When you hire a help desk analyst, do you test for communication skills? Specifically, do you ask a telephone support analyst to answer the phone a few times? I’m guessing the majority of you don’t.

You make the best hire you can, given the qualifications and personal presentation skills of the people you interview. You’re aiming to get the right combination of technical knowledge, aptitude for learning, and positive attitude. Dealing with every customer in a positive, helpful way should be every good help desk analyst’s goal.

However, working the phones day in and day out eventually takes a toll. It seems that just when you get the good ones trained, they become bored and move on or move up the IT ladder. Here are four training tips to help jump-start new help desk analysts and reinvigorate your veterans.

Turn the tables on yourself
We typically let new help desk analysts watch and listen while we answer live calls or respond to e-mail messages from customers. The best way to lead is by example, so show your new employees the level of service you expect. In the next phase of help desk training, of course, you will need to monitor a new employee while he or she takes calls.

But what if you manage an analyst who is approaching burnout or other analysts who need help coming up to speed? Here are two suggestions:

  1. Volunteer to take a few calls for them. Sit with them just as you did (or would have done) when they were new. Only this time, ask them to critique your performance.
  2. Listen, and then be on your way. “Don’t you want to listen to me now?” the analyst might ask. If there’s an issue you want to address with the analyst, now is the time. Otherwise, if you’re just doing a little morale-boosting, say, “No, I just want to make sure I don’t get rusty, and I wouldn’t trust anyone else to critique me.”

Flattery will get you everywhere.

Demonstrate your zero-tolerance policy
Here’s a test I used to evaluate candidates for a hospital’s telephone-based physician referral service. The job had two requirements:

  1. Deal with emotionally charged callers in a professional, pleasant manner.
  2. Obtain and enter certain information into a PC.

We assessed the two skills using a test that also makes a great exercise for training analysts. We asked the analyst to answer a series of telephone calls and to enter certain information about each caller into a document. The candidates were asked to treat the calls as if they were from real customers, even though the candidates knew the calls were staged.

We were looking for people who could stay in character, keeping their cool no matter what the customer said. You never know if the insufferable customer on the phone is really a radio personality testing you and your company as a joke. Or it could be a paying customer, a plant from the company’s board of trustees, or a competitor trying to dig up some dirt.

The bottom line: Establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for “losing it” with a customer.

Stage a help desk showdown
Here’s one way to let your staff blow off a little steam, have some fun, and remind them about the level of service that they’re required to provide.

The challenge is to see which help desk analyst can play the role of the most irate, difficult customer. That person calls the help desk. On speakerphone, each analyst takes a turn sparring with the problem caller—all in good-spirited fun, of course, and not in earshot of any “real” customers.

Establish the funny story file
If your help desk analysts don’t currently maintain a file for funny user stories, it’s time to set up an intranet page, designate a bulletin board, or add an agenda item to the team’s weekly meeting. Share your wackiest typo from user e-mail or the funniest question asked by a caller. Remind each other just how much the world needs good help desk analysts!

Share your training tips

If you have a tip for getting new hires up to speed quickly, let’s hear it. Post a comment or follow this link to write to Jeff Davis.