5 annoying help desk calls -- and how to banish them

Free your help desk staff and empower your IT customers by eliminating these five all-too-common calls.

helping the help desk

The help desk is a hotbed of activity these days.

Despite the average person's growing technical acumen, workers still rely on corporate help when systems crash, applications bewilder and any number of other tech-related mishaps occur.

In fact, reliance on the help desk is actually increasing. HDI, the IT service and technical support association, reported in its 2011 Support Center Practices & Salary Report that 68% of support centers saw an increase in ticket volume in 2011.

What those figures don't show are the number of calls that could be handled better. Help desk managers know what we're talking about -- those calls that just won't go away, the kind of persistent questions that bog down support staff and keep more critical problems at the back of the queue.

"Eliminating irritating calls [completely] is never going to happen, so the goal is how do you stop as much of this from happening as you can, because it costs a lot of money to handle these calls," said HDI managing director Craig Baxter.

To help with that quest, Computerworld checked with the experts to compile a list of the five most persistent types of help desk calls and what organizations can do to get them under control.

Password reset

An HDI survey of 339 respondents showed that one-third of support centers reported that more than 30% of their tickets were related to password resets -- despite the fact that 69% of survey respondents allow customers to reset at least some of their passwords without help from the help desk.

That jibes with the experience of Ken Hayes, director of continual service improvement at Technisource, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., staffing and solutions firm, who says one of his clients had 25% of its calls related to password resets -- even though the firm had a self-service option available.

The problem, as it is in many places, was getting users to actually help themselves, Hayes says. Help desks often don't do enough to educate users that self-help options are available or don't make them easy to use, he says.

"People always look for the path of least resistance," Hayes says. "If a phone call to the help desk is the easiest, quickest way to resolve the problem, that's what they'll do."

To cut down on the volume of password-reset calls, Hayes's team worked with the client company, a financial services firm, to better market its automated password reset function. They actively registered everyone at the company, rather than leaving them to register on their own. And they instructed help desk staff to remind callers -- politely, of course -- that the automated option was a better way to go. As a result, password calls dropped to about 10%, a sizable improvement.

Other help desk supervisors who have successfully cut down these kinds of calls say automated voice systems, which walk callers through the self-service option, can also be effective.

Office suite basics

How do I format my spreadsheet? How do I change the fonts in Word?

Every help desk fields these kinds of questions from users who confuse help with basic application training, says Hayes. Problem is, these mundane app-related questions cause trained technologists to divert time and attention from issues more critical to the mission of the organization, he says.

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