A well-developed call cycle can help you get to the bottom of a caller’s problem. You can create a call cycle by splitting the basic phases of a help desk call into simple, recognizable sections. Once you’ve mastered this technique, you can handle a call uniformly and effectively, which will help not only the caller but your colleagues as well.

1. Listen: And take control of the call
Take control of the call by immediately asking for the caller’s contact and problem information. While the caller describes the problem, you can open the call log and enter this information.
When taking a call, be sure to “hot log” the problem, that is, enter the details into your help desk’s call tracking system while you are actually talking to the caller. Hot logging reduces the chance for incorrect data entry and allows you to close the call more quickly.
You might find it hard to listen if the caller is not communicating well, whether due to frustration, nerves, or anxiety. If this is the case, you can steer the conversation in the right direction by asking closed questions (ones that can only be answered with a yes or a no).

Occasionally, I digress to other subjects during a support call. For example, I might use the time it takes for a PC to reboot to discuss the weather. This shows the caller that he or she is speaking to a real person rather than a support-providing automaton. If you digress, however, be sure to move the conversation back to the problem at hand once the PC has rebooted or a piece of software has finished installing.

2. Acknowledge the problem: Let the caller know you understand his or her predicament
Recap the caller’s problem. This allows the caller to clarify any details you might have missed the first time around. Another trick I use is to summarize the problem but alter a detail so that the caller has the opportunity to correct the information. This technique allows me to check that communication is working in both directions.

3. Provide the solution: Make sure the caller understands what he or she needs to know
Be sure to make the solution easy to understand (e.g., don’t overwhelm a novice with an overly technical explanation) and make sure the caller understands what you just said. Outline why the problem occurred and give concise details of the fix. If alternative solutions to the problem exist, ask additional questions to see whether these potential fixes might work better for the caller.

4. Recap the call: Make sure the caller understands and feels comfortable with the resolution
Recap your conversation and invite the caller to ask additional questions. Close the call with an agreed course of action. Make sure the caller knows to call again if he or she needs further assistance but always try to leave things on an upbeat note. Finally, thank the person for calling and end the call. Do not hang up too abruptly, however. Let the caller hang up first. I think doing so seems less pushy.

5. Check your facts: Make life easier for your colleagues
Double-check your call log and make sure that your comments are concise and accurate. Your coworkers may need to revisit the problem later, and they will need to know exactly what transpired because you may not be there to answer any questions.

If you hot logged the call, you can probably close the problem log at the same time the call ends. That way, you’ll be ready to take the next call as soon as it comes.
What do you think of Jeff Dray’s five-step call cycle? Will his suggestions help you and your organization provide better support? Post a comment or write to Jeff Dray and share your thoughts.