An IT help desk can easily take on a huge range of activities, but if you have limited resources then you must think about the essentials. This is true even if you’d like to grow your help desk over time so that it delivers every capability of a fully featured enterprise service desk; it’s much wiser to start with something more limited, deliver some value to your customers, get some feedback, and then grow incrementally, rather than trying to start everything at once.
So what are the essential things that a help desk has to do? Here’s my list, based on my many years of experience in the industry.
One of the most important capabilities of an IT help desk is great interaction with users. This means that you must provide a user-friendly way for customers to contact the help desk, and you must make sure that every user interaction is captured so that it doesn’t get lost. Typically, users contact the help desk by telephone, but if you can provide other channels such as a web portal to help users contact you, then that’s even better.
Every time a user contacts the help desk, you must create a record showing what they asked, and how you responded. Even if it’s just a quick question that you could answer straight away you should always keep a record; one day you might need to know what happened, and if you don’t record it then it’s gone forever.
But the help desk’s fundamental responsibilities don’t end when you put the phone down after a call. A great help desk must also take responsibility for making sure that every call is properly managed. So, you must make sure the customer’s issue gets resolved (I’ll come back to that in a minute). You must also keep the customer updated. And, later, check that the customer is happy with how the call was resolved.
A help desk that just logs incidents and passes them on to other groups to resolve doesn’t add very much value. There are some help desks that work like this, but they are very unpopular with users. And what help desk wants its users to see them as nothing but an obstruction that slows down their access to the people who can really help them?
I think that every help desk should be able to live up to its name. It should provide some level of help. The people who work on the help desk should have the skills, training, and access to knowledge in order to be able to resolve a reasonable percentage of user incidents, ideally during the initial customer call.
If you’re setting up a new help desk, or planning improvements to your existing help desk it’s very important to focus on this. Think about the types of incident your help desk should be able to resolve on its own, and then make sure you recruit and train help desk technicians that can deliver real value to your users.
There will always be some incidents that the help desk can’t resolve. When that happens your help desk staff need to have the right relationships with the groups who can resolve those incidents. Make sure they can escalate such incidents to the right people, and that escalations get the right response. You should make sure that everyone knows who is responsible for getting back to the user with updates. But even if the help desk isn’t responsible for updates, they should still be keeping an eye on all outstanding incidents to make sure that progress is being made and users are happy.
Help desk reporting is NOT an optional extra. You need reports to understand what value you are getting from your help desk, what areas need to improve, whether your users are happy with the service they’re getting, and so on.
The first questions you need to ask yourself about help desk reporting are “Who are the reports for?” and “What will they use the reports to do?” Don’t make the mistake of generating long, boring reports full of numbers that nobody cares about, or even bothers to read, just because you have the data. Keep the reports as short as possible, and base them on the things your stakeholders care about.
There are some examples of metrics and KPIs, which you might want to include in your help desk reporting, in Stuart Rance’s recent blog Defining Metrics for a Help Desk, but these are just examples. The important thing is that your reports have the information that your stakeholders need.
I’m sure that some people won’t agree with me including continual improvement as an ESSENTIAL activity for a help desk, but I’m going to do it anyway. Because the alternative to continual improvement isn’t staying where you are, it’s becoming gradually irrelevant. Never forget that in a competitive market – and every market is competitive nowadays – your customers always have choices. If every other organization invests in continual improvement and you choose to carry on as you are then they are going to leave you behind. Eventually someone will notice that you offer poor service, and poor value for money, and that is not where you want your company to be.
So, think about what matters to your stakeholders and make sure that you keep improving. There are many ways that a help desk can improve; you may want to think about some combination of:
Whatever you decide to focus on, you should make sure that you measure and report progress, so that stakeholders can see that the help desk is continually improving.
So now you know what I think is essential for every help desk:
If you’re doing all these things then congratulations, you’re probably running a pretty good help desk. If not, then I highly recommend that you think about what it would take to get there.
There are, of course, lots of added value things that you could do to make your help desk even better, and I’ll be writing about some of those in my next blog.