How to make your helpdesk priceless

Many IT directors and teams still say their helpdesks are in need of transformation, even revolution. As they say when one asks...

Many IT directors and teams still say their helpdesks are in need of transformation, even revolution. As they say when one asks for directions in Somerset, "Well I wouldn't start from here."

david taylor

inside track

If you need to revolutionise your helpdesk, then something has been going wrong. Any system or process needs to be nurtured and allowed to grow and evolve. Anything that requires revolution must have suffered from neglect.

Ideally, you should be evolutionising your helpdesk and this is true whether your helpdesk is a warehouse-sized call centre of a multinational or a one-person operation supporting a tiny Lan. So, how do you evolutionise?

Don't get hung up about the best call queuing software, trendiest earpieces or biggest, flattest TFT screen. One organisation with which I deal, has a simple mantra. Their people are "the greatest single factor". That is the only secret of a successful helpdesk.

What do we need to have a team of motivated and contented helpdesk operatives? Excellent leadership and management are vital. The immediate helpdesk management must be committed, imaginative and visible. Not locked away in a hidden office. They must:

  • Listen to their team and act upon any perceived problems or constructive suggestions

  • Communicate purpose and inspire their team to feel motivated even when chaos reigns

  • Empathise with people

  • Encourage to bolster flagging morale

  • They must know how to mentally "hug" their team

  • Get the basics right.

    It will be self-defeating having an inspirational leader if the roster falls over the first time someone goes sick.

    Senior management must learn to love the helpdesk. As often the first and only contact with the customer, it provides a huge opportunity, and the strongest reason that it should be supported. When did the IT director in your company last do a three-hour stint on the helpdesk, dealing with disgruntled customers because someone in infrastructure decided to re-boot a server without changing over to standby first?

    The helpdesk is an essential asset and must be viewed as such. But they must be treated as people. Not as a number on a roster. In some cases, working on the helpdesk is a first step into the world of information systems. If there is a pathway from the helpdesk into projects or IS support, then emphasise this.

    Helpdesk operatives vary from grandmothers to teenagers - but above all they are people. And they must be made to feel that they are important too.

    The organisation must have a clear concept of what helpdesk it wants.

    Is there a MCSE (Microsoft certified systems engineer) at the end of each line who will spend two hours taking the customer through each step of solving their printer-driver problem, while another 47 customers spend a productive two hours listening to the Spice Girls' greatest hits? Or will the people log all calls, raise an incident form and pass them onto the appropriate specialist.

    Customers must be clear about which service they should expect. The helpdesk operatives must be in no doubt about which service they are expected to provide.

    This leads to training. Helpdesk managers and senior management must ensure that all helpdesk operatives receive timely and focused training. As motivation, offer training which may benefit them in their next job. Hopefully that job will be with you and not a competitor.

    The key to evolutionising your helpdesk is to provide strong leadership, employ good management practices and concentrate on people. Many firms I know call the helpdesk worthless. As an IT leader, it is your role to make them priceless.

    David Taylor's Inside Track, a provocative insight into the world of IT in business ispublished by Butterworth Heinemann. Tel 01865-88180

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