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Establish help desk best practices to improve the system

To run a successful help desk, IT must prioritize help desk tickets and establish expectations for admins and users, as well as reduce the number of time-wasting tickets.

Large or small, every organization needs an effective help desk to solve users' problems and keep things up and running.

For smaller organizations, the help desk may just be one IT professional with a great breadth of knowledge. In larger organizations, it can be a scaled-up help desk system with software that helps IT prioritize and handle user issues quickly and effectively.

Help desks must be both user-friendly and enable IT to efficiently manage its time and resources. Users can't take every minor problem to the help desk, but when a critical issue arises, IT must have a system to properly prioritize and solve it. The best way to do that is to follow a few simple guidelines.

How can IT reduce unnecessary tickets?

Sometimes, a user will submit a help desk ticket when the answer to his question was a simple Google search away. These types of tickets are a waste of everyone's time and have a noticeable ripple effect. The user has to deal with the issue longer than he should, and an IT pro has to spend time resolving the issue, hindering his ability to address more important tickets.

There are some issues, however, that users cannot easily solve with a Google search, but that are commonplace. For example, there might be an application that has unresolved bugs or a compatibility issue with certain programs or hardware.

Even though users may not be able to find the next step online, IT is still wasting time by responding to the same issue over and over. In this case, a help desk FAQ could make a big difference.

A help desk best practice for a FAQ is to post common questions that users have submitted and a corresponding answer that explains the steps the user can take to resolve the issue without the help of IT. IT professionals should tailor the FAQ to the tickets they receive and add self-help troubleshooting steps for common ticket issues.

What are the characteristics of an effective help desk?

One help desk best practice is to provide users and IT with an infrastructure that supports communication, timeliness and appropriate expectations on both sides. The organization should provide help desk training to ensure that users understand how to operate within the help desk system's UI and that IT pros know how to prioritize, log and reroute tickets.

When an IT professional is resolving an issue, he may require additional information or clarification. Another help desk best practice is to support two-way communication between the IT pro and the user who submitted the ticket. The process should be transparent, as well, allowing the user to check the status of his problem and notify the IT pro of any changes.

The goal of a help desk system is to fix all issues quickly and completely.

The goal of a help desk system is to fix all issues quickly and completely, but a common challenge is prioritizing certain tickets. With a service-level agreement (SLA), IT can establish expectations for ticket response times and create a tier system for issues with different priorities. Though all help desks should have an SLA, outsourced help desks especially need SLAs so both parties can agree on help desk best practices and reasonable deadlines.

For example, a keyboard with a faulty backspace key would be low priority, whereas a laptop that can't connect to the internet would be high priority. IT should establish help desk best practice guidelines, such as a 36-hour response time for low-priority tickets and a two-hour response time for high-priority tickets, in the SLA. If the help desk fails to meet those standards, IT should re-evaluate its processes and agreements.

Should an organization consider outsourcing its help desk?

In-house IT professionals may not like the idea of outsourcing because they know the organization better than third-party workers, and it may seem like the first step toward losing their jobs. A realistic look at ticket volume and response times, however, might convince them that outsourcing is a good option.

Not all outsourcing options involve job loss for the in-house help desk. In many cases, the current help desk system stays the same and third-party support simply takes on excessive call volume. IT assigns the outsourced help desk specific issues that don't require intimate knowledge of the organization, such as password problems, or has them handle tickets when the volume reaches critical mass.

In some cases, however, an organization may find real cost savings by outsourcing the help desk completely. Support isn't as effective when it is no longer run in-house, but certain organizations will accept the loss in productivity to save on the cost of an entire IT staff.

This was last published in August 2018

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