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.

the right support professional with our IT Hiring Kit

The IT
Hiring Kit: Support Professional
provides three tools to help hiring
managers choose the best support professional for their team. The tools include
a detailed job description, specific role-related interview questions, and a
candidate assessment sheet.

Michele Triponey

Michele Triponey is Vice President, Help Desk, Desktop &
Server Support Practice, at Ajilon
. 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
    3. Certifications
      in customer service from Help Desk Institute
    4. Specific
      application support (prior)
    5. MCP
      (Microsoft Certified Professional)
    6. A+
  • 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

  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
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.