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Secret CIO: How To Get Superstars On Your Help Desk

Track user satisfaction continuously: Use metrics to find hot buttons

It was raining, and I was a few minutes late joining my fellow CIOs. The last time we'd gotten together after work, we'd talked about client satisfaction, and I had expressed my conviction that staffing the help desk with the best people possible is the key to success. After relating my travails with human resources in negotiating the needed job upgrades, they had asked how I measured the service improvement I'd promised. As my drink arrived, my friends reminded me that I hadn't answered that question. Leaning forward in my chair, I began:

"It isn't rocket science, or maybe it is, because I ran into a lot of opposition from our own staff. It was surprising; I thought the major problems would be external, but it was the IT group that gave me the hard time. Many of them acted as if it was great that there were higher help-desk grades, but just in the context that their own should be higher still.

"Normally, I delegate and just monitor the strategy and target dates for storm clouds, but this time it wasn't enough, so I got heavily involved. As it turned out, my participation showed I was serious about help-desk quality, and that alone got the staff to believe the help desk was important.

"Face time helped--spending hours with the analysts on the desk as well as participating in the interviews of some of the applicants. There wasn't a whole lot that I could do to aid in the selection process, but it seemed to convince people that the help desk might be a place with a real future.

"The hard part was picking metrics that define good service and figuring out how to measure results. There were a lot of meetings over those two issues. The problem I had with some of the early ideas was that they were counterproductive. People do what you treat as important, not what you say is important. If praises and raises depend on how many job tickets are closed, you can rest assured that the average time spent on a call will go way down and throughput will go up. Clients may not get the assistance they need, but goal numbers will be met.

"We decided that user satisfaction was key and that getting repeated calls on the same problem was bad. So we tracked satisfaction on every job ticket. If it was a trip to someone's desk, a response card was left by the computer; if it was a phone call, the support analyst asked for a rating, which was fed back to the client via E-mail. Whenever we saw an inordinately high number of incidents from a person, or on a specific issue, there was follow-up to see if training or procedural changes were needed to lower the number of calls.

"Providing good service was a challenge, but constant feedback and careful analysis worked. A harder problem was making sure we were cost-effective. Using the metrics to identify hot buttons that needed attention, coupled with automation, kept costs down. For example, automated password reset saved us dollars. Likewise, we got executive support for further package standardization when we showed what the status quo was costing us.

"I'd be lying if I said it was easy. It was all worthwhile, though, and I stick to the contention that getting superstars on the help desk is one of the smartest things that you can do."

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

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