Three Secrets of a Great Helpdesk

January 6, 2020

Mike Smith, Senior Consultant and Team Lead, Sophicity

This article is posted with permission from Sophicity’s CitySmart blog and shares non-technical, municipal-relevant insights about critical technology issues, focusing on how technology reduces costs, helps better serve citizens, and lessens cybersecurity risks. Sophicity is solely responsible for the article’s content.
When people need to call IT support, they need help and they need it now. Traditionally, a warm fuzzy feeling usually does not follow because people encounter schedulers or entry-level technicians reading a script. General IT support has a reputation for frustrating people. The reasons are many, and we’ve recently written about some warning signs to assess your current IT support.

So, how does an IT helpdesk do it right? We can suggest some ways for towns and cities to judge whether their own IT staff and vendors are mastering some basic best practices.

Secret 1: Master the Technology
A good helpdesk tracks everything. When does a city call in? How long did it take to resolve the issue? By tracking all this data, it can be used historically to cross-reference against any recurring issues. Using previous notes that detail everything about the history of the specific issue, caller, and city, a good helpdesk finds patterns and uses that data to resolve recurring problems faster.

In addition, cities should be able to reach a helpdesk through multiple avenues. Every helpdesk should at least have an email contact, phone contact, and website contact. Better yet is a chat box and monitoring software installed on your desktop that gives you access to an IT support engineer anytime. If a vendor only provides you a phone number and/or just an email submission form, be suspicious. Be especially suspicious if they provide you an individual’s mobile number and email. It suggests that their technology and tracking abilities may be minimal, and they will be less likely to speedily address your problems. It’s often a symptom of bigger problems with their support processes.

Secret 2: Master the Process
An IT helpdesk needs to follow a clear, transparent, proactive process when receiving your IT issues. A good process should include the following:
  • Quick response: An IT helpdesk should respond to you immediately, nearly immediately, or at least within an hour. Responsiveness also includes the ability to receive requests, communicate clearly with you, and provide next steps and accountability.
  • Accurately diagnosing problems: An experienced IT helpdesk engineer should listen to you, ask relevant discovery questions, and accurately diagnose your problem following an established troubleshooting process. If they are stumped, they will escalate the problem with their team of senior engineers who are experienced in analyzing municipal IT problems.
  • Providing remote support, when able: Many IT issues are fixes that can be quickly solved remotely and do not require an onsite visit. An IT helpdesk should install tools on each user’s computer that allows an engineer to remotely access a person’s computer desktop as if they were physically there, find the source of the problem, and fix it.
  • Scheduling timely onsite visits: When an IT issue can only be solved in person, then an IT engineer schedules an onsite visit within hours or a day to resolve the problem.
  • 24/7 availability: Whether it’s public safety or afterhours city council meetings, you need IT help outside of the 9-to-5 timeframe. An IT helpdesk should be staffed 24/7 and provide just as much availability at 2 a.m. as you would need at 2 p.m.
Secret 3: Master the People
First, no matter who is staffed on helpdesk, communication is a critical ingredient. If an engineer cannot talk to a non-technical user in plain language so that they understand the problem and how it’s being resolved, there is a high chance the end user will get frustrated even after their technical problem is addressed. IT helpdesk engineers who are strong communicators and perform well under stress are essential for a good helpdesk.

Second, it is very important to staff your helpdesk with mid- to senior-level engineers. For example, our mid- to senior helpdesk engineers are based locally within the various states we serve. They are United States citizens, they have social security numbers, and they have passed criminal background checks as well as Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) requirements. While that may seem overkill (compared to offshoring options), it is a precaution we take to increase the quality of our helpdesk resolution times and ensure that our customer’s most sensitive problems are in the best of hands.

If your IT support vendor doesn’t seem to have mastered these three elements, then you may want to look for an IT helpdesk staffed with knowledgeable, experienced engineers familiar with municipalities. 

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