IT Helpdesk Process

by Katelyn Kelley

The Problem Comes In

A customer will contact the help desk one of three ways: in person (walk-ins), by phone or by email. All customers are logged, even if they only have a general question. Management uses this information, along with data from the voice and email systems that track phone and electronic message traffic, to adjust staffing levels and hours of operation and to examine business patterns for peaks and lows in activity. A trouble ticket is then generated. It consists of contact information and system information related to the complaint. If the problem is computer-related, details such as operating system and memory size are noted. For a problem related to phones or voice mail, the trouble ticket will instead have information related to phone service. As much detail as the customer can provide is entered on a ticket.

Front-Line Support

If the trouble ticket is a simple request for information, the front-line support consultants who answer the phones, receive the emails or greet the customers will resolve it and close out the ticket. At their workstations, front-line support people have access to a database, known as a "knowledgebase," which details problems and solutions that have come in before and been answered. This database allows front-line personnel to walk a customer through possible solutions. Some knowledgebases follow a flowchart format the support consultant uses to arrive at the solution by answering yes-or-no questions. Others may be accessed with a keyword search. When a known issue arises, such as a network outage or a server problem, the front-line staff are notified with a special bulletin because management expects many queries on that issue to come in that day. They provide the support staff with the response so customers are given the correct information.

The Problem Is Triaged

"Triage" may sound like a term for the emergency room, but it applies to technology as well. When a trouble ticket comes in and cannot be solved right away by the front-line staff, it goes into "triage" and is examined by the next tier of support consultants to determine if there is enough information to find a solution, if the customer needs to be contacted for more information or if the issue needs to be escalated to another department for the solution. Depending on how the help desk ticket management is structured, the ticket may return to the front line support for followup and closure when the tier-2 consultant has a solution, or the second tier may "own" it, solve it, contact the customer and close the ticket.

The Problem Is Tracked

Problems that aren't able to be solved in one visit, phone call or email are tracked and monitored until a solution is found. This is where the trouble ticket system is crucial. As long as there is an open trouble ticket, the customer will not be lost. Support staff review all the open tickets every day, and frequently throughout the day, to work on existing problems. A trouble ticket has fields such as "Date Entered" that allow help desk staff to see how old it is, and they try to solve the older problems first if they can. Every leg on the journey, the trouble ticket takes is logged. This enables the staff to see the status of tickets that were handed off to other departments for assistance to keep the customer informed on their trouble ticket status.

The Problem Is Solved

When a solution to the problem is found, the help desk contacts the customer. With routine queries, this happens at the same time the customer initiates the trouble ticket, but for tickets that take extra work to solve, the contact could be made hours, days or longer after the initial contact. If a ticket is taking a long time to solve, the help desk staff should keep the customer informed of its status as a courtesy. Top-notch customer service is crucial to a successful help desk operation. Support staff must be willing to put in that extra effort to find a solution even when it seems impossible. The customer should never be sent away with no answer. One item the phone system at a help desk tracks is dropped calls and queue lengths--how long the customer must wait to reach a live person. This data is analyzed along with the ticketing system to evaluate customer service levels.

About the Author

Katelyn Kelley worked in information technology as a computing and communications consultant and web manager for 15 years before becoming a freelance writer in 2003. She specializes in instructional and technical writing in the areas of computers, gaming and crafts. Kelley holds a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and computer science from Boston College.

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