Do you provide 24/7 technical support for your customers? Or maybe your help desk supports only in-house users and only from 9 to 5. No matter what level of coverage you provide, there’s one question you must answer: Are your help desk operators meeting the needs of your customers?

This week, my message is for every IT manager responsible for help desk operations. For just a moment, forget about the customers who actually talk to your operators, and focus on reducing the number of customers who hang up without getting help.
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Goal: Reduce the number of abandoned calls
Most CDR (call detail reporting) systems generate statistics such as the total number of incoming calls, the number of calls answered, and the number of minutes spent on each call. But there’s another piece of the reporting puzzle that too often gets overlooked: the number of abandoned calls. If your CDR system is able to track abandoned calls, create a graph like the one shown in Figure A and measure your help desk’s progress over time.

Figure A
Use a graph like this one to measure the progress you make in answering all calls to your help desk.

Publicize these statistics within the help desk department and set a goal of reducing the overall percentage of abandoned calls. (For instance, if your abandoned calls currently make up 20 percent of all calls, challenge your staff to establish and meet a goal of only 10 percent of abandoned calls.)

Why customers hang up
There are a number of reasons why a customer might abandon a call before speaking to a “live” help desk operator. The customer might figure out the answer on his or her own and just hang up, or the customer may have to hang up because someone or something else demands his or her attention. And, of course, even in this technologically advanced day and age, some people just don’t like to leave messages!

But the reason why most people abandon calls to a help desk is because they don’t like to wait. Those are the customers that can hurt you, because they’ll bad-mouth the help desk to everyone who will listen, complaining that they “can never get through” when they need help. Even if you have a state-of-the-art messaging system that plays soothing music and periodically announces the estimated “wait” time left, some customers won’t be satisfied unless their call is answered in the first few rings.

Why operators miss calls
If you discover a high rate of abandoned calls, consider some of these possible explanations:

  1. Your operators are doing their jobs too well. They’re spending an inordinate amount of time with the customers who get through.
  2. Your operators haven’t been trained in how to put someone on hold. No one likes to be put on hold. However, if you ask politely, most customers don’t mind waiting a moment while you pick up another line and ask that person to wait.
  3. There’s a shift differential. If you have a 24/7 help desk, chances are you’ll see more abandoned calls on the “hoot owl” (overnight) shift than on the other shifts. You probably schedule fewer people on duty because you expect fewer customer calls during those hours. Sort your abandoned call records by time, and look for spikes during the shifts when you have the fewest operators on duty.
  4. There’s a slacker on duty. The other reason for abandoned calls is, of course, attributable to help desk operators who think, “Let ‘em leave a message.”

Tips for reducing abandoned calls
To reduce the number of abandoned calls to your help desk, you need to:

  • Measure results. Find out how many calls are being missed and document improvement over time.
  • Set a goal. Challenge your help desk operators to lower the rate of abandoned calls.
  • Train. Teach your operators how to deal with long-winded customers, how to gracefully put customers on hold, and how to manage their workloads when call volumes are high.

To comment on this column or to share your advice on how to measure help desk performance, please post a note below or follow this link to write to Jeff.