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July 18, 2003 by Carl Faulkner Carl Faulkner

Is Your Help Desk ‘Helpless’?

While visiting a client bank recently, I observed a help desk in operation and watched unfold what I later learned was a typical scenario:

The phone rings. The next available agent answers. She listens for a while, gives some information to the caller, and hangs up the phone. The agent then relays to her workmates that, once again, Bill at the Oxford branch called asking how to create a Word document. The other agents, nodding their heads in understanding, relate similar experiences with Bill and many of the staff at this branch.

When I asked what had been done with the information generated as a result of Bill’s call, the answer I received was “nothing.” It was this agent’s job to keep Bill happy by answering his question, regardless of how many times the same question had been asked from the same location. But because she was not in any way creating a record of the call – and others like it – the information she wasn’t processing and the message the bank wasn’t getting was that the Oxford branch was in desperate need of Microsoft Word training.

When was the last time you called your help desk? Last week? Last month? A year ago? Was your call answered within three rings (by a live person)? Was the individual courteous and helpful? Was he or she able to resolve your problem on the initial call? If not, did someone get back to you in a reasonable period of time? Did that person resolve your problem?

These are typical questions used to evaluate the quality of service provided by the help desk. Perhaps your help desk produces reports on its effectiveness. The information generated in the report might include number of calls, number of calls per help desk FTE, talk time, and percentage of calls resolved on the initial call. Another commonly reported statistic is the number of calls expected next week, next month and next year. Of course, the number of expected calls is rising and quite often is tied to the number of employees or bank growth.

Naturally, help desk management is looking for ways to get out from under the crush of calls. Automatic call directors, tracking software, and hands-free headsets are a few of the ways increasing volumes can be processed more efficiently. And, of course, more head count, a request included in every budget year.

In my opinion, this form of help desk management is BS. It is certainly important that help desk staff are accommodating and courteous. It is equally important that volumes of calls are answered promptly. But it seems the real purpose of the help desk has been overlooked. It does not exist to be your staff’s help maiden (although in many cases that is exactly what is happening). The real purpose of a help desk is to gather incident information, determine the real meaning of the information, and respond by fixing the underlying cause of the problem.

In most banks, the focus is on resolving the caller’s immediate problem. All too often the help desk manager is rewarded for answering an ever-growing number of calls. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I say reward the manager for  reducing your staff’s need to call the help desk.

Consider this best practice case study:

Inadequate staffing at Ordinary Bank’s help desk resulted in slow answers or no answers to problems, few returned calls, and lack of follow-up on the crush of calls received each day. To resolve the problem, help desk management screamed for more FTEs.

At Exceptional Bank, the help desk applied Carl’s Real Purpose of the Help Desk Principles to incoming calls so that they could analyze call volume and understand what it was telling them. Once real causes were identified, an appropriate response was determined and implemented. After 90 days, call volumes started dropping and service began improving. After a year the staff was smaller and the function was considered “helpful” instead of “helpless.”

Are you one of the banks whose management team has not been responsive to the misuse of the call center? Is your bank among the majority reporting that resetting employee passwords accounts for half of their help desk call volume? Are you the Oxford branch manager who would not let Bill go to Word training?

Perhaps it is time for an overhaul. If your bank has been operating with a “helpless desk,” here are 11 tips to assist you in making the transition to a real help desk:

  1. Make sure the management team understands they are part of the problem and must be part of the solution.
  2. Ensure that your phone system supports automatic call director functions so that a call can be routed to available agents and data can be collected on talk times, number of calls, etc.
  3. Take a good look at the automated tools provided for help desk staff and make certain they are sufficient to capture information for later analysis.
  4. Capture information from every phone call. Not nearly all, not most, but EVERY phone call.
  5. Use voice mail for recording calls as a last resort and read the riot act to staff about responding to messages promptly.
  6. Create categories for call types (e.g., “password related”) and categorize every call for later analysis.
  7. Capture location and specific equipment information for hardware-related calls.
  8. Assign or transfer a good analyst to assist in understanding the call patterns and their underlying meanings.
  9. Build reports to show where and why calls are being generated, then distribute these reports within the bank.
  10. Require the management team to assume responsibility for issues identified within their business areas (e.g., Training should take responsibility to correct a deficiency identified by an inordinate number of calls to the help desk with questions about Microsoft Office and Word). Report it to the CEO when responsibility is not assumed by the appropriate unit.
  11. Last but not least, charge back calls to the originating cost center.

This is a cultural change and may be met with resistance. However, if your organization is proactively responding to issues before they become big problems, staff morale will increase and help desk costs will decrease. I’ll bet my hat on it.

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