The Help desk Debate: Software vs. Live Interaction


The discussions and debates in the business world over helping customers with real people or software – help desk staff or help desk software – just might be missing the point. The fact is, at some point in a certain number of instances, it takes a real live person to solve the problem. The challenge is not to take your employees out of the loop and force your customers to use a FAQ list or fill out a web form (ticket), it is to maximize the value, to the customer, of both online and human resources.

To that end, we will look at a few improvements you can make for both your help desk documents and your help desk personnel. The overall picture reveals a system that directs and leads customers to the fastest, least costly and most practical solution, however that can be delivered. It will begin with self-help (online resources) and, for the few most serious cases that need it, end with personal attention – and this phrase brings up an important point. The customers need to feel they are getting personal attention even from your FAQ page and your "ticketing" system, if you are using one. They need to feel secure with your process and confident in your staff's abilities.

Better software solutions

- Help the customers help themselves: FAQ pages should be the first place you direct customers to get assistance. Perhaps the best way to develop a strong, effective FAQ is to assemble it with input from users, help desk staff and management. The list of FAQs should be comprehensive without being daunting, and cover the "percentages" by addressing issues in order from most to least likely.

- Empowerment with orderliness: Your website copy, print materials and operator scripts (for live phone calls) should all strongly encourage the customer's use of your online "knowledge base" and/or FAQ pages.

- Self-service system: If you install some sort of "incident" or "ticketing" management system, make it customer-driven, and again empower the customers to follow up, get replies and initiate further conversations directly from the web forms to which you initially directed them.

- Easy (and simple) does it: Your FAQ and/or knowledge base need to be simple, easy to use and focused on the roughly 10% of problems accounting for almost half of the calls. If the online tools take too long to get to the solution, or otherwise misdirect customers or waste their time, they will pick up the phone and call. You want to minimize that.

Better staff solutions

- Don't fret the metrics, but do learn from them: It is always important to develop and provide clear metrics to your help desk staff, without obsessing over them. Give your staff information on average call-handling time, average "speed-to-answer" and other aspects of their day-to-day duties. Using these metrics effectively can lead to more calls being handled by the same number of staffers, and can help even those who already were productive become even more so.

- Teach "triage": Ensure that your help desk representatives know the difference between low- and high-priority issues, and deal with the first kind by quickly starting a ticket and getting to the next call. If your help desk staffers do not differentiate wisely among calls during busy call periods, the customers needing the most personal attention may end up waiting in the queue. Staff should not waste time on matters best handled by the customers themselves through the web resources.

  • - Leverage the other experts in the company: If you draft some smart (and hopefully articulate) folks from other company departments, ones who know the products and services well, you can augment your help desk staff during "crush" times. Sometimes calls will come in for weeks after new implementations or installations are done, new software versions are released and so on. You will not only have in-house back-up for any potential "call surges" but will also build team spirit and interdepartmental camaraderie that will benefit your entire firm, sometimes in unexpected ways.

    - Support your local help desk: Good morale always helps "in general," but it also boosts help desk productivity in particular. Spending "quality time" with the help desk staff may not be at the top of every CEO or CIO's to-do list, but an investment of just half an hour or an hour can make all the difference in staff attitude. Executives, managers and supervisors all need to convey to the help desk representatives that they are important, that they are on the front lines and that they are part of the firm's success formula. Demonstrating how much you value the team goes a long way, particularly when you believe it and even more so when it's true!


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