Friday, June 6, 2008

What is a Helpdesk?

OK, to start with it's not a desk that helps people! A help desk is a team of individuals (generally support staff) that provide solutions and resolutions to customers experiencing problems. Generally working at the 1st tier of the support model they are responsible for Incident reporting and resolution vs. Problem Management (I shall discuss those terms in greater depth below).

What is an Incident?

Simply put, an Incident is anything related to a customer contact (Incidents are also reported by automatic means via monitoring tools and I will discuss those types of incidents in greater depth in later posts). Incidents related to customers can be anything really – Information requests, Account Updates, Issue reporting are all examples of Incidents. Incidents can also be reported through a variety of different methods – this could include the phone (probably the most common), email (a close 2nd) and even chat. As mentioned previously, automated monitoring tools can also generate incidents.

All of these different Incidents coming from/through different sources would get routed to your Incident Management tool. For smaller teams this could be something as simple as a spreadsheet but in larger organizations either in-house customer built applications or enterprise level tools prevail.

Incident Management (in a nutshell)

Your helpdesk is responsible for reviewing the information in each of these incidents and checking if there is an appropriate solution already available to the customer. For those instances for example where the customer wishes to update their Account Information, the helpdesk would look at the Incident, obtain the correct new information (& assuming that all appropriate security questions had been reviewed) log into the customers account and update the information. Once the information had been updated, they would inform the customer and then close the Incident. This is probably one of the simpler examples of an Incident from start to finish.

If the customer is reporting a problem or an issue, the Helpdesk staff are responsible for updating the Incident with all the relevant details as supplied by the customer. If the customers issue matches a known fix they are able to inform or supply that fix to the customer, however, if that is not the case they would need to escalate the issue to the Problem Management team. The simplest way to think of the Incident Management (Helpdesk/Tier1) team and the issues they resolve is that if a "band-aid" exists they can apply it. If more drastic attention is required they will need to call the Doctor!

Problem Management

Problem Management is where the interesting work really happens. Incident Management due to its repetitive nature can get tedious and is definitely a drain on the more skilled staff in your organization ... if you have people like that, think about moving them into Problem Management if you have such a team or create one if you don't! Problem Management is more in-depth. It's where more often than not a single Problem is the cause of multiple Incident's from multiple customers ... as such you want your best people at this level. Generally you would consider this Tier 2 or Tier 3 from an escalation and staffing perspective and dependent on your product or service you would have some very technically oriented people there. Their goal is not to just provide a band-aid, but rather to find out why the problem happened in the first place and fix it. Ideally they should be looking at ways to fix it in such a way as to ensure that it doesn't happen again!!


Now each of these teams would have different metrics in place. Obviously your Tier1 team (Incident Management/Customer Service/Helpdesk) needs to get back to the customer in a timely manner. Their goal as already mentioned is to fix it, fix it fast and move on. A band-aid will not always reattach the finger though, so it's up to the Tier2 team to ensure that the surgery goes smoothly which obviously takes a lot more time as you don't want the surgeon doing a shoddy job!

Response Time - So with that analogy in mind ... you want to have an aggressive goal set for your Helpdesk – try to work with the 80/20 rule ... 80% of incidents responded to in 20 seconds (If you have the resources, otherwise maybe 20 minutes? Or 20 hours (that's less than 1 day so might still be good – especially if you're doing email support)? Or 20 days ß well that's probably not really worthwhile) but hopefully you get the point? You want to set a specific goal for measuring how quickly your customers are getting a response.

Resolve Time – notice that I have separated these out. As much as you'd like to be able to resolve 100% of issues at that first contact, its not always going to be possible. However you can have another measurement in place that tracks this which is the Resolve Time (sometimes called MTTR (Mean Time to Repair)). The Goal here is also to get that band-aid on as quickly as possible so you need to ensure that your Incident Management system has some sort of a knowledge base which helps your staff find the solution to commonly placed issues/questions. If they have the answer every time, then a 100% resolution at 1st contact is achievable! If not however ... it gets a bit more complicated because all of a sudden your Incident Management team becomes the customer and the team they go to is the Problem Management team. Guess what? They have a different measurement for Response Time and Resolve Time too!

Problem Management Response Time – now as previously mentioned these are generally your more senior staff and as much as you'd like them to be available 24/7 unless you have an extremely large organization this is probably fairly unlikely. So you are going to have build or determine some relevant response times based on their availability. In addition, as these escalated issues are generally issues that cannot easily be resolved, your resolution time is going to be extended also. Pick some appropriate intervals that meet your customers SLAs. Your main goal for this team (in addition to resolving the problem of course) is communication, communication, communication!!! They must inform your customer facing agents what the issue is, what they are doing to resolve it and when they expect to have it resolved. If they cannot provide an estimated resolution time, they MUST provide your Tier1 team with an estimated update time.
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