In a recent Help Desk Advisor column, I suggested that one way to reduce the number of help desk calls is to look in the help desk log. There, you should be able to tell which problems are the most frequently reported, and then find a way to train your end users on how to avoid those problems.

This week, I’d like to take that idea a step further. In addition to trolling the help desk log looking for recurring themes, I suggest that one of the best things you can do for the end users you support is to give them a written reference to help them learn the basic skills they need to be competent, mostly self-sufficient computer users.

We’re hard at work creating a list of the most-asked help desk questions and their solutions. If you’d care to tell us about your frequent queries, send us an e-mail and we may add your question and solution to our download.

In the mean time, here are some suggestions for ensuring that your user base will use the documentation you create for them.

How do you ensure users will read the lessons you give them?
In response to my suggestions for providing users with written reference materials, TechRepublic member DKSmith e-mailed and said, “These solutions are great and will lighten your load, but there are people that will never read the manual, the weekly newsletter, or whatever you give them because they believe it is your job to help them with whatever problem they have.”

I frankly don’t agree with DKSmith. I believe that most users would rather not call for computer help, and that they would rather be self-sufficient. I’m willing to bet that if your end users don’t appear to be reading the training materials or newsletters—or aren’t getting any value out of those publications—it’s because they’re poorly written.

For example, if you’re getting lots of calls from users who have locked themselves out of the network because they forgot their “new” password, guess what? Maybe you—the help desk—are at fault because you didn’t provide enough written (or personal) training on the subject.

Think outside the training box
So, in addition to creating good documentation and sharing it with end users, what can the IT support team do to raise the overall skill level of your end users? Some of the common solutions include:

  • Post tips on the intranet. Yeah, I know, some of your users won’t visit the intranet. Gee, maybe your intranet is poorly designed. Does it have printer-friendly lessons? Is it updated with company news or other information (besides tech tips) on at least a monthly basis? If not, don’t blame the users for not reading it. Put a little polish on it.
  • Send an e-newsletter to all employees. If the company can send out global e-mail blasts about parking problems, company get-togethers, and other “fluffy” topics, surely employees will read a global e-mail titled “Tips for remembering your new password” or “How to be a better computer user.” Again, the key is to choose lessons that are valuable to as many employees as possible and to make the e-mail itself easy to read and to follow. If people are autodeleting notes from the IT department, maybe it’s because previous messages have been hastily scribbled by some alpha geek who isn’t the company’s best writer.
  • Conduct live training. Is there at least one person in the IT department willing to budget time to schedule and conduct PC skills training in the company? Is there at least one room on the corporate campus that can be turned into a decent training room? If so, get that person into that room, and schedule some computer classes.

Training is part of tech support. If you don’t conduct at least one training session per month, you’re not providing all the support you should be providing.

Get tough by going public with statistics
One of TechRepublic’s senior editors wrote me with a suggestion that I’ve seen succeed in several shops: Shame. Here are two specific ideas.

First, try “shame-mail.” When one of my former employers became concerned with the ever-increasing size of user accounts on the Exchange server, the IT department started sending out shame-mail once a month. The e-mail simply said: “It is every employee’s responsibility to keep their e-mail boxes to a reasonable size. The following 20 employees have accounts of 150 MB or larger. Please take time to clean out your unneeded mail messages.”

And then they listed the “top 20” offenders’ names and the number of MB in each e-mail account. It worked because the people on the list didn’t want to stay there, and they cleaned out their accounts. Other users didn’t want to get on the list, so they paid more attention to e-mail message maintenance.

In some shops, you have to be careful about encouraging users to delete mail messages that might potentially be considered valuable company property. If that’s an issue in your shop, spell out the company’s e-mail guidelines when you send out the shame-mail.

Here’s a less public way to “shame” employees. Using the help desk trouble ticket database, generate a list of This Month’s Top Ten Most Frequent Callers. Then forward the list of employees and the number of times they’ve called the help desk to the appropriate departmental managers.

Some of you may consider that approach to be on the aggressive side, and it is. But remember, your mission isn’t to tattle—it’s to shine the light on the help desk abusers. When you transmit this information to the managers, you should simultaneously volunteer to provide some additional training for the frequent callers. You don’t want to get anyone in trouble. You just want them to make better use of the help desk resource.

TechRepublic member MultiMediaMinistry likes this approach, and wrote: “One of the things we try to stress with end-users is to only call if it is critical to their job. There is nothing worse than getting a call about a new game they have installed.”

Train all, support all
It’s true that without end users, there wouldn’t be any need for the help desk. But the people who work on the help desk have a bird’s-eye view of the problems end users face. It only makes sense that the help desk pros are the best-qualified people in the organization to create and implement training that helps eliminate some of those problems.

Sound off

To comment on this Help Desk Advisor column, or to share your own tips for educating end users, please post a comment or write to Jeff.