In many call centers, help desk analysts spend a lot of time explaining the same things over and over. For some analysts, those repetitive calls represent job security. They don’t mind a bit explaining for the umpteenth time how to change a password. They like restoring files from backups for users who frequently lose important documents. But for other analysts, answering the same old questions gets boring and contributes to burnout.

So what can the help desk manager do to cut down on the number of these types of calls? First, identify the top 10 or 20 questions most often asked by end users. Second, publicize the answers to those questions by way of new-employee orientation, e-mail newsletters, or lessons posted on your intranet. However, putting computer literacy lessons in front of your end users doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll pay attention to them—but it’s a good start.

Look for trends in time as well as topic
The end users who call your help desk are telling you something, but are you listening? If you’re a help desk manager who can’t name the top five most frequently asked questions, shame on you. You should be paying better attention to how your analysts are spending their time.

In most call centers, analysts are required to document each and every call in a database commonly known as the help desk log. If you maintain such a database, you should review the call records on a regular basis, looking for trends.

For every call, capture a keyword
The trends most easily spotted are calls for which the same keywords have been entered into the database. If your analysts are entering the information accurately and consistently, you should be able to count the number of calls having to do with a “password change” or “printer problem.”

If your end users frequently forget their passwords after they change them, there may not be much you can do to lower the number of those calls. Some end users just never master the art of creating and remember passwords, no matter how much you train them or remind them.

On the other hand, if your database shows frequent calls about the same printer being jammed, out of toner, or out of paper, guess what? You can do something about that problem. There may be too many people using that printer and it’s overworked, or maybe it just needs servicing. Either way, there’s no reason your help desk should answer a dozen calls every week about the same printer. Just fix (or replace) the printer, and you should see a drop in the number of calls about it.

Look for rush hour in the help desk
The other trends in the help desk log have to do with timing of the calls. If your help desk routinely gets a rush of calls around the same time every day, on the same day of the week, or at the beginning or end of every month, you might be able to identify and prevent the underlying reason for those calls.

For example, when I was recently analyzing the records in a trouble ticket database for a national healthcare provider, I sorted all of the calls by time of day and subtotaled them within nearest half-hour. When I looked at the results, I noticed that a disproportionate number of calls came in between 5:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M.—the time when most employees are packing up and heading home for the day.

When I dug a little deeper, I learned that the majority of the calls were coming from users in facilities on the West Coast. It turned out that those users were being denied access to a particular production server. The number of calls always spiked on days when that server was being taken offline for maintenance—between 5:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. eastern time, when users on the West Coast still had several hours of work to go.

In that case, it was a fairly simple matter to eliminate those calls about access to a server. The folks in the eastern time zone simply rescheduled the downtime for that server.

Let’s build a list together
In my opinion, when it comes to eliminating frivolous calls to the help desk, it isn’t enough just to keep a close eye on the help desk log. I think we should be proactive about managing end-user skill sets and teach them how to be proficient computer users.

That’s why I’m inviting you to help create a list of Essential Lessons for All PC Users. This is your chance for a bit of “cyberfame.” In that list, we’ll identify the core skills that we as IT professionals take for granted, but that many end users have never learned—probably because no one took the time to show them.

Member input helps create useful lists

TechRepublic members have a great track record when it comes to compiling useful lists. Some of the all-time most popular downloads on TechRepublic have come from reader suggestions, including “200 ways to revive a hard drive” and “The ultimate preventive maintenance checklist.”

To kick things off, here are my suggestions for the list of Essential Lessons for All PC Users:

How to create and remember a “strong” password
This lesson addresses one of the most common reasons for calling the help desk. One of my consulting clients is getting ready to implement a new password policy under which network passwords will begin to expire every 90 days. When we publish the download, I’ll share the tips and tricks I wrote to help end users create and remember their passwords.

If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it
When it comes to disconnecting and reconnecting monitors, keyboards, and mice, some users need to be reminded that a kindler, gentler approach prevents broken pins and cables.

Shut down before powering down
The frantic user complaining about Scandisk running all of the time may not realize that one shouldn’t be unplugging the PC to power it down.

The CD drive isn’t a cup holder
This is an old joke in tech support, but help desk analysts have to remember that some end users have never seen a CD drive before. It’s an easy mistake to make.

The “O” on the I/O switch stands for “Off”
If you’ve ever spent 10 minutes on the phone with a user whose “screen is blank,” you know this one isn’t a joke.

Potted plants go anywhere but on top of the monitor
Related lessons include, “Don’t put your computer in front of the heating vent.”

How to add a printer
If your users have trouble keeping up with their network printers, maybe no one has explained how the Add Printer Wizard works.

Files are lost more often than they’re accidentally deleted
Pressing [Windows]F summons the Search For Files And Folders dialog—even under Windows XP! I can’t count the number of times users have called, fearing that they must have deleted a file because “It isn’t there any more.” Then a quick search of the disk turns up the file in question. Teach users how to find a file or folder, and you’ll eliminate a lot of false alarms from users who want you to restore a file from backup.

The download went where you put it
If your users have trouble locating downloaded files, it’s probably because they’re not paying attention to the Save In field in the Download dialog box. Users need to be taught how to navigate between drives and folders.

Save time with File | Send To | As Attachment
Microsoft Office users waste countless hours closing their documents, creating a new mail message, and then trying to navigate back to their documents to attach them. Change your users’ lives by teaching them File | Send To, which lets them mail a spreadsheet or a document without leaving Excel or Word.

Those are some of the first lessons I’d like to drill into the heads of many of my end users. To add your contributions to the mix, post a comment to this article or drop us a note. We’ll compile all the best suggestions in a free download that you can publish for the end users in your company who need a helping hand.

Contribute to the list of essential PC skills all end users need

Is there a critical lesson you’d like to teach to all end users? To put in your two cents, post a comment or write to Jeff.