The new help desk: Agile, educational, efficient

Some organizations view users' problems as a 'teaching moment,' others focus on efficiency

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"Using a remote control and collaboration solution, Level 2 can help Level 1 resolve issues more efficiently, with the goal being to reduce escalations," says Greene. "In the same context, Level 1 can use remote control to teach end users how to resolve their own issues or guide them to knowledge-management documentation."

The point is not just to correct some problem or mistake, but to help ensure that the end user fully understands the reasons for the issue and thus will have the means to prevent or address future occurrences, King says. Ideally, this approach will lead to fewer help desk calls or "at least a better informed and more able workforce."

Peugeot Netherlands: No ticket left unresolved

The Netherlands branch of the French automaker supports 179 car dealerships throughout Europe and another 160 commercial users in the head office, based in Utrecht. The help desk employs 26 technicians and processes about 3,750 tickets per year on average, or about 72 each week.

Richard Nolting, the help desk manager, says the company wanted to improve efficiencies. In 2010, the company was resolving almost 90% of support issues in 2.4 days on average, bettering an International Standards Organization-mandated goal of 80% resolution; but as an ISO-based shop, Peugeot wanted to improve even more.

The company also wanted more flexibility. Nolting says some help desk systems are overly 'canned,' with automatic and robotic-sounding messages sent back to users. To make the communication more personalized, Peugeot Netherlands needed more features. For example, Nolting says, he wanted a system that lets technicians send SMS alerts to users so IT staffers can communicate from wherever they happen to be in the building. Other goals included building a knowledge base of support calls and allowing users to create their own personalized tickets.

Richard Nolting
Richard Nolting, help desk manager for Peugeot Netherlands, says his company wanted to improve efficiency, even though it was already resolving almost 90% of support issues.

The company started using Kayako, a collaborative help desk program. Nolting says a key feature is the ability for every agent to access all support-related emails. When agents create a ticket, they enter a user profile. Agents can then click an option to start a VoIP call, engage in live chat, or begin a screen-sharing session.

While other help-desk vendors might allow these activities, Nolting says, they are more ad hoc and not necessarily recorded as part of the support call. Tracking is important to him, because it helps his organization avoid having to manually sort and manage tickets.

"We made extensive use of Kayako's mail parser rules, workflows and smart filters," Nolting says, explaining how tickets can be automatically assigned to specific managers and tracked accordingly. Over the past year, he says, support calls have improved to a same-day resolution average of around 94%, an increase of 5% to 10%. And the total time to resolve support issues changed to 1.8 days on average, down from 2.4 days.

Tracking all tickets is immensely helpful long-term, says Greene. "Only well-documented processes can be transformed into structured workflows. So if the data is not captured in ticketing tools, it will be hard to find and re-use should the [same] issues ever arise again." Tools like Kayako "keep out-of-band conversations from going into the garbage, and let IT operations groups and administrative teams better understand work patterns in support of processes," he says.

Peugeot is using Kayako both to simplify the query process and as a tracking and auditing tool, says PUND-IT's King. "This should help increase the efficiency of help desk processes, but it also creates records to fulfill internal auditing processes," he says. Another potential benefit: search and analytics could be applied to gain insight into recurring problems or employee and dealership usage patterns.

De Beers Canada: The paperless help desk

De Beers Canada, the mining arm of the company probably best-known in the U.S. for its high-end jewelry stores, has found a way to make the help desk entirely paperless. With two remote mines of about 400 employees each, and headquarters in Toronto with about 100 employees, the company wanted to streamline operations. One goal was to reduce the number of help desk tickets as an indicator of success.

James Ross, corporate IT manager for the help desk, says the company has reduced tickets from 700 per month down to about 500. One method for streamlining: Tickets are grouped according to incidents, so technicians can address the root cause and prevent more calls about the same problems. They achieved this by monitoring help desk tickets and predicting problems rather than waiting for them to happen.

James Ross
De Beers Canada has reduced its monthly help-desk ticket load to around 500, from 700.

For example, they used to be surprised by requests for new hardware or business software. But now help-desk staffers can see patterns from the same department, around the same time of year, and can be better prepared for those requests, say, if bandwidth is a problem.

De Beers uses ManageEngine's Service Desk Plus to group tickets, send SMS alerts to IT staffers, and record electronic signatures for all tickets. Although the company does not use the mobile version of the app today, it plans to add that capability.

Ross says a key new feature, given that employees at the mines are in a place that IT workers cannot drive to, is that all help desk activities are audited and can be monitored remotely. This remote monitoring used to be an ad hoc, manual process.

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