Six smart strategies for handling the help desk

We recently posed this riddle to the Best Practice Exchange: Your help desk is staffed by productive workers. You expect your call volume to increase because of a new system implementation that affects a good chunk of your user base. But your budget doesn’t allow for additional headcount. What do you do? Our members agree that while the conundrum is hardly an enviable one, it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, they offered smart ways to get out of the bind.

1. User, help thyself. “Put together a sample group of affected users, help desk technicians and project team members to brainstorm a sizable list of FAQs, and post the results on the help desk Web site as part of the launch communication,” suggests Robert Urwiler, CIO of Macromedia Inc. “And strongly encourage the use of online knowledge bases and self-service ticket management capabilities.”

2. Keep it simple. “Make sure your online knowledge base is simple and easy to use by focusing on the 10 per cent of problems that account for 40 per cent of the calls,” says Hank Zupnick, CIO of GE Real Estate. “A too complex online knowledge base just brings users back to the telephone hotline.”

3. Work those metrics. “Make sure you’ve got very clear metrics around average handle time and average speed-to-answer, and train your team to use these metrics effectively,” advises Bill Wray, CIO of Citizens Financial Group Inc. “You’ll get more calls handled by the same number of people, even those you already assumed were productive.”

4. Go into triage mode. Ensure ahead of time that your help desk reps can recognize the difference between a low-priority and high-priority issue, and deal with the former quickly by opening a ticket and getting off the phone, says Urwiler. “Too many times, help desk techs do not discriminate the way they should during spikes, and the truly needy wind up waiting in queue excessively.”

5. Bring on the superusers. Enlist some great business users early on in the project, and train them alongside the help desk, suggests James Emanuelson, VP and CIO of Land O’Lakes Farmland Feed LLC. “They can help with the surge of calls for weeks after implementations at their respective sites,” he says. “Not only will this help you deal with the call surge, but it can also build a team environment between IS and the business at another level in the organization.”

6. Show your support. Good morale boosts help-desk productivity. “We never spend enough time with our teams, and this is the perfect opportunity for the CIO to spend some quality time in the area, showing his support for the help desk,” suggests Roger Coville, CIO of Abercrombie & Fitch Co. “Or have the VP from the supported business area come by and talk about how important the help desk is to her success. Most people leave a little in the tank each day, but help desk crunch time is when the staff needs to go home on empty.” Showing how much you value your team will go a long way.

Quick tips

On streamlining your RFP process: “We use a format we call RFP-EZ, like the 1040 short form. It is designed to be brief, with check-box questions versus the traditional 300 pages of open-ended questions. RFP-EZ is quick to build, less time-consuming for vendors and easy for us to evaluate. Vendors have been very complimentary about the RFP-EZ approach.” – GALEN METZ, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY ARCHITECT, AMERICAN MEDICAL SECURITY GROUP INC.

On negotiating vendor contracts: “Put named resources into your vendor contracts. If there are specific people from a vendor organization you want on your project, make a contractual agreement that they will be doing the work. A vendor could bring their stars only for the sale, but you want them to stay and help deliver the project.” – HANK ZUPNICK, CIO, GE REAL ESTATE

On project management offices (PMOs): “Rather than create a PMO, CIOs should consider placing the project management responsibilities inside the functional groups in IT. The concept is similar to what some manufacturers used to do with quality initiatives: A separate quality department would do inspections and write policies. Then most realized it was important to build project management into the process itself, instead of focusing on it as a separate discipline. Do the same with project management — build it into your organization and processes. In other words, institutionalize it, and eliminate the overhead in the process.” – LEE LICHLYTER, CIO, BUTLER MANUFACTURING CO.

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