Stop the telephone ringing

Help desks need to be proactive, and eventually morph themselves into change-management centres, according to Sandra Simpson.

Simpson, managing partner and CEO for Logical Process Corp. in St. Adolphe d’Howard, Que., spoke at the recent Comdex conference in Toronto and urged help desk administrators to be anticipatory about the needs of customers, whether they’re outside clients, sales people or executives.

“Help desk administrators need to know about new initiatives. Then they can assess the impact and take responsibility for implementing initiatives,” Simpson said.

She urged help desk staff to get involved in standards and change management. “When new employees start, they need to have a telephone, intranet access, etc. on their desk,” she explained. “All of that is change management.”

Simpson told the group that with the number of mergers and acquisitions in today’s economy, help desks need to plan for customer requirements.

“If there are two companies that merge, there are new employees and maybe new products as well,” she said. “You have to bear in mind varied support needs. An administrative assistant who is using Word or Excel is different from remote sales people dialling in to connect to their support.”

The bottom line for a help desk is to provide the customers with what they need so that the business does not lose time or money, according to Simpson. She called the telephone a very reactive way of providing customer support, as customers only call if they already have a problem. She noted that the more companies steer customers to use the phone, the more calls it will get – and an increase in the number of calls actually increases the cost of support.

“The telephone can only assist one customer at a time,” she said. “Help desk staff who have an awareness of calls in queue have a tendency to rush the current customer – this means we may not be providing the depth of support we should be giving.”

Simpson warned against quick fixes, as they inevitably lead to a problem later. “A person calls and says the screen is frozen, so we tell them to reboot,” she said. “But did we ever try to find out why the screen froze? What was the person using the PC for? Is the machine sized properly?”

Fixes seem fast and cost-effective, but they have a tendency to throw support staff into an out-of-control cycle, Simpson said. “You need to start promoting solutions. Generally, solutions tend to be more permanent and they address the root causes of the problem.”

She admitted that finding solutions may cost more up front but in time, she assured the group, they would save money.

“You’re going to have to train your staff to look at root causes instead of symptoms and you need to have a mechanism in place for advanced problems.”

She also urged people to look at their top five problems from the last week and find ways to solve them for customers this week.

Simpson recommended Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, but warned not to give too many prompts. She said IVRs are best suited for standard requests and information. “It requires needs analysis, technical support and careful scripting,” she said. “If you haven’t done a lot of analysis, the customer will just press ‘0’ and that’s what you don’t want.”

The Web, she stated, is great for customer self-help, and she noted that companies should direct their customers and employees there for information. She told the group to watch for trends in support calls, as that will tell them where root cause analysis is most needed.

“To do that analysis you need to possibly form some teams,” she said. “You can use existing staff. Let’s say every afternoon for an hour, we do root cause analysis for the day’s calls. It increases staff morale and helps you find solutions, and in the long run it’s going to reduce calls.”