Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Do Users Prefer to Contact the Help Desk? Should They?

I've been thinking a lot lately about utilization of the Help Desk (Service Desk, whatever...), and how many of us in IT management constantly try to funnel all requests through the Help Desk. It was starting to bother me that most of us, myself included, spend an awful lot of effort telling end users not to go straight to other IT staff. I can't tell you how many times I've received a call or email from an end user, asking for help with a problem -- or answers to their questions -- and my response was to direct them to the Help Desk.

I recently realized how hypocritical this response is. A few years ago our Finance group made changes to the way we process corporate credit card transactions. Those of us outside Finance complained loudly to each other about how much harder the new system was for us. I was fond of telling anyone who would listen that I'd never endorse an IT project that made life easier for IT, but harder for everyone else. Ha! I understood service, and Finance obviously did not. It was probably within the same day that I told an end user, for the 80th time, that the Help Desk is the best place to go to start any IT inquiry. I love irony ... expect for when it convicts me.

A few days ago Aale Roos (Recommended Twitter follow) linked me to an article he wrote about the concept of Service Desk Market Share. Read up for a good discussion of some survey work he's done around the issue. His take is based more upon the idea of how many attempts a user makes before getting their problem resolved, and how many places other than the service desk a user goes to get help. My interests lie in the options users have in contacting different IT staff.

If an end user has a problem, question, or request to implement something, they have a myriad of choices of where to go to get help. Frequently, the choice is not the Help Desk. We know that self-help can be a great option. It empowers the user and lowers overall costs (assuming what they do actually helps, and they find the answer quickly). Within IT, however, our current attempts to FORCE use of the Help Desk is no better than Finance forcing an unwieldy reimbursement process on us. This is a simple truth:

If it doesn't improve the requester's experience, we shouldn't do it.

I don't advocate banishment of the help desk. Far from it. The Help Desk / Service Desk model allows for significant cost savings and professional management of business requests. Note that I say "allows for". All too often, the only benefit of the Help Desk model is to allow the staff that handles Level 2 and 3 support to spend more time on higher profile -- and therefor more business visible -- projects. Take a long, hard look at your support processes. Do they focus on improving the requester's experience, or are they really based on ensuring the techies don't get bothered by new requests? We've actually encouraged staff outside the Help Desk to turn away requests. The way to get users to access the Help Desk is for those in the other channels to make themselves look awful, right? Don't be embarrassed, we've all done it.

There. Doesn't it feel good to get that out in the open?

So, is your Help Desk the preferred choice when your customers need help or request something? Or are there alternatives, sanctioned or not, that your customers would rather use? Why?

In the next post, I'll look at some ways to start making the Help Desk the preferred choice, as well as how to determine when they shouldn't be the preferred choice. Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. [...] Part 1, I questioned a fundamental assumption around IT services and how they are supported: that the Help [...]

  2. Hi Daniel,

    The thing is it's hard to convince people that the time to get something done through the helpdesk is less than the time it takes to get something done by calling someone. Most people think of their problems as urgent and they do not want to wait.

    Maybe a seminar on the helpdesk in the company will help clarify things for them.