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The Help Desk: A Thorn in IT’s Side – or Valuable Feedback Tool?

Level 9

Listen to IT administrators when they vent about their least-favorite aspects of the job and you’ll hear common themes: the long hours, time spent on-call, the thankless nature of the job, and the “this would be a great job if it weren’t for our users…” Dig deeper though, and just about every IT admin, if offered the chance to change one thing about their job, would change the same thing: spend less time on break-fix and more time implementing new projects.

Viewed in that light, the Help Desk can seem like part of the problem. It’s a never-ending source of trouble tickets that keep the admins too busy to get to the fun parts of the job.

I invite admins to view your Help Desk differently: it’s a source of invaluable feedback on how your department is doing. For example:

  • Have you set up alerts to proactively monitor your infrastructure? Problem reports from Help Desk will quickly let you know what you left off your list.
  • Did you roll out an upgrade or patch recently? A lack of any update-related problem reports over the next couple days lets you know you did it well.
  • Has there been an increase in complaints about network performance? Perhaps that network Quality of Service tool you’re using isn’t configured correctly to meet current need.
  • Has there been a noticeable decrease in reports of out-of-space errors? You must be doing an excellent job of capacity management and planning.


If you can view your Help Desk as a feedback tool, it will help you to serve your customers better. (I encourage you to consider them to be “customers” and not “users” – it will elevate the quality of personal service that you offer.) Better service to your customers leads to less time spent on break-fix, freeing you up for the fun parts of the job.


Administrators, how do you view your Help Desk? What’s the most valuable piece of feedback you’ve received through your Help Desk?

17 Comments
Level 13

Blaming the Help Desk for the tickets is basically shooting the messenger. They don't create the issues, they just triage and report them (and, ideally, fix many of them without escalating).

You make some great points here, especially about thinking of users as customers. It has been said that IT is one of only two industries that refers to its customers as "users" (hint: the other one isn't legal).

Level 9

Exactly - don't shoot the messenger, instead work to make sure future messages are good news.

And, yes, that's a famous quote in IT circles... 🙂

MVP
MVP

Agree with what clubjuggle‌ and davemhenry‌ said.  They are the first line in the face of the customers.
Of course our job is to provide them with a good alert message with related info (KB article) to help them direct or resolve the issue early on.

Level 15

Good points.  Although, in all my years in IT it does seem that the triage first line defenders require the most training, have the least amount of time for training, and without excellent upstream communication about what is going on, and without an excellent alert system--they are grossly overwhelmed at taking care of customers.  I have been through many organizations that have a sign somewhere in the data center or help desk bullpen that reads "No day is a good day until you've killed at least one user".  Admittedly, this is back in the Mini and Mainframe world but it still holds through today.  I feel that we admins needs to always be prepared to roll up our sleeves and mentor our help desk personnel.  The rewards are worth the effort!

Level 9

The "how to train IT folks" problem is a common one through many organizations. Different groups have different approaches.

One job I worked had an active mentoring program. Front-line help desk folks (the org called them "Tier 1") who excelled would be assigned a mentor from the "Tier 2" group. A couple days a month the Tier 1 staffer would shadow their Tier 2 mentor to learn more about the admin job. My group, Tier 3, would work one-on-one with select folks from the Tier 2 group to help them learn how to diagnose and solve more complex problems.

Another company I know of did this in reverse: They would rotate their more senior staff through the Help Desk. This meant that once per quarter, each of the senior folks would spend a week working the front-line Help Desk. This served two purposes:

  1. It gave the more senior staff a better appreciation of what the folks on Help Desk do, and a better idea of user issues.
  2. By working more closely with the senior staff, the front-line folks gained more knowledge.

What approaches have you seen work?

Level 15

The second method is the one I am most familiar with the companies that I have been part of. 

Unfortunately, I have been associated with friends from other companies who just throw the noob on the phones and hope for the best. 

Level 11

Help Desks often get a bad rap for having canned responses or scripts to follow.   Help Desks are the first line of defense and have the ability to gather valuable troubleshooting information which can be used for problem resolution if and when tickets are elevated.

The Help desk is the life line.   I am in a small company and I can not afford to be idle for long.   With a limited staff and bit industry demands, we have to be on our toes.  This means we are spending time implementing, and break fixing things.  The Help desk connects us to our internal customers.   they always have a life line which we monitor.   No matter who is available, I see everything.   I don't have to wait for someone to ask me, I can post a reply for my techs to the HD.   This speeds up communication and reduces the support time.  Although I feel a lot of time can get lost in paperwork, the help desk is essential.   When you use the time features it sends a message to the rest of management if you need staff, you have documented proof.  I will not ever live with out a help desk software.  

Level 17

It all starts with that phone call for Help. The life line, for those with issues; and the feedback for those fixing the issues. With that being said, you must have a good back and forth with the service desk, they have to take feedback as well on how they handle calls and what they are able to troubleshoot with the tools they have at hand. Remote options and some tools will help with that first level resolution. If your Help/Service desk is not holding at least a bi-weekly meeting they are lacking (not all at once to the phones don't ring off the hook). A meeting about what they are doing well - what tools they have at their finger tips - what solutions have people come up with that they need to hear about for better help - new technologies being implemented - network and application down times - and a various list of other pertinent items related to your business that if empowered with the help desk could ease the minds and souls of those calling, if not just outright fix it 1st level.

Also understand that somewhere out there exist places with no SLA or SLD's defined. Places where the users do not know what it means to have help ... places that could use the help.

Though if the user actually understands an SLA and demands service the help desk can be the buffer between you the admin and that customer about to pop a vein.

Level 17

Having that documentation will keep you having that job!

Level 17

Those are both nice methods.. the first or cross training in effect is how I found myself a way off the help desk. Now I just Thwack all day, instead of taking calls.

MVP
MVP

I had a particular customer one time complain about some devices that were constantly creating tickets in their help desk. Rather than try to resolve the underlying issue of why the device was triggering the alerts, they just removed the device from being monitored - no more tickets = solved!

We also use our help desk system for elements other than alerting - such as pre-sales requests, project work, time sheets, and expenses. This allows management to see how much time we're spending on pre-sales vs break-fix vs project work, etc.

Level 13

That gets right to the point of my opinion - experienced help desk personnel are helpful and a good source of info.  Inexperienced personnel, or those that can't think outside of a script, are worse than useless.

Level 9

This is where applying best practices comes in. Insuring that every trouble ticket is thoroughly documented -- especially the symptoms and the resolution. Using a searchable ticketing system will enable Help desk to resolve similar issues if/when they occur.

Level 9

On the job I referred to, training was especially important. Our customers were our actual paying customers. Bad service experiences would lose us customers, and good ones would keep them.

Level 12

I have been through many organizations that have a sign somewhere in the data center

Level 17

When applied appropriately they are a massive feedback too and sounding board.. give them a chance to sound off and you may have insight on how to make everyone's life easier.