Transform your IT Help Desk

CIOs: Now is the time to upgrade the level of professional management within your help desk function. Here's how.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

July 9, 2019

4 Min Read
Image: Goodluz -

In a survey conducted a couple years ago by Green Elephant, a management consulting and user satisfaction survey company, 42% of respondents said that their help desk personnel were lacking in courtesy.

“When people contacted the help desk, they were made to feel that they were interrupting,” said Simon Chapleau, Green Elephant’s CEO and founder. “CIOs and help desk managers have to ask themselves, 'Are we doing 80% of a service without following through? Why? And, instead of helping, are we making things worse?’"  

The help desk is one of the most user-facing functions in IT. Users often form their entire opinion of IT based upon what they experience at the help desk.

Therefore, there are golden opportunities the help desk provides IT when it comes to building trust in user relationships, and those opportunities shouldn’t be lost on CIOs. Unfortunately, they often are, and the reasons are simple:

  • Historically, the help desk has been an IT “landing point” for rookie employees who are just beginning their IT careers and will move on, or for other IT pros who are deemed to be less useful in the core IT disciplines of networks, databases, applications and systems.

  • Politically, the help desk isn’t given much respect, either. The help desk is often the last to find out about a new project launch, but the first to be asked questions by users that it doesn’t know how to answer. For all of these reasons, most IT staff who get assigned to the help desk are in a continuous search for transfers to other areas of IT where they feel career opportunities and professional respect are better. 

Nevertheless, with the service-oriented culture that IT departments have been moving toward over the past few years, this is good time for CIOs and other IT leaders to reassess by looking at the help desk through a fresh lens, not only to recognize and to build its importance, but to capitalize on the customer satisfaction and goodwill that a well-run help desk can generate from business users.

Here are four ways in which CIOs and IT leaders can get the most from their help desks:

Recruit the right talent for help desk functions. The help desk is a user/customer-facing function, not a “holding area” for inexperienced or limited personnel who cannot make it anywhere else in IT. The first caveat is that end users should never be taken for granted. They should be treated with the same level of respect as an outside company customer. If IT is to achieve a service reputation at this level, it needs front-line people at the help desk who know the systems and, most importantly, are able to communicate, collaborate, empathize and connect with end users in problem solving and resolution. An IT department might be better off hiring a liberal arts person who is able to communicate and quickly pick up systems knowledge, than a programmer who prefers to cut code or work alone.

Create a career path for employees with customer-facing skills. The problem with back-end functions in IT like training, documentation, and the help desk is that the IT staffers who work there feel like they're in a career “dead end” and that they must catapult themselves into applications, database, or other IT areas that provide better career advancement opportunities and that garner more respect from their fellow IT pros. CIOs who want to reinvent the help desk as an aggressive “customer-facing” function must change this paradigm. They can do this by creating help desk career ladders and commensurate salary levels with other areas of IT so the people who excel at the help desk don't feel that they have to move into other areas of IT to advance their careers.

Track systems that aren't performing. In a sense, the help desk is like an experienced surgeon looking at an x-ray. After you have been in the job long enough, you begin to recognize the systems and functions that continuously fail, or that irritate users on a daily basis, and the systems that really work. A relatively untapped area for IT is gathering intelligence from the help desk on the applications and systems that are most troublesome. The same help desk personnel can inform database administrators, system programmers and application developers about the issues users are facing. This can assist IT in identifying systems that should be replaced, retired or upgraded in significant ways so that user and business pain points can be eliminated.

Provide input for new systems at design meetings. Since help desk personnel work with end users every day, they are well aware of which systems and applications are difficult for users to use, and why that is so. Help desk personnel can provide valuable input into the design of new user interfaces for systems, and even into system functions and workflows. They are also invaluable communicators and liaisons with the end users themselves. A good way to harness help desk knowledge is to pull help desk personnel into system design meetings. This enables others in the design team to learn from help desk insights, and it also boosts the status and the perceived value of the help desk in IT.

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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