Business Mentor: Elevate Your Help Desk to a High-Value Function

Before you outsource that help desk, think about its potential as a customer relationship management tool.

Years ago, a salesperson gave me some advice about my IT help desk. He thought it made sense for me to outsource this low-value function so my IT staff could concentrate on high-value activities like application development and project management. Since business alignment was a top priority, I toyed with the idea.

At the time, I was defining the requirements and design for a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. So I got to thinking about how best to manage interactions with my IT customers. I too needed to track customer history, analyze problems with products and services, and gather customer feedback. I then realized that my help desk is my IT CRM system. Rather than a low-value function, my help desk is the face of IT for customers and a means to gather critical customer information. So I told the outsourcing provider I had changed my mind and would keep my help desk in-house. By elevating the importance of the help desk, I turned this IT function into the high-value, customer-facing tool that it can be.

To utilize my help desk staff as a CRM system, I rely on these practices:

  • Ensure that the help desk is customer service oriented. Staff should own problems until they are resolved, be patient and friendly, and care that customers achieve their goals.
  • Track and categorize customer calls to find a problem's root cause. How can we use this vital data to improve IT performance? For example, how many calls concern resetting or remembering passwords? Perhaps it's time to deploy directory management or sign-on tools. Are users complaining about laggard system response times? If so, it's time to test the infrastructure.
  • Use the help desk to distribute and gather customer feedback. This can be formal, as in the case of closing a project or help desk ticket, or informal, such as making follow-up calls to ensure that things are working as planned.
  • Reward the help desk for helping IT improve its performance and perception. For many of my business customers, the primary interaction with IT is via the help desk. The help desk needs to act as if the perception of IT depends on its action -- because it most likely does.
  • Have the help desk manager report directly to the head of IT rather than be buried in the IT operations function. This gives the help desk visibility and credibility.
  • Spend time with the help desk staff. This serves two purposes: It lets the staff know that what it does matters, and it enables me to experience customer interactions from the help desk's perspective.
  • Have the help desk manager join and participate in the Help Desk Institute, the professional organization for help desk managers and staff.

Now I know which problems to solve and can set strategic and tactical priorities. In addition, my customers get a new and improved view of IT. From customers' perspective, if we manage our interactions with them this well, we must be pretty good at the whole IT thing. Treating the help desk as my CRM tool does not make life in IT perfect, but it gives me a fighting chance.

This was first published in October 2006
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