Handling Issues in Managing a Help Desk for Business
When a customer calls the Help Desk, it usually means that they are not able to perform their job to the fullest extent or, in some cases, not at all. There are varying degrees of importance for each call. You cannot use a "first come, first served" approach on a Help Desk. In a typical scenario on some unorganized Help Desks, problems are set aside when seemingly more important calls come in, but there isn't a process in place to formally prioritize problems; this leads to unhappy customers and dropped productivity. In this article, we will discuss how to prioritize each call, so you can effectively run your Help Desk.
A Help Desk needs to balance two major endeavors at all times: resolving problems that are most critical to the operation of the company's business before other, less important issues; and, secondly, making sure the work you have planned that will improve performance gets done.
How does a Help Desk that is inundated with support calls balance these two major endeavors? Setting priorities will help you devote time to both of these important requirements, and priorities will prevent your Help Desk from getting out of control.
Your Help Desk Analysts should know the difference between a "perceived" priority and a clearly defined one. If a customer calls and is shouting at a Help Desk Analyst about their problem, the analyst might perceive that this is an extremely important call. This is often an incorrect assumption. Analysts should not "perceive" or infer any priority about a call, based on a customer's attitude, demeanor, or any other characteristic.
All support calls that come into a Help Desk can be broken down into several categories: problems, requests, questions, planned work, and unplanned work:
Problems are interruptions to the daily operations of a person's job or business. A problem might indicate that something is wrong with a person's installed software, their hardware, or any other piece of equipment. In short, a problem occurs when the technology being used is not working as planned.
A request is a support call that is asking for services that are advertised by the Help Desk. A request might be a training request or to order a new printer.
Questions that come in to the Help Desk usually involve technology, but not always. A typical question might be about how to use a specific type of software, but a new employee might also call in to ask where he can pick up his badge. Your Help Desk might also get more sophisticated questions – consulting questions – such as, "What is the best software to use for financial reporting?" If your Help Desk offers this type of consulting, you will need to have the right staff members to answer these questions.
Planned work is work your Help Desk has already committed to do, in line with the objectives of the company.
Unplanned work is a broad category. The flow of business can sometimes increase the workload of a Help Desk in unforeseen ways. Just when you think you have planned the work for all of your objectives, circumstances will arise that will cause you to add more work. An example might be an unexpected increase in network traffic that is causing delays.
The Help Desk's management needs to ensure that not all resources are being pulled into one direction, and they must ensure that planned (and unplanned) work gets done while serving customers' needs by resolving issues.
Establishing a priority structure will enable your Help Desk to run effectively, and these priorities need to be in line with your company's mission and objectives. For example, if one of your company's main objectives is to train people to be more self sufficient, then your priority structure might place a lower emphasis on training.
A priority ultimately measures the impact on the business, and this impact might be measured in terms of money, time, or productivity. If your salespeople cannot accept payments in your stores, for example, this is a severe problem for the company. But, if your company's financial reporting will be a few hours late due to a jammed printer, this is a much different scenario.
There are two main concerns that determine the impact on business:
Importance of Component
Severity of Event
Importance of Component
When setting a priority of an incoming call, the first thing you must do is establish the importance of the component involved. A component could be technology (printers, computers, etc.), projects, or people.
Some technology is critical to a business. We discussed an example above about salespeople not being able to accept cash payments in stores.This might be due to a broken network connection or a broken cash register. You must determine, as part of your Help Desk's plan, what technology is critical for your company. You must also refer to your company's Disaster Recovery Plan, which will list what systems are deemed high priority for your company.
Companies are always engaged in projects, and some projects will tend to have a higher importance than others. If a support call indicates that progress on a project will be slowed or halted, you must consider the importance of that project. Senior management will set priorities for projects, and your Help Desk Analysts should know these priorities.
The person initiating the call is also an important component in determining the impact on business. Some company presidents, for example, who are very hands-on workers, should be considered a higher priority than other employees. Help Desk Analysts should consult with their managers to determine the level of importance that it placed on certain individuals in the company.
Severity of Event
The severity of an event is measured by how much functionality the component has lost. For example, if the component is a computer that has stopped working entirely, the severity is very high, but if the computer is functioning at a high level but is simply unable to send documents to a printer, the severity is much lower.
When determining severity, you must also take into account the impact on other people. In the above example, if one computer is unable to print documents, this might affect one person. But, if that computer is a shared computer that is used for all the consultants in your office, that one computer's problem is affecting an entire office. The severity in this case is much higher.
Priority and Severity Scales
In this section, we will focus on procedures, their importance, and how to create them.
Procedures help ensure consistency. Your customers deserve correct service, and part of that service should involve a consistent experience in dealing with the Help Desk. If a person calls on a Monday with an issue and deals with a particular person, a customer should receive the same answer and level of service on a Thursday from a different analyst.
Procedures also help the customers, themselves, to become more efficient. If your Help Desk's procedure, for example, is to ask for the basic information about a customer's computer at the beginning of each call, if that customer calls several times, they will begin to understand the process. Each time they call in the future, they will have that information readily available – thus saving time for both them and the Help Desk.
Properly documented procedures also help make automation easier. If a procedure is written down, it is much easier to establish an automated process. An example of this might be that your Help Desk management software might automatically route calls to a specific analyst, based on options selected by the caller. When the programmer is setting up these options, he or she will want to refer to documented procedures that govern how each call is handled.
There are some managers who resist what they regard as "rigid" procedures. They want their Help Desk Analysts to be able to respond appropriately to each situation and not be restricted by strict rules. But, it's important to realize that procedures do not have to restrict behavior – procedures guide behavior. This is why it is important that managers let the analysts on the Help Desk create the procedures.They should be written by the same people who will be performing the tasks. Procedures for activities such as taking calls, resolving problems, and handling questions should be developed by the people who have the most experience in dealing with such situations.
If procedures are going to be written about activities that involve other departments (and many procedures fall into this category), representatives from each of the departments involved should write these procedures. Many companies set up a committee dedicated to writing procedures, and this committee is composed of representatives from all facets of the business. You might also want to include management in this committee, but management alone should not be responsible for writing procedures. Finally, some committees, when possible, involve their customers, as well, when writing procedures. If this is possible in your situation, it is a good way to build rapport with your customers.
The process of writing procedures is not difficult. The hard part is often getting people to follow the procedures. If all of your procedures are automated (with technology, for example), then it would be easy to have everyone follow them. But, most companies cannot automate their entire list of procedures. There are some guidelines that should be followed to help you ensure that your procedures are easy to follow and can be easily updated.
Procedures should be succinctly written – keep them simple.
Procedures should be stored in a single location that is accessible to everyone in the company. The best place is an Intranet site, if your company uses one, or in a folder on your network that everyone has access to.
Every procedure should be reviewed regularly, perhaps yearly, or more often, if necessary. Your procedures should be dated and should contain basic information, such as who wrote it. The people responsible for reviewing the procedures can be changed often, so a variety of people get to give their input.
If you can automate the procedure, do so. If it can be integrated with any software your Help Desk uses, it will ensure the procedures are followed more often and consistently.
Help Desk Analysts should understand what role they play in each procedure; when reviewing procedures, make sure the analysts understand their job's responsibilities.
There are some considerations to avoid when writing procedures:
Do not simply duplicate information that is stored elsewhere. You should reference information instead. There is one simple reason for this – you do not want to be required to update two sets of documentation when that material needs to be updated. If you reference an item in a document, only the original document needs to be updated – the reference to it does not need to be edited.
Do not try to train people on how to use a tool in a procedure. Training manuals should be separate from procedures. Training requires an in-depth examination of a tool, including how they are used, and what their full capabilities are. A procedure should be short.
What Procedures Does a Help Desk Need?
It's impossible to give an entirely complete list for the types of procedures that every Help Desk should have, because each Help Desk's objectives are unique. But, there are some universal tasks that nearly all Help Desks deal with on a daily basis, such as:
How to process a support call
Your procedure for how to handle a call should include information on how to greet customers, how to log the call, what information should be logged, and what technology should be used to log the call (if your Help Desk uses specific software). Your procedure should also include guidance on how to assign the priority and severity of the call, and when to route calls to other people, if necessary.
How to resolve a problem
This procedure should include information such as: how to accept a problem (how to assign it to yourself), how to take responsibility for a problem, how to check for trends in the problem list, getting help from other people, and how to close the problem.
How to answer a question
This procedure should outline how to determine if the customer has asked the question previously (thus discovering a trend), how to make recommendations to the customer (such as courses or training materials), and how to forward the call, if the analyst is unable to answer the question.
How to handle an emergency
Emergencies are usually assigned a priority level of 1. Your Help Desk might have a separate process for calls with this priority level – that is, the process to handle an emergency call might differ from a non-emergency call. Document how you want these calls handled, who should be informed of such calls, and who should be consulted if additional help is needed.
How to communicate problems to customers
Certain problems need to be communicated to customers – either a small subset of your customers, or, in certain situations, all of them at the same time. How will you communicate to your customers? Will you use email or phone? What information should always be conveyed? For example, it might be your Help Desk's policy to always set an estimated time for problem resolution when communicating with customers.