What are the most important guidelines that should be followed when hiring help desk staff?

Find out what guidelines experts recommend for hiring the best help desk staffers.

When hiring help desk or support call-center staff, you must find professionals with the right mix of technical and customer service skills. Not only must they understand a variety of computing systems and software, they must also be able to communicate that expertise to end users. Above all, these customer-facing employees must be able to troubleshoot quickly and remain calm under pressure.

We asked industry experts Jay Arthur, Gary Manske, and Michele Triponey to weigh in on the most important guidelines to follow when hiring help desk staff. The following are their responses.

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Michele Triponey

Michele Triponey is Vice President, Help Desk, Desktop & Server Support Practice, at Ajilon Consulting. Her response:

The performance of the Help Desk analyst is directly tied to your Service Level Agreements (metrics) and, in outsourced arrangements, your profit. Bringing in the right candidates from the start is key to your success. It reduces the overall cost per analyst by reducing training time and attrition. The best place to start is with a good staffing plan. This plan includes but is not limited to:

  • Market analysis. What is the market paying for analysts in the region where the services will be provided? What benefit plan is offered? Is transportation and parking provided? What other intangibles are offered? You need to offer competitive compensation packages to the analysts so you recruit and retain the best in the market.
  • Job descriptions for each position (including language requirements). This enables the recruiter and the candidate to understand job expectations. The recruiter can compare the job description to the resume pool, which is helpful in candidate selection. Here's what to look for (in order of importance):
  1. Previous Help Desk experience, with references, in the same industry for a minimum of two years (for example, if it's a pharmaceutical desk – look for a life sciences background)
  2. Customer service programs (at least one) from a business school or an accredited agency
  3. Certifications in customer service from Help Desk Institute (HDI)
  4. Specific application support (prior)
  5. MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional)
  6. A+ certification
  • The number of analysts, by position, required for each shift. This helps the recruiters understand where and to what groups they may have to extend their recruitment efforts (for example, colleges for graveyard shifts).
  • The attrition rate in the first month of each shift and annually for each shift. This sets the expectation for how many analysts will be replaced by the recruiters, which in turn sets the resume and candidate pool requirements. Attrition rates can be calculated in a number of ways. At Ajilon Consulting we use the method described in How to Conduct a Call Center Performance Audit A to Z by Dr. Jon Anton and Dru Phelps.
  • Working environment. Providing a comfortable, safe place to work that has the appropriate amenities.
  • Training. The first impression of the Help Desk for the analyst is with the trainer. Dedicated, structured, professional training is a must. Certification testing after the training allows the instructor, analyst, and Help Desk manager to evaluate performance.

Gary Manske

Gary Manske is Senior Manager, Business Development at SEI Information Technology. His response:

Finding the right mix of existing skill and aptitude to learn is the key. There is a balance between matching a candidate with the right technical skills (and ability to learn what they don't have) with the right customer service skills (which is more difficult to teach).

Finding a highly technical person can cause a couple of problems:

  1. They could talk down to the end user.
  2. They are too creative and tend to experiment on users and not follow procedures.

If you deal with proprietary technology, chances are you won't find exact skillset matches. If you do, either they will be expensive or your talent pool will be minimal.

Candidates also must have the right customer service aptitude to mesh with the user base. Customer service is something that is like common sense: Either they have it or they don't. Teaching customer service skills can be done but can also be costly in terms of customer satisfaction or training costs.

Jay Arthur

Software company owner Jay Arthur is the author of the Small Business Guerrilla Guide to Six Sigma and Six Sigma Simplified. His response:

1. Do they have a pleasant telephone voice?
2. Are they good at listening?
3. Can they develop rapport on the phone by matching the caller's tone, tempo, and word usage?
4. Can they "pace" the caller's complaint and "lead" them to a solution?
5. Are they good at problem solving?

More about help desk staffing…

This is the first in a series of articles about help desk staffing. Our experts will be visiting the site to answer your questions in the discussion below. Or, if you'd prefer, send us your question by e-mail for a chance to have it answered in an article format.

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