Keep your help desk staff informed about the scope of service contracts

Make sure you know what kind of onsite support is available before you tell your user to call a service vendor on the weekend.

Does your help desk support users in two or more geographic locations? If so, your company probably has purchased service agreements with local vendors to provide emergency support for your mission-critical systems. But do you or your users know how to contact those vendors? What response time are they obliged to provide by the contract? And (perhaps most importantly), do they work weekends?

If you can't answer these questions, it's time to create and distribute to your help desk staff a document or database—like the sample shown in Figure A—that lists all of the service providers and the terms of their respective contracts. Making that information accessible to the help desk can make support calls go much smoother during nontraditional business hours.

Figure A: Maintaining a list of vendors who provide on-call service will make it easier for your help desk staff to point users in the right direction.

Who ya gonna call?
A friend told me a tech support horror story. He manages a retail store for a national chain, and when he needs computer support, he calls a toll-free number to the "home office." Most of the time, he tells me, he and the help desk staff can resolve just about any problem that comes up.

Recently, my friend was preparing to close the store on a Saturday night, and the printer broke down. We're talking about one of those wide-carriage impact printers that uses green-and-white bar paper. That printer is one of the few mission-critical pieces of equipment in the store: The system won't let the store close properly until certain daily reports have printed. There are spare registers, but no spare printers.

My friend and the help desk technician on duty tried in vain to troubleshoot the printer and bring it back to life. Finally, the help desk person said, "We've got a service contract on that printer. I'm afraid you're going to have to call that company and request an on-site support call."

Weekend service is extra
The problem arose when my friend contacted the service vendor. It took several minutes just to find the paperwork with the appropriate telephone numbers. Then the representative told my friend there would be a $250 emergency charge to send a technician out during the weekend. "Could it wait until Monday? Then the call will be covered by the maintenance contract," the rep said.

Two lessons come out of this story. First, in hindsight, whoever negotiated the contract with the service company should have included a provision for weekend coverage. Such a provision might cost a little more up front, but that investment pays for itself the first time you need a service call on a Saturday night.

Second, the help desk person should have been fully aware of the options available under the service contract. The poor store manager was already stressed because the equipment failure interrupted the normal business routine. That person didn't need the additional burden of trying to haggle with the service company over the cost and availability of weekend support.

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