1 Telephone Help Desks
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In recent years the help desk has become an increasingly important element of after-sales service for electronic and digital products. The Wikipedia article on Help Desk gives the following definition:
A help desk is an information and assistance resource that troubleshoots problems with computers and similar products. Corporations often provide help desk support to their customers via a toll-free number, website and/or e-mail. There are also in-house help desks geared toward providing the same kind of help for employees only.
The Wikipedia article notes that the term "help desk" may also be used in a broader sense:
Help desk is a broadly applied term referring to a staffed resource - often, an actual desk, or a telephone service - that can help persons answer questions or to use resources such as audio-visual or computer resources.
According to the above definitions, a help desk may be either a telephone service or a website. However, we will reserve the term "help desk" to refer to technical assistance provided by telephone, and will use the term "web help" for technical assistance provided via a website.
The telephone help desk is closely related to other telephone service centres, such as the Call Centre and the Helpline. A Service Desk differs from both the help desk and the call centre in that it combines digital communications with telephone communications, and may offer its service to a wide range of "users" including at the same time both in-house employees and out-of-house customers.
Operation of a Customer Help Desk
A customer help desk provides a central point where the user can request and receive help in using the product. Most customer help desks are reserved for purchasers of the product, and will thus require the caller to give the identification tag or series number of the purchased item.
Often the users calling a customer help desk will first encounter either an Automatic Call Distributor or an Interactive Voice Response. An Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) plays greetings or announcements while the caller is waiting to be put through, then typically routes a caller without prompting for input. An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) will generally request an input from the callers, with a computerised voice recording inviting them to make selections by pressing buttons on their telephone. Interactive Voice Response may be used to answer simple questions without operator intervention, to obtain information from the caller such as account numbers, or to identify the needs of the caller so that the call can be automatically routed to a particular skillset, which is a group of agents with a particular skill.
Interactive Voice Response definitely lacks conviviality. But it may be the price to pay for widespread development of help centers. It seems likely however that companies could significantly reduce the number of help desk calls by furnishing more complete and effective on-line help (internal to software) or web help (through internet).
(On the subject of Interactive Voice Response, see the ezine article How To Beat Those Automatic Telephone Answering Systems.)
When the caller finally gets through to a human being, the request will typically be managed by staff using help desk software. Such software provides an "issue tracking system," also known as an "incident tracking system" or a "ticket tracking system."
Many software applications are available to support the help desk function. Wikipedia provides a comparison of issue tracking systems.
When the user notifies the help desk of a problem, the help desk issues a unique ticket number which will be used to track the user request through all stages of resolution.
In larger help desks one group of staff, called queue managers, are assigned to take the incoming calls and to manage the tickets. The ticket queues can be setup in various ways depending on the help desk size or structure. In general, the queue manager will identify the type of user problem and will assign the ticket to a member of a specialised team that is experienced in working on that type of issue.
Some help desks operate with different levels to handle different types of questions. The first-level help desk is prepared to answer the most commonly asked questions. If the issue is not resolved at the first level, the tracking system escalates the ticket to a second level that has the necessary resources to handle more difficult calls. When the issue is solved, the ticket is closed and updated with documentation of the solution to allow other help desk technicians to reference.
In-House Help Desks
In-house help desks do not offer "after sales service", but they are discussed here since they may provide additional insight into the help desk function.
Among help desk software applications for in-house use, some target larger enterprise-level help desks, while others target smaller departmental help desk needs. (See the Wikipedia comparison of issue tracking systems.) Help desk software can help to find, analyze, and eliminate common problems in an organization’s computing environment.
The skillset teams of an in-house help desk may include a deskside team and a network team. The deskside team, also known as "desktop support", is responsible for the desktops, laptops and peripherals such as PDAs. They set up and configure computers for new users and are responsible for any physical work relating to the computers such as repairing software or hardware and moving workstations to another location. The network team is responsible for the network software, hardware and infrastructure such as servers, switches, backup systems and firewalls. They are responsible for the network services such as email, files, and security.
Some larger companies may also have a telecom team that is responsible for the phone infrastructure such as PBX, voicemail, VOIP, telephone sets, modems and fax machines. Companies with custom application software may also have an applications team, who are responsible for development of any in-house software, and who may be assigned problems such as software bugs from the Help Desk, or requests for new features or capabilities.
The Help Desk as an Information Source
The Wikipedia Help Desk article cites research showing that the communication with numerous customers or employees puts help desks in a unique position to monitor the user environment for issues ranging from technical problems to user preferences and satisfaction. Information gathered at the help desk can be useful to other departments such as sales and product development.
The Wikipedia Help Desk
Wikipedia has its own help desk:
However, according to the way the terms are used on this site, the above Wikipedia information page would be a form of "web help," rather than a telephone-based help desk.
Help Desk Humor
Wikipedia also contains an article on Help desk humor.
In the same vein is Tech Support Comedy, a "website dedicated to frustrated tech support workers from all over the world and the customers they deal with constantly." It can be seen at techcomedy.com.
Another example of help desk humour is the on-line video Medieval Help Desk.
Tech Support: "All right. Now click ’OK’."
Customer: "Click ’OK’?"
Tech Support: "Yes, click ’OK’."
Customer: "Click ’OK’?"
Tech Support: "That’s right. Click ’OK’."
Customer: "So I click ’OK’, right?"
Tech Support: "Right. Click ’OK’."
Customer: "I clicked ’Cancel’."
Tech Support: "YOU CLICKED ’CANCEL’???"
Customer: "That’s what I was supposed to do, right?"
Tech Support: "No, you were supposed to click ’OK’."
Customer: "I thought you said to click ’Cancel’."
Tech Support: "NO. I said to click ’OK’."
Tech Support: "Now we have to start over."
Tech Support: "Because you clicked ’Cancel’."
Customer: "Wasn’t I supposed to click ’Cancel’?"
Tech Support: "No. Forget that. Let’s start from the top."
Tech support spends the next fifteen minutes re-constructing the carefully crafted setup for this user’s unique computer.
Tech Support: "All right. Now, are you ready to click ’OK’?"
Tech Support: "Great. Now click ’OK’."
Customer: "I clicked ’Cancel’."