A successful help desk seeks to solve incidents quickly, find resolutions to persistent problems, and keep end-users happy. The help desk is the first line of defense triaging tickets and working with end-users directly to fix their technical problems, and this is no easy task.
In order to keep ticket queues low and morale high, help desk managers should consider these three key principles:
1) Dedicated People
2) Established Processes
3) Centralized Information
Dedicated people is the first key principle.
A help desk doesn’t necessarily need senior level engineers with advanced degrees and 10 years’ experience. Instead, a solid first line of defense requires a solid team of hard workers who know how to locate information on internal information repositories and how to Google solutions to weird Windows and printer issues. The key here is hard work and dedication. I don’t mean dedication to showing up on time, necessarily, though that’s certainly important. What I mean is a dedication to getting the issue-at-hand resolved.
For example, during my first year in IT, I worked on a help desk serving a large government agency. We had hundreds of new tickets in the queue every day. My co-worker, Don, made it his simple goal to close as many tickets per week as he could. Don was already in his 30s and had changed careers from restaurant management, so he didn’t have decades of experience along with advanced computer science degrees and industry certifications. What he did have was a sheer determination to figure out an issue and get the problem fixed. Our end-users loved him and often asked for him specifically. He browsed through our internal wikis and Googled his life away looking for a way to fix an issue, and nearly every time he eventually figured it out.
This is what a good help desk needs: people who know how to do basic online research and are dedicated to sticking with an issue until it’s resolved.
Having clear, established processes is the second key principle.
My friend Don would have had a much more difficult time resolving tickets without the processes in place to enable him to get the job done. For example, a service desk manager must determine how tickets will be logged and organized, how they will be triaged, how they will be escalated, and how to provide quick information to help desk technicians to solve new tickets as they come in.
In my experience this means first finding the right ticket management system. Whether it’s in the cloud or on local servers, a solid ticket management system will make it easy for end-users to submit tickets and for the service desk to organize, triage, and resolve them. I personally prefer a single source of truth in which the ticketing system is not only a way to organize tickets but also an information repository and a method to communicate with end-users. In this way technicians can log into one system and find everything they need to get the job done. Navigating multiple systems and many windows is a sure-fire way to forget (or ignore) tickets and spend way too much time looking up simple information such as license keys or asset locations.
Another important part of clear and established help desk processes is accountability. This must be built in to the help desk processes and not just assumed. Tickets get lost, and sometimes they’re ignored. This may be because the help desk is dealing with a huge number of tickets with too few people, but I’ve seen many tickets ignored because they were difficult, long-winded, or because the end-user was a well-known jerk.
Rather than have tickets come in from end-users into a general queue, consider having them all go first to a help desk manager or team lead to very quickly triage and be assigned to the appropriate technician. I have seen struggling service desks go from zero to hero implementing just this one simple process.
A decent ticketing system will have escalation timers, auto-responders, and many other built-in tools to automate workflow, but don’t rely on the software alone to maintain some semblance of order. This is a top-down process beginning with help desk managers and team leads.
Maintaining a centralized, updated information repository is the last key principle.
Let’s face it, most companies use Windows computers for their end-users. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but even Apple devices and various flavors of Linux are not custom-built operating systems that no one has ever heard of. That means many end-user issues are not unique to any one company. What is unique is the company-specific knowledge.
What are the IP addresses of the domain controllers? Where is the installation file for the billing software kept? Does the new branch office use a Windows DHCP server or is it running off their core switch?
Having a centralized repository of information is priceless to a helpdesk technician. Better yet is when the repository is also the ticket management system, and even better yet is when it also contains documentation for how to solve recurring issues or how to install weird company software.
In my first job as a network engineer I worked near the service desk who sat in the next cubicle area. As the number of customers grew, so did the number of technicians, and so did the amount of information needed to resolve tickets. We used a great ticket management system and kept as much information as possible in it. We also used an internal wiki page, but in order to get to it you had to follow a link embedded in the ticketing system.
They were able to support several thousand end-users with a help desk of only three technicians and one service desk manager. So important were these principles that if it anyone discovered that information wasn’t in the database that should have been, whoever was responsible to get it in there had to bring in donuts for the entire office. Yes, I brought donuts in a couple times, and so did our service desk manager and even the owner of the company.
There are volumes that can be written on how to provide successful end-user support. These three principles may be broad, and I’ve seen them implemented in very different ways. However, so long as you have dedicated people, clear processes, and an updated information repository, the help desk will be the successful first line of defense every CIO and Director of IT dreams of.