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The Process of Organizing a Help Desk
 
 

The Process of Organizing a Help Desk


The organization of your Help Desk is another aspect of the planning process. Your organization, or structure, will depend on your mission, objectives, and types of services, so it is best to have these decided on before you begin to plan how your Help Desk will be organized.

The organization of a Help Desk involves the following considerations: Your front line (the employees who first come into contact with a customer), second and third levels of support (if you are going to have such levels), staffing levels, and how to estimate workload.


Front Line

The front line is the group of employees who first make contact with a customer. In a Help Desk, this is typically the person (or group of people) who answers the phone when a support call comes in. But, if your Help Desk is structured in such a way that support issues are logged in a database, for instance, it might be that your front line is the group of people who first read a post in a database.

Regardless of how a call or support issue comes into the Help Desk, the front line will be structured as one of two types of front lines: Dispatch or Resolve. If your front line is a Dispatch front line, your employees are typically responsible for answering the phone (or checking a list of issues in a database), and then immediately forwarding (or dispatching) that issue to the appropriate person who can fix the customer's issue.

Alternatively, if your front line is set up as a Resolve front line, the employee who first comes into contact with the customer will also try to resolve the issue. It should be noted, however, that a Resolve front line employee might forward the call to someone if he or she cannot resolve the issue.


Dispatch Front Line

As noted above, when a Dispatch front line employee processes a call, he or she will immediately forward the call to someone who can fix the issue. They act merely as a receptionist who greets a customer and then directs them to the proper place. Employees might log the call (either in a database or on paper), or they might now. Such a structure would be employed by a Help Desk whose employees lack the technical knowledge to address issues.

In such a structure, calls are answered quickly. This is an important consideration. If you anticipate a very high volume of calls coming into your front line, and you suspect that your front line might not be able to resolve issues quickly, you run the risk of keeping customers on hold while problems are being addressed. In a Dispatch front line, the employees' only responsibility is to answer the phone quickly - without keeping the customer waiting.

In a Dispatch front line, calls are forwarded to the second line of support. This second line is either another set of employees on your Help Desk, or it is a separate department. For example, if someone calls with a printer problem, your front line might forward the call to a specific employee on your Help Desk that handles hardware-related issues, or they might forward the call to the IT department. If your front line is forwarding calls to another department, you must be careful to monitor resolution times. When an issue is under your Help Desk's direct control (i.e. your employees are responsible for fixing issues), it is easier to monitor progress than it is when you forward issues to other departments.


Resolve Front Line

A Resolve front line tries to resolve issues immediately – without forwarding calls to other people or departments. Such a structure requires people who are technically skilled to handle such calls, both from a technology and customer service perspective.

Calls into a Resolve front line will only be forwarded to other people if the time required to fix the issue is too long, or if specialized service is required. A knowledge base is often used to help front line employees resolve issues. A knowledge base is a collection of knowledge -- either in a database, an employee manual, a series of articles, or any similar collection
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Second and Higher Levels of Support

A second level of support is used by a Help Desk when customers require additional help that cannot be processed by the front line. Your company might ask second line employees to rotate between front line support and second line support, so they can experience both perspectives within your Help Desk. A second line's services will include problem resolution, it might also include more sophisticated services, such as software testing, software installation, marketing initiatives, maintaining Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) lists, and they might also work on improving the efficiency of your Help Desk's operations.

Higher levels of support (third and above) are usually other departments in a company or outside people who are best equipped with the skills necessary to address an issue.


Staffing Level Considerations

In your early days in organizing a Help Desk, one of your most important considerations will be to determine how many people you need in each level of support -- especially on your front line.

You will be tempted to copy the same staffing levels, for instance, of a Help Desk you are familiar with. You might assume that if they can perform all the tasks necessary with five people, that you might need five people, as well. This can be a big mistake. You will need to ask yourself, "Do these five people perform the same services as my employees? Do they have a similar Customer Profile? Do they have the same call volumes that my Help Desk has? Do they offer the same hours of support coverage? All of these questions should be asked when determining the staffing level that is right for your specific needs.

You must ensure your staff has the knowledge to cover the services you advertise. This is obvious, but it is sometimes overlooked in some Help Desk plans. Similarly, your staff needs to be able to deliver the objectives you have outlined for your organization. Lastly, and most importantly, you need to consult the Customer Profile you have built as a part of your planning process. Your customers' needs are the most important consideration, and your staffing level needs to be a reflection of those needs.


Estimating Workload

If you are already measuring this success, then you have a good first step in estimating your staffing needs. If your performance is suffering due to a lack of response time or resources, you need to reexamine your workload estimates. If your Help Desk is already in operation, measuring your success in terms of your objectives and mission statement are the best indicators of appropriate staffing levels.

If you have not yet begun operations, you might use a forecasting package to determine the appropriate levels of support for your Help Desk. Such a package might include advice from outside consultants, mathematical formulas, and other measurements.

To use formulas to estimate workload, you will want to first estimate the number of issues that you anticipate will be incoming at specific times of the week, day, and month. If you have clearly defined shifts (time of the day, etc.), make sure you estimate this incoming volume for these specific times. Then, using this total anticipated volume, divide the number by the number of issues that you want your Help Desk to resolve in a given time frame (perhaps an hour). This should give you your staffing needs number per hour – or per day, depending on the formulas you used. You might also want to account for seasonal, or temporary, concerns as you might have busy times of the year or busy times of the month.

Staffing is a complex consideration. You Help Desk might not have the exact number of people it needs at the start of your operations, but you must be open to making adjustments to meet your customers' needs.

Staffing Needs

In this section, we will discuss staffing in more detail, including the different types of employees you will need, the skills they need to possess, how to plan for employee departures, and the proper training required for your staff.


Help Desk Analysts
There are essentially two levels of employees on a Help Desk: analysts and managers. A Help Desk Analyst must take on many different types of responsibilities, including:

  • Stakeholder in the Success of the Help Desk

  • Problem Eliminator

  • Communicator

  • Marketer

  • Data Gatherer

  • Subject Matter Expert

  • Customer Service Representative


Stakeholder in the Success of the Help Desk

On a Help Desk, or on any business-related endeavor, a stakeholder is someone who is committed to the project and has a desire to see the project succeed. A stakeholder "buys into" the mission and objectives of the Help Desk. "Buy-in" is a popular business term that essentially means employees support a cause.

A stakeholder must always keep the objective of both the company and the Help Desk in mind while they are doing their job. If a customer calls to complain about a specific type of technology, for example, the Help Desk Analyst must never share their own personal opinion about the technology – they must support the Help Desk's mission of providing service for all technology. It's also important that the analyst not provide any additional services to customers that will detract the employee from more critical issues. Work must be done efficiently, and the services performed by the analyst must adhere to the specified list of services that the Help Desk agreed to perform.


Problem Eliminator

While problem-solving skills are very important for Help Desk Analysts, they must also eliminate problems as well. One of the business objectives of any Help Desk is to actually reduce the amount of calls they receive from customers, so, therefore, a Help Desk Analyst's responsibilities include eliminating some reasons why people call in the first place.

To eliminate problems, an analyst should log all calls and document the major issues he or she typically deals with.Call logging enables the management of the Help Desk to determine the most prevalent causes of support calls. By concentrating some effort in these specific areas, they can reduce the amount of recurring calls.


Communicator

Many people might think, at first glance, that a Help Desk Analyst must have good listening skills, since he or she will be listening to customers' comments about problems throughout most of their day. But, a Help Desk Analyst has another, equally important, role: communicating to management and other groups within the company. An important job function is to communicate customer feedback to management, and this communication must accurately reflect the views of the customer.

He or she must also constantly communicate with peers on the Help Desk, as problem elimination often means collaborating with other analysts.


Marketer

Each support call is an opportunity for a Help Desk Analyst to portray a positive image of both the Help Desk and the company at large. This customer contact helps to promote a good image, and helps to give the customer the impression they have received a good deal of value from their call.

There is also another important marketing function of a Help Desk Analyst: Promote the technology that is in use by the company. A company might have an important initiative to use a new piece of technology or software. Its adoption (or "buy-in") from employees is very important. When calls are logged by the Help Desk, the analysts must promote the technology in a positive light and help employees use it to its fullest extent.


Data Gatherer

While listening to customers' support calls, a Help Desk Analyst is receiving a great deal of information. This information might be specific to the technology in use (computer models, software versions, etc.), or the information might not be explicitly expressed by the customer. Sometimes information is inferred. For example, a phone with caller ID might automatically gives an analyst several pieces of information, including the location within the company the caller is calling from. All of these pieces of data must be gathered by the analyst and logged as part of the call process.

Data gathering helps to eliminate problems and build a profile of the types of calls being received by the Help Desk. Knowledge bases can be updated with the latest information, when trends about certain calls are discovered.


Subject Matter Expert (SME)

An employee on a Help Desk must be an expert in the technology or products they support. They must be Subject Matter Experts (SME) – that is, experts in specific subjects that affect the success of the company. A subject matter might be how to use the new software implemented by the company, or any other subject directly related to the company's objectives.


Customer Service Representative

A Help Desk Analyst's job also includes being a customer service representative. His or her role is to deliver a high level of quality service to customers. It is often not an easy part of the job. Customers can sometimes be negative, but analysts must work with them in a professional manner. Training is often helpful in enabling an analyst to fulfill this part of the job.


Skills Required

So what skills are necessary for a Help Desk Analyst to enable them to fulfill the roles outlined above? The most important of these skills are:

  • Focus – The ability to remain dedicated to the mission of the Help Desk.

  • Problem Solving – While the goal is ultimately eliminating problems, the ability to solve problems is essential

  • Proaction – This involves the ability to intervene before problems occur in the future (i.e. to make improvements to the process).

  • Communication – This centers on the ability to interact with customers and management.

  • Technical Skills – Analysts must be experts in their specific duties, but they must have overall excellent technical skills, as well.

  • Customer Skills – They must have the ability to deal with people in a professional manner.


When Employees Leave

Help Desk Analysts are traditionally high-turnover jobs. Some people find the job stressful, and this leads to high resignation rates. After your Help Desk is in operation for a while, you should figure out the average length of time an analyst stays on the job. When you hire another analyst, use that figure to determine when you need to start another round of hiring. Be proactive about the process; do not wait until you are short-staffed before you start the recruitment process.


Training

Training for Help Desk Analysts involves three main areas:

  • Technical Training – Training must be provided in all Help Desk tools in use by your company. Analysts must also be trained in software and hardware products in use by the company.

  • Procedural Training – Your Help Desk will have rules and procedures. Your analysts must fully understand them and adhere to them as part of their job.

  • Personal Training – Personal Training might include workshops on how to deal with difficult customers, and how to provide excellent customer service. Communication training is also recommended for all employees.

 
 
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