There are days on the help desk when you wonder if a full moon has caused every end user to lose whatever PC sense they had. When such calls come flooding in, having an effective help desk triage policy is critical to providing quality, timely support. Such a policy serves as a guide for your help desk analysts when ranking calls for service, and it helps your end users understand when they will receive service.

To help you develop a triage policy that works for your organization, TechRepublic has developed a sample “Help desk triage policy.” You can download and modify this simple document to fit your organization’s specific needs. Here are some things to consider when creating your company’s triage policy.

Define your objectives with a policy
A help desk can’t function efficiently or effectively without clear decision paths. The key to defining these decision paths is to make sure the organization’s critical business systems are always addressed first. The IT support department of CNET Networks, TechRepublic’s parent company, uses a service level agreement (SLA) model to prioritize IT problems.

“The SLAs are based on whether an individual or entire group is affected and whether there is a workaround or if it is a work-stoppage issue,” according to Justine Nguyen, CNET’s Manager of Support. “Group and individual work stoppage issues (no network connectivity, blue screens, or dead hard drives) are always prioritized above minor inconveniences that affect a group or individuals.”

These SLAs are defined by how the issue affects the company and its mission. The issues given the highest priority are those that directly affect mission-critical corporate systems. Such issues include large-scale network outages, critical server failures, VIP calls for assistance (i.e., CEO, senior executives, and their assistants), and the like. Although rarely spelled out in a triage policy, VIP problems are typically given the highest priority both for political reasons and because keeping the top management functioning is critical to the company’s operation.

Craft a policy specific to your organization
Just as the policy must reflect an organization’s political structure in some sense, it should also reflect the individual characteristics of the organization.

When support technician Ted Laun joined TechRepublic, we were a small but rapidly growing dot com. The company had outgrown its network structure and many of the calls for help that he answered were network-related.

It wasn’t long before Laun was faced with upgrading all the laptops and workstations to Windows 2000. This changed his priorities when it came to responding to service calls. If the issue was software- or driver-related and would likely require more than an hour to troubleshoot, it was quicker to simply upgrade the user to Windows 2000 and kill two birds with one stone.

Another high-priority group to Laun are remote users who often find themselves in hotel rooms, isolated from the company.

“If you have a problem and you’re in the building, you can probably go next door and do something on someone else’s computer,” Laun said. “If you’re sitting in a hotel room somewhere and you need to fix a presentation or make your modem work, you are idle until you get some help.”

Don’t forget about your own support needs
As TechRepublic grew and the calls for service increased, Laun, who was now managing several techs, became frustrated when his staff would indiscriminately desert a help desk project to rush off and help an end user.”That’s what I think gets help desks in trouble,” he said. “Even though it’s our job to help end users, sometimes our projects will help all the end users.”

Although the help desk’s first mission is to serve the end user, don’t forget that sometimes the help desk tech is the end user. Remember to prioritize your own projects the same way you prioritize the problems and projects of other departments.

Download our policy

Don’t get stuck trying to explain why your help desk is helping one person instead of another. Grab a copy of our helpful “Help desk triage policy,” modify it to fit your organization’s critical missions, and then circulate it to company department managers so they will know why your staff does what it does when it does it.