Executive Support Tops the Queue

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

In my company, the C level executives get special treatment. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. Even if someone else has a more serious issue, our manager wants us to give priority to the C level executive.

It doesn’t seem fair. How can I make the manager understand this is unfair to other users?


Perplexed IT Help Desk Engineer

A. Dear Perplexed:

What you’ve described is the scenario in a client company I recently worked with, and undoubtedly in many companies. In the case of my client, the CIO was highly sensitive to criticisms of the support function.

This CIO found any attempt to promote more advanced IT was derailed by complaints from other chief execs about slow service desk support. C level execs simply didn’t want to wait in queue, and wanted immediate resolutions. For strategic reasons, to make sure other C execs would support IT improvements, this CIO sent a mandate to the service desk that C level executives receive on demand support.

Perhaps in your organization, a similar dynamic exists. Your manager and director are under pressure to keep top level executives happy, which means timely support! When you’re asked to support C execs out of queue, keep an open mind that your manager is doing the best he can to provide access to support for all users and make sure top execs (many of whom have ‘type A’ personalities) have a positive regard for the help desk.


The Help Desk Coach

Improve Your Relationships with Other Managers

Q. Dear Coach:

I’m new at being a help desk manager and have a good understanding with my help desk team. But on a peer level with other managers in other departments, my relationship is not so good.

Other departments think the help desk doesn’t support their needs very well, and that is taking its toll on my interactions with them, and in meetings all they do is complain about the help desk.


New Manager

A. Dear New Manager:

I’m glad your rapport with your team is solid. That’s an important first step. It sounds like other managers feel their departments could be more effectively supported by the help desk.

I suggest you schedule a meeting with individual department heads, and ask them to explain what their department does, how they use IT, and how the help desk could be of more support and value.

Be prepared to take notes and listen without becoming defensive. Your relationship with these managers will improve just by initiating the dialogue and learning more about their departments. Prioritize their suggestions and see how many you can implement.

Make your team part of the process by sharing the suggestions with them, and ask them to help brainstorm ways to meet other departments’ needs.

If you need additional resources for improvement, write a report of your findings and present a list of priorities.

Good luck,

The Help Desk Coach

Raise the Bar on User Satisfaction

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

In a recent management meeting, one of the managers criticized the help desk, saying the engineers have no idea what the business units they support actually do. That comment stung.

My engineers are very good at supporting hardware, software and numerous devices and I thought they were doing a great job. How can I address this criticism?


Technology Manager Tim

A. Dear Tim:

This isn’t an unusual comment about tech support. Your engineers no doubt are very adept technically, however might not understand the environment of your users.

Users find support more relevant and targeted when the support engineer understands how the technology is used in the user’s environment to get the job done. Send your engineers out to the various business units and ask users to explain what they do and how they use technology.

Understanding the goals and focus of each business unit will help your engineers better address user priorities and issues. This insight can streamline support efforts, build rapport, and increase user satisfaction.

My suggestion is you start by visiting the most critical manager’s business unit. Next visit the business unit with the most tickets. As you move through the business units, collect feedback on how the support function can better address user needs.

I wish you success in learning more about your organization and raising the bar on user satisfaction.


Help Desk Coach

© Donna Earl 2018

Remote Agents – Balancing the Load

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

I manage agents in 4 locations, providing 24/7 support. The majority of our users are in North America, so the 2 teams in N.A. locations cover most phone and chat queries. The agents who work remotely in time zones with fewer users end up having to answer all the user email that has come in during our business day, so users will have answers in their morning inboxes to fulfill our promise of email response in less than 24 hours. The remote agents feel the team relies on them to do all email support, and usually they are still answering the backlog of email while trying to handle live contacts in their time zone. This has created resentmentful remotes. I admit their utilization is far higher than those in our headquarters locations, and have tried explaining that the perk for them is being able to work from home. They feel they’re providing all the email support, and although the teams at headquarters locations could, they leave email support to the remotes. It has created friction in the team, and I’m fearful of losing good, highly productive remotes.

Boss in the Middle

A. Dear Boss:

Because of their location and fewer live calls, the remotes have become the emailers of the team. The metrics you provided do highlight the 20% + utilization of remotes. Many help desks find remote agents are more productive than on-site peers, and you’re a clear example. In addition to the resentment and inequality perceived by your remotes, I have another concern: responding appropriately and professionally to email requires a higher level of writing and communication skills than chat or phone. While your remotes are honing this skill, agents at headquarters are not. Do you want that skill imbalance in your team? Are you rewarding agents according to their skills level? My recommendations are: 1) better triage and distribute email support so local agents develop email writing skills, 2)acknowledge the skill and utilization difference in agents during performance reviews and pay considerations, and 3)strive for more balanced utilization of all agents.

Help Desk Coach

©Donna Earl, Help Desk Coach, 2015

Support Vs. Sales

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

The new company I’m working for has an innovative product that my team and I support.

Although the company website explains what the product is and how it works, my team and I are constantly getting calls/contacts from non-users who want us to explain the product. These calls detract from our time available to support existing users and do other relevant support tasks.

When I bring this problem to the attention of managers, they say because my group has extensive product knowledge, they are best equipped to answer potential customer questions.

I think this is more of a marketing job that’s being forced on my team.  We’re facing a new product launch and I’m anticipating a surge in support requests and resent the information requests being included in my group’s workload. What can I do?


Conscientious Charles

A. Dear Conscientious Charles:

You’re absolutely correct:  inquiries for product information should be handled by a sales/marketing function. Unfortunately, the only contact info on your company’s website leads to your support group, so that’s why your team receives so many inquiries.

This dilemma requires intervention from a top manager. Please document all inbound contacts and segment them in to requests for support from existing users, and non-user requests for product information. Assess how much of your team’s time is spent handing support request vs. information requests.

Take this data and meet with your manager. Explain that with new product launch looming, your team needs to spend time familiarizing themselves on new product.

Voice your concern that existing users’ need for support is compromised when your team is busy answering prospective customer questions. Request your manager push this matter upward, using your data and emphasize the importance of a reputation for excellent product support is to an organization.

I wish you the best in advocating the best for your team and company.


Help Desk Coach

©Donna Earl, 2018

Empathy for Frustration

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

A user has escalated her complaint to management about the way she was addressed by the help desk tech. The tech asked her to repeat her problem, and the user didn’t like that and gave the tech ‘attitude’ and then complained to the manager about the tech. Desktop support solved the problem earlier in the week, but the problem returned. How should the manager address the user’s bad attitude and lack of respect shown when the help desk tech asked her to repeat the problem?

A. Dear Help Desk Supporter:

It certainly sounds like this user was frustrated that an issue has recurred. While her demeanor might not have been ‘tech friendly’, her irritation at a recurring issue is understandable. I believe the role of the help desk agent is not only to fix technical issues, but to also empathize with the user. Most people feel frustrated when technology glitches interfere with getting the job done. That frustration compounds when the glitch reoccurs. I believe the most professional help desk support focuses on their role of resolving user issues, and resists the temptation to spend time as ‘attitude police.’

Repeat Callers

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

I manage an active help desk of outstanding engineers. Our main problem with end users is the repetitive calls from people whose issues we’ve already solved, but they keep recreating the same problem. I would estimate at least every engineer on my help desk (18) receives one or more of these frustrating calls every day. How can we make end users more responsible and stop creating the same problem over and over again (or else remember how to fix it themselves).

A. Dear Help Desk Supervisor:

Most help desk professionals feel annoyed at end users who call multiple times with the same issue. Often issues these users call in about can be categorized. Make sure your self support knowledge base includes responses to these questions. Even if your support function does offer self support, there are some end users who will call no matter what. My favorite technique to help educate users on repetitive issues, is to send a follow up email after a support call. Include a link to the answer in the self support knowledge base and provide the user with a written source for problem solving. If your desk doesn’t have self support, ask your engineers to compose answers for the most frequently posed issues by the ‘repeat offenders’ and start a FAQ list, and knowledge base. In addition to providing a link to the solution, your engineers can cut and paste/edit the answers to send to the users. Although emailing a response initially takes more time, it can ultimately cut down on the number of repeat calls. When a user calls (again) about a repeat issue, you can tell the caller you will resend the answer so they will always have quick access to a solution. If the issue is something that user training could resolve, consider creating a tutorial to help end users, or provide a training resource for your user base.

Finding the Problem

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

I’m the CEO of a software company which provides support to a specialized customer base. Although our metrics are good regarding speed to answer call, first call resolution, problem resolution, etc., our customers still think we don’t offer good customer service. Even when our sales department takes the metrics to show customers, they still complain about our customer service. I’m thinking perhaps quality is the issue. What do you think?

A. Dear Software CEO:

You are absolutely right to look at reasons that have nothing to do with numbers. Your customers are telling you they want something other than a focus on numbers. To get to the root of the problem, gather information from other sources. Do you or another manager routinely monitor calls to listen to your technicians’ communication skills? How are calls with frustrated customers handled? Have your technicians had any training in guiding calls proficiently and courteously? Do your technicians handle difficult situations diplomatically? The answer to these questions could help you explain the disconnect between your numbers and your reputation.

‘Triage’ Calls to the Appropriate Rep

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

I’m the help desk coordinator of a busy tech support help desk, and the first person the end user talks to when calling in for technical assistance. The user typically blurts out their whole problem to me. When I tell them I can’t help them but have to transfer them to a technical person, they usually get madder and yell at me, even though I’m polite and tell them I can’t help them with their problem but can only transfer them. In addition, I have to ask for their customer account number and sometimes the user doesn’t know what that is, and they yell even more. It is frustrating and I feel like I take the brunt of customer anger all day long.

A. Dear Help Desk Coordinator:

Your job is to ‘triage’ calls to the appropriate tech rep, gather appropriate customer information up front, instill confidence in the customer, and keep your eye on the queue. This is not a job for sissies. You have a big responsibility and even though you aren’t providing technical assistance, a big part of the customer’s perception about the quality of the support your company offers is a result of how you handle incoming calls. Let me offer the following suggestions:

  1. Before the caller gallops through their whole problem, gently interrupt, saying “Excuse me for interrupting, to help you most effectively, I will transfer you to one of our specialists for help with your specific issue.”
  2. To gather necessary information from caller, say “To help you quickly, I will need your customer account number first, please.”
  3. Don’t forget the power of an apology. Even though you’re not responsible for their technical issues, say “I’m sorry you’ve run into complications today.”
  4. Thank them for their patience, even if they’re not. Being thanked for model behavior they’re not modeling can be highly sobering.
  5. Always communicate all information about the customer (or enter in ticket) before transferring to the technical support desk.

Coach Users to Help Themselves

Q. Dear Help Desk Coach:

I work at a help desk that supports 396 educators in a school system. We provide phone support and on-site support, so we’re really busy all the time. I can’t understand why many of the teachers won’t learn how to solve their own problems. They’re teachers, but they don’t want to learn! I feel really frustrated when I have to go to classrooms multiple times to (re)solve the same problem over and over again. How can I teach teachers?

A. Dear Tech Guru:

Other tech support professionals will confirm that teachers aren’t the only end users who would prefer an on-site guru to resolve every issue. Part of our job is to provide technical assistance, and the other part is to provide technical coaching. Some users will always be dependent on us, however many will learn to help themselves if we coach them properly. Here are some guidelines for coaching users to help themselves:

  1. Wait for the teachable moment before you try to educate them. Most tech support agents try to educate the user while solving the problem. The user is still frustrated, and just wants the problem fixed!
  2. After you’ve solved the problem (and the user has calmed down) quickly offer a suggestion: “Next time this happens, try ______ first. If I’m busy and can’t get to you right away, it might solve the problem (or provide me with valuable troubleshooting information etc.)”
  3. Every time you resolve a problem or issue, add a brief suggestion or simple coaching tip. Most users will appreciate the information and will try to be more self-reliant.