The IT help desk is often an area of ridicule (just see some of the other writeups in this node to get an idea of the regard many help desks are held in). Many computer users consider calling the help desk a last resort when a problem arises, preferring to try to fix the problem themselves, or enlist the aid of another computer literate friend / colleague.
Unfortunately, this is more often than not caused by the structure of the help desk. Many times, the first contact a customer has with the help desk results in no solution to the problem. The person answering the phone, your 1st level support person, is many times qualified to answer the phone, obtain the necessary information to pass the job onto a 2nd level support person, and log the call. So instead of an answer, and the ability to fix the problem and keep on working, the customer is left with a job number, and the promise of a call back.
Another contributing factor can be the quest for stats. In recent years, a lot of business' help desks have become staffed by outsourced companies. To retain their contract with that business, they need to produce figures that show how efficient they are. Many times, these statistics are based on how quickly the customer receives first level support. So, the Level 1 support officer will have a matter of minutes to spend with a customer. If they're unable to solve the problem within this time, they must escalate the job to the next level of support. Unless the problem is very straight forward, and familiar to the help desk operator, there's no chance of resolution after the first phone call.
Fortunately, not all help desks operate in this manner. The help desk I work on, provides a service to an Australian Government department. We support departmental staff, at locations all over the country. Some of our staff are centered in major cities, and some are located in more remote areas. Many of our offices are not part of the department's WAN, and rely on dial-up connections to access network resources. Like many help desks, the vast majority of our support is provided over the telephone.
The help desk does, however, have an excellent reputation with staff. I wish I could take credit for the reputation it has, but I've only been there for a little under two months. However I have seen some things, that give me a clue as to why it is almost universally loved.
A small team, and an excellent work atmosphere.
There are four staff answering the phones in the help desk, and all of us get along well. Well, we spend a good portion of the day bagging the shit out of each other...but it leads to a really good feeling. If you're happy with your colleagues, you're more likely to be happy on the phone with a customer.
Apart from myself, the help desk staff have been working together for a couple of years. I think this is a fairly rare happening in this line of work. What makes it more unusual, is that we're all contractors. So there is a lot of corporate knowledge tied up in the help desk staff. It also helps that we can be fairly sure that even though we're on contracts, our jobs are fairly secure.
No level structure, no time limits on calls
Just about any problem that comes into the help desk, will be resolved by the help desk officer that answers the phone. Unless it's related to a specific area of expertise, that is looked after elsewhere in the IT area, we're it. So our customers know that they'll be dealing with the one person, from the time they call, to when their problem's solved. We also don't put a time limit on the resolution of a problem - I've personally been on the phone for an hour with someone, fixing things. If the client is happy for us to keep on working, so are we. Our target resolution is three hours, from the time of receipt, to the problem, or task, being no more. We meet that over 90% of the time.
The other major advantage of a structure like this, is that we are constantly learning. If something comes up, that we don't know how to fix, we have to find the answer. We have non-helpdesk staff, in areas such as network management, and Lotus Notes, who we are able to go to for specific advice. However even then, the help desk officer is normally expected to actually carry out the work required. So it never feels like a job with no future. We're actually gaining skills, that will improve our career prospects down the track.
So the helpdesk doesn't always have to be somewhere approached with a sense of dread. It's a great introduction into work in IT, and can actually lead somewhere. My help desk has gained a reputation for the work it does - this job on my resume will be an asset to me.
And if you're lucky, you can actually gain that help you were calling for!