Help Desk Challenge
Customers Who Bypass Procedures (and Tech Support Personnel Who Allow It)
Article by Donna Earl
A frequent challenge of internal IT help desks is the customer who bypasses procedures and the tech support agent who allows it.
Even in organizations where Service Level Agreements (SLAs) have been negotiated, customer expectations rarely conform to the SLAs. When an end user has a problem, they want it fixed, and fixed NOW! They don’t think about SLAs. They only think about getting tech support to fix the problem immediately. While every help desk wishes they had the resources to offer immediate service, the reality is they need to prioritize responses to requests, and require customers to follow a procedure, typically initiating a ticket.
User expectations must be managed by upfront communication, and also by support personnel actions. Frequently support agents create challenges by doing ‘favors’ for coworkers i.e.fixing their problem without going through the system, and creating a ticket. This creates two big problems. First, it ‘trains’ the user to bypass the system and go directly to a sympathetic support person. Other priorities in the system are ignored while the rogue user is accommodated. Often tech support personnel justify this by saying they’re just giving good customer service. While this brand of customer service suits the rogue user, it is bad customer service for the user who has submitted a ticket and has to wait longer. Until all support agents only fix problems with tickets, more and more users will expect ‘favors.’ A help desk agent named David said when he is approached to do a ‘favor’, he states, “I promise you’ll get help with your problem. Do me a favor, submit a ticket so I’ll remember to help, or one of my team members will make sure your problem is resolved.”
A more serious consequence of accommodating user requests and bypassing the system lies in the underreporting of work. I consulted with an internal IS help desk for a medical devices company. The agents complained of being stretched too thin under a heavy workload. They admitted 10 to 25% of their time was spent doing ‘favors’, i.e. helping users who had not submitted a ticket. When their stats for tickets/calls handled were compared to industry norm, this help desk was within average range. By doing ‘favors’ for their colleagues, they were under representing the time they spent working by up to 25%. With only 75% of their time accounted for, their manager could not make a case for more resources or personnel.
As tempting as it is for kind hearted technicians to bypass the system and help a frustrated user just this once, it can become an expectation with unfortunate consequences.
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