Auditing. It can be an ugly word, bringing up images of Big Brother. But more and more, help desks are testing their analysts with calls from ringers. Is it dishonest? Does it work? How do you go about it?

Is auditing dishonest?
Actually, if done properly, not only can auditing your help desk be honest, it can be a great experience that strengthens the team. The hard part is doing the audit in secret without making your employees feel spied upon.

One way to do it is to arrange to have yourself assessed first. Find out what your strengths and weaknesses as a leader are and be frank with your people on the results. Imagine this scenario. You call a brief team meeting and announce to your staff, “Recently I was assessed by an auditing team. For about a week, they listened to my phone calls, read my e-mail, and investigated my general work. I thought I should share the results with you.

“It turns out I’m very good at listening and I don’t easily get flustered. I do, however, need to work on my organizational skills. I’m sure that comes as a shock to most of you. I’m looking right now for a CBT on organizational skills. I’m telling you this because I would like your help in making our little operation the most organized in the company. There’s no point in going through this if I can’t make us better for it.”

Now, not only have you opened the door to the fact that this company occasionally audits its employees, you are letting your employees know you intend to take it as a good thing. This way, if someone begins to get defensive, you can point out that you know exactly how this person feels but finding out how others viewed your performance actually helped.

Does auditing work?
Auditing does work. There are three possible outcomes:

  • The first result is that your team will prove to be awesome, with very little need for improvement. Does this mean the audit was a waste of money? Only if you don’t believe the results. If it was a good audit, you can take the awesome results and share them with your company’s Grand Poohbahs. They love to see results like that as well.
  • The second and most likely possibility is that the audit will come back showing some good results and some not so good. You still have bragging rights with the good results but the not-so-good results are also useful. You now have proof of the areas, or people, that need work. Chances are you’ve at least suspected those needs for some time. With the results of an audit, you have the backing you need to force some changes. People can’t feel picked on either. After all, just a few weeks ago you announced your own weaknesses and what you were doing to improve them.
  • The third and least likely possibility is that your team will have major problems. While that’s not a scenario any manager wants to face, wouldn’t you rather tell your boss that your team is in trouble than have your boss tell you? If you’re armed with the facts beforehand, you can go to upper management with a plan in mind.

How do you go about an audit?
I called Eugene Ball of Help Desk Solutions Inc. to find out how to go about testing a help desk. He had several good suggestions:

  1. More than one person should make the calls.
  2. If your help desk requires an ID number before assisting, you will have to have several available.
  3. Ask questions that range from the easiest to solve to the most difficult.
  4. Make it a point to ask at least one question that requires a call back.
  5. Call at random times, over a period of at least a week.
  6. Call during all hours of operation, even 2 A.M. if you are a 24-hour shop.
  7. Score each analyst on knowledge, courtesy, and speed. On the callbacks, make note of how quickly the analyst got back with the answer and how well they kept the caller informed of progress.

One method of testing your team would be to take these tips and ask a few managers from other departments to help you out. It might be best, however, to seriously consider hiring an outside auditor, for a couple of reasons. The first goes back to team trust issues. It’s one thing to learn that your boss asked people to check you out. It’s quite another to recognize a manager’s voice and wonder why he or she is trying to trick you. It’s an insecure feeling you don’t want spreading through your team.

Another reason to hire an independent is credibility. You will want to take your results to upper management. If you or fellow employees conducted the audit, and got great results, those in power will be less likely to believe you.

Since Help Desk Solutions provides auditing services, I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Ball for some pricing info. He e-mailed the following: “Prices may vary depending on the complexity and size of the Help Desk to be surveyed.

“The price quoted is for a one-time survey. The calls would be over a short period of time, normally a week. Some customers may decide to contract for a continuing survey, e.g., to continue to make these calls over an extended period. This allows the customer to get a report monthly, and review the results as changes occur in staff, procedures, products supported, etc.”

1 to 10 support analysts $2,000 to $2,600
10 to 50 support analysts $3,000 to $4,000
50 or more support analysts $3,000 minimum

Whether you test your team yourself or hire a group like Help Desk Solutions, checking out your staff from time to time is a good idea. Be prepared to work on changes, though. That’s the whole point of this exercise.
Pat Vickers is an MCSE currently with Sprint. To comment on this article, please post your remarks below or follow this link to write to Pat.