Overworked help desk? 10 ways to cut the stress

It’s no secret that the IT help desk doesn’t always get along with all users throughout the company. Here are some steps IT managers can take to repair the relationship and keep IT support staff productive.

There’s rarely one party to blame for struggles between users and help desk staff — during help desk calls, users are under stress because they’re unable to get their jobs done, and IT employees face the difficulty of dealing with people who often aren’t knowledgeable when it comes to technology.

Things are even more difficult now when both users and help desk employees are busier, and there’s a greater need for remote IT support.

Improving the IT support process can have a big impact on how IT is perceived throughout the company — the happier users are with the help desk, the more favorably the IT department will be viewed overall.

While some problems such as rude, impatient users aren’t likely to go away any time soon, there are some steps IT managers and support staff can take to get better at dealing with those and other issues.

Here are 10 steps providing better, more efficient IT support:

1. Help users help themselves

One common complaint many IT support employees have is that they spend a lot of time helping clueless users fix obvious problems. That takes time away from more pressing issues, and adds a good deal of stress to a busy help desk environment.

One way to limit the number calls: Give every user a cheat sheet outlining simple fixes to the most common tech problems. Ask support staff what issues they run into most often, and if they’re things that users could fix themselves, add them to the list.

2. Make it easy to report problems

Sometimes, a bad relationship with the help desk may cause users to avoid reporting minor IT problems — and that means those issues can stagnate and become big issues.

That’s why departments should make it as easy as possible for users to send IT support requests to the help desk. Different groups will prefer different communication methods. Find out what users in your company prefer, whether it’s the phone, email, instant messaging, or something else.

3. Always respond quickly

Recent research shows that the younger employees entering the workplace are becoming more impatient with IT support staff and expect their requests to be answered almost immediately.

Of course, some problems will take time to fix, but often a quick response like “Thanks for bringing this to our attention, we’re working on it now” is enough to soothe an impatient user.

4. Protect your employees’ time

IT support employees are often bombarded with unnecessary requests, such as questions about home computers or personal gadgets.

Your employees may be happy to help, but if it becomes a problem on busy days, it may be up to the IT manager to step in and say no for them.

5. Work on supporting mobile users

Remote IT support is becoming more of a challenge for organizations as more employees begin working from home or other locations outside the office. In businesses with a lot of remote employees, IT should start looking into remote help desk software and other tools to help.

Also, support staff should be trained in the soft skills — especially communication — necessary for remote IT support. It may be helpful to appoint particular IT employees to handle remote support based on those skills.

6. Prioritize

Many help desks operate on a first-come-first-serve basis — however, that often allows more important requests to be delayed in favor of minor issues.

Instead, IT support staff should be able to prioritize their work according to established protocols. For example, issues that prevent users from getting work done should be placed ahead of those that don’t.

7. Don’t take any knowledge for granted

IT pros are often surprised at what users don’t know when it comes to technology. For example, Google’s Dan Russell recently reported on the shocking (to IT folks) finding that 90% of people don’t know CTRL+F can be used to search for text.

The lesson for your IT support employees: Never assume a user knows something. Don’t talk down to people, but always verify that they understand what you’re telling them. Also, never refrain from passing on a tip that may help them work more efficiently.

8. Explain what techs are doing and why

Users often complain that IT employees mess around on their computers without explaining what they’re doing. Often it’s something simple like installing an update, but if users don’t know, they might assume they’ve done something wrong when a support employee stops by to use their machine.

To avoid that confusion, IT employees should take the time to quickly explain what they need to do — and why it needs to be done.

9. Offer reassurance to users

Users can often get stressed out when they run into what they believe is a huge technical problem — and it might be even worse if they think it was their fault. Support staff should assure users their problems can be fixed, and be sure to never scold a user for doing something wrong.

Instead, IT staff can look for opportunities to pat users on the back when they’ve done something right.

10. Stick up for your employees AND listen to user complaints

An IT manager often must serve as a mediator between the IT staff and the rest of the company. When a user has a complaint about someone in your department, it’s your job to investigate and determine if there’s a legitimate gripe.

Likewise, when IT employees complain about how a user treats them, it’s up to you to take complaint to the user’s manager.

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