When a major outage hits our systems, the support teams do not want to be bombarded with calls, but there is a strong need to disseminate information quickly and accurately.


When I worked the help desk, we used to use a system that allowed us to record a quick announcement so that we could invite people to hang up after they had heard it. We could then get an automatic count of how many calls we got in an outage. Rather than spend ages explaining over and over again about an incident, we could take only calls that were about other matters than the big problem.

When the emergency was over, it was necessary to inform the users. We utilized a pyramid calling system whereby we would call a list of department heads, who would then call a list of team leaders beneath them. In this way we could pass the information quicker than we could have done if we had started to call a whole long list of individual users.

While this might at first sight appear to be a little impersonal, we felt that it was more important to pass the information as quickly as possible. We invited any people who wished to call in and get an update on the problem, but we found that this offer was seldom taken up. We found that people were more keen to get back to work than they were to find out about our technical problems. What they really needed to know was that we were aware of the problem and were working to fix it.

Sometimes I think we spend too long explaining faults to customers and not enough time fixing the problem. The customer appeared to agree with us as well. We found that the level of communication was satisfactory for them, which came as a bit of a surprise. Our Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) system was always a bone of contention with them, because they regarded it as impersonal and unfriendly.

Nobody likes the ACD: the users hear their call being answered by a recording and the help desk analysts can feel pressured by watching the call waiting display and seeing them stack up, yet I don’t know how we could manage without it. When there are only four or five people on the desk and twenty calls come in together something has to take up the slack.

How do you feel about your ACD? Is it a big help to you or do you find it a system too far removed? Take the poll now.