By Ruby Bayan

Your mandate is clear: Set up an effective and successful help desk from the ground up. You double-check your priority tasks list and see that most of the physical preparations are taken care of: acoustic-controlled workstations, ergonomic chairs, hands-free wireless headsets all in place; the help desk application expertly configured. (For a discussion of what’s involved in preparing the physical environment for a help desk, see part one of this series “Setting up a successful help desk–physical considerations.”) If these were all that’s needed to ensure high productivity levels, you’d be all set. But then there’s the hard part: the human factor.

We asked help desk and contact center experts for ways to address the service levels and productivity output of support personnel manning the help line. They listed five success and efficiency strategies every new help desk manager must kick off with.

1. Define your goals
“What are the goals of the help desk?” Jim Puchbauer, director of marketing at AltiGen, said this must be the first question you ask yourself. He enumerated the four most common help desk goals:

  • “I want to handle more customers.”
  • “I want to handle my customer interactions with a personal touch.”
  • “I want to provide expert interaction.”
  • “I want agents to be a resource traffic cop. Much like the librarian, the agent points callers to other areas/resources where they can obtain the answers they need.”

Puchbauer explained that these goals could have conflicting ideals. “The expert interaction requires more skilled agents, while the resource provider needs access to different types of information but may not have to know it all,” he said. With clear goals, you can have proper agent training programs and skill-based routing capabilities to get the right call to the right person the first time.

“These scenarios all have different expectations for the agent and will need differing tracking mechanisms,” said Puchbauer. If you’re offering technical expertise, you want to track whether a customer had to call again on the same issue; or if your goal is to handle numerous callers who are asking simple questions, you will rely on a customer relationship management (CRM) application integrated with your help desk system. The CRM application will be critical in tracking for efficiency and customer satisfaction, he said.

So, in assessing performance based on goal achievement, Puchbauer said, “I want to be able to say that our problem was ‘X’ because we were never able to do ‘Y.’ Now we can ‘Y’ and the result is the customers were better served, we have simplified our business processes, and we are able to measure and to sustain our success.”

2. Understand your customer
“A help desk manager should begin by understanding both the customer and their environment,” according to Anthony Lye, president and CEO of ePeople.

Lye explained, “First, it’s essential to determine if the help desk supports knowledge workers or process workers. Knowledge workers are highly skilled analysts who support complex products or services, while process workers resolve the more redundant requests that have relatively simple answers.”

Given the different types of customers served, Lye advised that process workers should be measured on call volume, call closure, response time, and resolution time, while knowledge workers should be measured on contribution, accuracy of answers, and root cause analysis.

Lye added that help desk managers should also have tools to manage team performance. “By tracking service levels and highlighting skills development needs, managers can achieve service and satisfaction goals.”

3. Hire the appropriate skill sets
Ray Zorz, network administrator for United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona, emphasized the importance of gathering the appropriate talent and proficiencies for your help desk crew, a task that also requires a bit of talent.

“If you’re building a team for a proprietary product, finding folks that already know the product isn’t always easy,” Zorz warned. “You might be able to hire from your customer base.” If it’s a “generic” help desk handling desktop support, Zorz suggested a mixture of skill sets. “All can be cross-trained eventually, but it’s good to get a few with OS skills and a few with desktop application aptitude.”

However, according to Zorz, the number-one attribute you should look for is personality. “We hired many from DeVry, for example, but looked to find candidates with some people skills in their background—waiters, bank tellers, jobs working with the public.” Another great source is the internal admin staff, he said. “I turned several admin assistants into excellent support staff. They are often very grateful and loyal to be put on a new career path.”

Having formed your dream team, keep an eye on the ball. “This is a team effort, and as a manager, you need to tell them how you’re being measured, and therefore, how they’re being measured,” said Zorz.

“Look at anomalies, and figure out why they happened and how to prevent them. But do not just base evaluations on the numbers—some reps are going to be faster than others, some are going to end up with more difficult problems, and sometimes the numbers will get skewed by an unusual circumstance. And one last thing: A lot of reps do get burned out taking calls one after another. If possible, figure out something else for them to do once in a while, such as a QA or documentation project.”

4. Encourage the right attitudes
“The reason it’s called a ‘help desk’ is: When customers need help or assistance on a product or service, all they have to do is access a number and they hear a warm voice expressing gratitude for that one call,” said Sarsi R. Pablo, voice services manager at GlobalReacheBusiness Networks, Inc. The customer must feel comfortable in asking questions, and the representative must ensure that the customer is satisfied at the end of the call, she said.

This means the help desk manager should consider not just the right skill sets but also the right attitudes. Pablo advised a rule of thumb: “The Right People must have the Right Attitude to do the Job Right—in order to achieve the proper balance and provide the best service to your customers.”

Oftentimes, according to Pablo, attitudes are influenced by service level expectations. “It is important that service levels are attainable…very high expectations could stress out your valued assets—your support representatives.” Pablo explained that it’s better to have low service levels at the start, and meet or beat them rather than start with high expectations and fail. “Customer reps are challenged to improve performance when service levels are attainable and goals are increased as set levels are met.”

Pablo advised that help desk managers should encourage participation from the crew, especially during sessions where concerns with service level performance are discussed. “Be sure to acknowledge their effort and support…it is important that reps are updated on the service levels,” she said.

5. Start with a successful future
AltiGen’s Puchbauer said that the best advice for defining where to start in architecting and measuring the success of your help desk is: “Write your own future success story and then reverse-engineer it.

“In other words, look out six months or a year into the future and think of what you would like to be saying regarding the effect your contact center had on your current business or customer interaction problems. Then put into place a call routing scheme, agent skill set, appropriate business practices with the appropriate tools (CRM) to best satisfy the customer at the time of the customer interaction. Add the necessary reporting to measure the appropriate agent performance, and you have your success story waiting to be told.”