arise for those in the field that could make your job less effective and more difficult. Here are the 10 most crucial bad habits to break when you become a helpdesk professional.

SEE: Help Desk Policy (Tech Pro Research)

1. Cherry-picking tickets

Helpdesk departments usually use a ticketing system to manage customer interactions. Sometimes, everyone rushes to take on the easy tickets and avoid the tickets that involve more work or more complex problems, said Marina Lee, customer service manager at The SSL Store.

"This doesn't help anyone in the long-run," Lee said. "If the agents only ever work tickets that are 'easy' for them, they'll never be challenged and gain more knowledge about the product or service they're supporting. Additionally, customer service departments often have a set way they prioritize tickets to be worked that ensures all customers are taken care of in a timely manner, cherry-picking destroys those priorities and can damage customer relationships."

2. Impersonal, overly formal speech

"The biggest mistakes helpdesk professionals make is communicating with customers in ways that feels impersonal," said Jamie Domenici, VP of SMB marketing at Salesforce. "While it may be easier to use a script, or send a templated email when you are trying to respond to a customer quickly, the more work service teams put into building exceptional customer service experiences, the more they'll get out."

While being polite is a must for a helpdesk professional, very formal language may alienate your client, said Eirini Kafourou, communications specialist at Megaventory. "We have noticed that the people who contact our customer support are usually feeling bad that they had to ask for help and try to ask as few questions as possible," she said. "Replying in a playful tone helps them relax and continue asking more, as if they had a friend helping them."

3. Too few staff per shift

It's critical to have enough people working the helpdesk phone line or chat, so that users are not stuck waiting minutes at a time for a response, said Keith Baumwald, founder of LEVERAG Consulting. "This quickly becomes infuriating, especially for customers who are already upset," he added.

4. Inability for low-level staff to make decisions

The best way to win back an angry customer is to quickly resolve their issue, Baumwald said. "Your helpdesk needs to have the power to do that so that customers aren't forced to wait for a decision from a manager," he said. "The ability to resolve issues on their own will also help raise the morale of your team."

5. Wearing your emotions on your sleeve

Check your emotions, and do whatever is needed to remain calm on the job, said HR consultant Laura MacLeod. "If you had a bad morning, you may need to take a few minutes before you start the shift. Deep breathing, eating breakfast, short meditation, chat with a friend. Get yourself centered and ready," she said. "You will prevent 'bad habits'—like getting defensive and arguing with customers, being dismissive or trivializing the problem. These things happen when you're not fully prepared—be ready."

Tech support employees have the ability to create lasting impressions, driving loyalty and brand goodwill for the company they represent, according to Todd Chretien, senior vice president of customer solutions at Asurion. "First and foremost, tech experts have to separate the business process from their personality, letting their knowledge, empathy and patience shine when dealing with customers," he said.

SEE: How IBM wants to use Watson to speed up IT help desk support

6. Responding with just a yes or no

It's easy for any helpdesk professional to increase their "sent emails" KPI by simply responding to tickets with yes or no answers, said Steven Macdonald, digital marketing manager at SuperOffice. But this bad habit only leads to more requests being sent by your customers, which means an increase in workload for you and your team, he said.

"To be more effective at your job, try to respond in full and answer all the customer's questions within the first response," Macdonald said. "Our own customer service research found that only 11% of companies are able to do this, so there's a huge opportunity here to create a superior customer experience."

Now more than ever, customers have higher expectations and are more educated, which means help desk professionals are expected to provide information, as well as clear guidance, said Michael Mills, senior vice president of call center solutions at CGS. "One habit that helpdesk professionals need to break in order to address customer demand is being merely a 'repository of information,'" he said. "Instead, helpdesk professionals should be knowledgeable, passionate brand experts, creating trust with customers and confidence in the information and guidance they provide."

7. Misunderstanding the business issue behind the support request

When a customer calls into a helpdesk, they often express their issue in technical terms, and helpdesk workers generally jump into solving that technical issue. However, sometimes the problem the technician fixes is purely technical and does not solve the actual problem from the user's perspective, according to Eric Hobbs, CEO of Technology Associates.

He gave the following example: User calls in a panic, their cloud based payroll system is acting funny and won't allow the user to update certain information, and payroll is due in a few hours. The technician checks to ensure the browser is up to date, disables other extensions, clears the cache, and performs a reboot, but nothing seems to work. Eventually the technician calls the payroll vendor, and finds out that there is a problem with the software itself. In this case, the problem from the user's perspective was getting payroll updated, while the problem from the technician's perspective was getting the application to work.

"Always take time to understand the business issue behind the support request before starting to work on a technical solution," Hobbs said.

8. Lacking confidence in your solution

Tech support workers should never answer a question when they aren't confident that they have the right solution, said Trent Silver of Nerdster.com. "In the tech industry, this could lead to equipment damages. In the customer service industry, a company could lose clients, face lawsuits, and have other large consequences," Silver said. "If a representative does not know the answer to something, it is often best to send the client to someone higher up the chain who may know the answer. It may be an inconvenience, but it minimizes the potential for damage and conflict."

9. Not prioritizing the customer

In a given workday, helpdesk professionals often have 10 different things on their plate, said Amy Downs, chief customer success and happiness officer at Lifesize. "Help your customer, help your coworker, do your job is our ladder of priorities," Downs said. "It reminds our support team to always put the customer first and reassures them, even with their other numerous work responsibilities, they will never be reprimanded for doing so. The next priority is helping our coworker, because by doing that you are most likely also helping a customer. Then do your job."

It's also dangerous to make assumptions about the technical aptitude of the customer, said Christopher Buono, CIO of Anteris Solutions. "With the potential to cut both ways, the more common situation occurs when the helpdesk technician unwittingly assumes that the customer understands the same technical references, acronyms, and/or jargon that the technician lives-and-breathes daily," he said. This has the result of making a helpless-feeling customer feel even more helpless."

10. Ignoring practice reviews

Since the pace of work for helpdesk professionals is so fast, and much of the work is reactive, there is often limited time for auditing and reviewing solutions once they have gone live, said Kimberley Homer, digital PR and content strategist at Venn Digital. "If not properly managed, this could lead to missed opportunities and underlying issues that cause business critical errors, that are in a lot of cases, unavoidable," Homer said. "Due to the industry moving so quickly what we deliver today could be outdated in a matter of weeks."

If a team has the resources to be able to retrospectively review platforms to pre-empt and even alert the client to proposed or actioned changes, it can make for a better service, she added.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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