The Help Desk

I just finished writing an article on customer help desks, and after researching six large companies, speaking with their various employees, and examining their methods, all I can say is “sitcom”.

If any of these companies hired Charlie Sheen, they could branch out to reality TV and have the hottest new show of the decade.

Never in my life have I seen such poorly designed systems. It’s no wonder callers are frustrated. Forget problems with off shoring the support. Sure, you may run into the occasional help desk person who speaks English poorly, or reads from a script while trying to troubleshoot your issue, but a huge chunk of the help desk structure is fatally flawed.

I examined six help desks in four different industries, and they all suffer from the same fatal flaw – tracking. Each of these help desks track the number of closed tickets. Now keep in mind that there is a huge difference between closed and resolved.

All six of these help desks tracked their employees and provided statistics to their management using “close” rates.

Here’s a typical example of what I found. This particular issue is from an internal help desk.

A customer calls in to the help desk and is unable to print. The help desk engineer performs troubleshooting and realizes that a print server is down. He informs the caller of the downed server, and tells her to talk to her local IT person. The engineer then closes the call as resolved. Within one hour, the help desk takes an additional 16 calls for the same print issue on the same server. They are all handled exactly the same way. In fact, after the first two calls, everyone at the help desk is aware of the print server issue. The additional 16 calls are handled, and marked as resolved.

The server would be back online an hour later.

Does this sound like good customer service to you? After the first few calls, couldn’t the help desk have notified the IT department and made them aware of the downed server? Couldn’t they have told one of the callers to let their surrounding department know about the downed server?

No. The help desk performed exactly as expected.

In the eyes of the help desk and their managers, they handled a “department wide outage” and resolved 17 caller issues related to this problem. This same help desk shift would each receive a $200 bonus for handling the situation quickly and efficiently.


Just imagine if the help desk had called the local IT department after discovering the downed server. They could have alleviated an additional 16 calls.

But that would be bad for help desk numbers. The help desk handled and resolved 17 calls. The monthly report to upper management would simply show that the first shift handled a high call volume, and closed the calls quickly and efficiently. Go help desk!

These days, help desks are triage units – bandage the problem, and get the user back into battle as quickly as possible. Don’t take the extra time to keep the problem from reoccurring, and don’t take the time to work hand in hand with other departments for better uptime and availability. Just get the user back to work and make your numbers look good.

Sadly, this same scenario played out in the other five companies as well. Though the situations were different, the method and end result were the same.

But rest assured, when the sales team hits the field, they will remind prospective clients that they have a first-class help desk that resolves over 300 calls per month.

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