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Improve help desk workflows via stronger staff support

Subject experts can be expensive to retain on the help desk, but they're vital to success. Balance training and task delegation to ensure staff engagement and growth.

The cost of help desk maintenance and operation is always in play -- and in need of supervision. Retaining advanced subject matter experts on staff might result in rapid case resolution, but those experts are also expensive, which leaves IT organizations in the depths of a pros and cons list.

That doesn't mean that organizations should abandon content experts and a better ticket routing system. Rather, this aspect of staffing costs might illustrate why experts -- and training staff to become experts -- are the ideal approach to tiered help desk workflows.

Determine task cost

The cost per hour for various IT positions is one of the easiest things to observe in a business. For example, if an engineer's salary is twice that of a help desk admin's, the cost savings is clear in instances of lower-difficulty problem resolution assignment. The problem lies in how managers handle ticket assignment and efficiency.

For example, I once racked and stacked dozens of servers for a large project, which took about two days. At a previous employer, our level-two (L2) admins handled that process, not the level-three (L3) architects and engineers. However, my boss said everyone needed to take part in the spirit of fairness. While busy with this simple task, I couldn't work with the dozen other application owners to build out the virtual templates they needed.

Some might think this perspective is pretentious, but I thought the time could have been better delegated. In prior experience, the L2 admins -- or desktop teams -- not only performed those tasks, they wanted and enjoyed them: It was a chance to showcase skills for a possible promotion to L3. And often they succeeded.

More on this topic

Help desk management is a key concern for most IT organizations because support is universal. Address these different areas of help desk management to modernize operations and improve support.

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5 critical help desk KPIs to track and manage

How AI in the help desk transforms IT support

The issue in this scenario was neither my annoyance nor the L2 personnel's experience level. The issue is how the manager split work between the team and department members. The decision to task all staff with the process cost the business notable staffing-related money and halted efforts on a larger project, eliminated training opportunities and even an opportunity to promote from within.

Training

This illusion of balance is also key to training itself, and how an organization budgets it across its staff. It's easy to focus on the content in admins' purviews to ensure they attend the relevant training or trade events. But training must surpass the narrow scope of an individual role.

Help desk workflows need both primary and secondary subject content experts. They can't be experts in title only; management must invest monetary resources into official training. And it's not enough to give staff a book or peer training. Leadership must invest in its employees so they can become more valuable personnel.

Leadership must invest in its employees so they can become more valuable personnel.

Though budgets are not unlimited, there are some actions organizations can take to spend money wisely on its help desk workflows. For example, higher-level staff might attend a formal training that lower-level staff watches online. These training options don't need to be equal among all staff, but without visible effort, assigned titles will be meaningless.

Examine the relationship between staff and costs through an open and honest lens -- even within a single support level, it's easy to recognize standout, multi-discipline staff versus those just doing their jobs. Consequently, it's easier to reward staff's efforts based on overall effect on the company, not on which admin closes a ticket the fastest -- which is what many companies do.

But relying on ticket closure speed often rewards staff who might just be fixing the same issue over and over, which engages neither staff nor customers. It establishes a benchmark of mediocre results -- and mediocrity doesn't grow business. Cost-saving metrics are often based on resolution and time spent on a given ticket because they are easy data to interpret.

Almost all help desk software displays that data in a pretty report, but user satisfaction is much harder to measure, and even tougher to prove its cost savings or effect. Exceptional customer engagement and resolution don't have a monetary figure to enter into a report. Feedback is helpful, but typically difficult to quantify and illustrate to management. Nonetheless, help desk management must devote effort to addressing ticket closure feedback, as that is the true driver of cost savings, not the lifespan of a ticket.

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