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Improving the Help Desk: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

01/30/2012 by: The SunView Team

Pitfall Larry had a profound effect on the early years of my life. While by today's standards, the graphics are far past cutting edge, and the game mechanics left a bit to be desired. Oddly enough I still remember enjoying this game, as hard as it is to look at and play today. Now, my fondness is likely tied more to nostalgia than anything else, but there is more to it. Swinging over gators and falling into pits tends to work as an excellent metaphor for the Help Desk. That is, even the most difficult of challenges will take practice, patience, and probably result in a broken controller or two.

Ultimately, what you learn from life's truly frustrating experiences is that even those that appear like they've got it together now, weren't always that way. Experience, an understanding of the road traveled, and the one ahead, makes a difference. Not to mention, learning from others that have tried and failed, as well as those that have tried and succeeded, is a critical aspect to your own success, or perhaps even failure.

Like Pitfall, the Help Desk is an extremely challenging environment. Challenging in some directions and frustrating beyond belief in others. Eventually though, you can learn the patterns, and make changes to the way you navigate through the experience. Soon, the pitfalls become obvious, and even when you fall in, you know the tricks to get out without anyone noticing.

Listed below, we've included five items that have a tendency to trip many IT professionals, especially those working on a Help, Support, or Service desk. Don't stop with this list though. Be sure to check out our other posts. Because the more you know, the less likely you'll be surprised by a scorpion lurking in the pit you just fell into.

Create a Formal Process

Not having an organized approach to managing incoming incidents will prevent you from fully understanding the needs of your organization. Plus, you won't have any way to judge how your team handles resolution. Your Service/Help/Support Desk is the front line to understanding every issue coming in. Think of it as the 911 (Emergency Service in the US) for technology related issues. If you haven't already, map out the ways your organization receives notification of issues, and the tools you are using to manage those. Eventually, you'll want a solution to match your process. There are even free ones available if your organization is small.

Avoid Unwarranted Assumptions

We wrote an article recently about common misconceptions that the Help Desk often has of its customers. A big part of that issue lies in unwarranted assumptions, especially those to the effect that the user is submitting issues on purpose, or really doesn't understand how to use the technology. While there are a lot of false alarms, each customer needs to be treated as if they were the first person you spoke to. Treat their issue as serious as any other.

Consider Evaluating Your Classification, Escalation, and/or Prioritization

If you don't have any formal processes, this may be a bit like putting the cart before the horse. However, you should include this in any analysis you conduct. The important thing to remember is that while each issue coming into the Help Desk is unique, there are typically some common, distinguishing characteristics. Organizing these into commonalites means you'll have to consider how to classify, what to prioritize, and when to escalate. It's likely that if you are completely new to some of these concepts, your first run at this might need a bit of tweaking. However, even for organizations that have implemented these practices, regular review is important to make sure issues are routed quickly and correctly.

Transfer Ownership to Your Customer

We often forget that the customer has a responsibility as well. While we work towards resolution, we never truly know if what we did fixed the issue until we hear back from the customer. You can choose to manually email your customers on a regular basis, or let a Service Desk Solution provide those notifications automatically.

Improve Communication Frequency

It is true that there are some scenarios where too much communication causes the value of your message to be diluted. That's pretty rare though, and it is much more likely that communication failure occurs when there was not enough or none at all. Be open and honest with your customers, and provide them with regular updates. If you are using an Service Desk solution, make sure that users have a way of checking the status of any submitted incidents. Finally, once an issue is resolved, be sure to communicate that to the customer. Often, they are waiting to hear from you before they take any action, or begin working again.

The Next Step... ITIL

The above are a great start. If you want to take it to the next level, check out our video on ITIL. It was filmed in partnership with the experts at Pink Elephant, and will serve as a great introduction to ITIL and the Incident Management (Service Desk) process.

Image: Flickr | Nicolas Esposito

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