by Lee Weekley
Date Published May 23, 2012 - Last Updated May 11, 2016


How many times have you called a help desk and were left feeling unsatisfied or frustrated? Sometimes the very act of calling the help desk leaves you more frustrated than the actual problem you called the help desk for in the first place. This frustration and lack of service are the hallmarks of the so-called “helpless desk.” The typical helpless desk is slow to respond, poorly structured, lacks real problem-solving abilities and knowledge, and makes no apparent provisions for standard service levels or service quality. The good news is, all is not lost. The days of expensive, slow-moving, low-quality help desks are largely in the past. The helpless desk can be rehabilitated!

There are many things that might prompt you to transform your help desk: clients may be dissatisfied, IT may be pressuring the desk to be more proactive or involved, morale may be low, or there may be a lack of skills on the desk. All of these are good reasons. Transformation will increase customer satisfaction, lower costs, advance the standardization of service levels and service quality, and greatly improve employee satisfaction. The question is, how do you know if you need to transform your help desk? That’s easy: If your help desk displays any of the following symptoms, then transformation is the way to go. 

  • Is your help desk slow to respond, either to calls in the queue or to e-mails? 
  • Does the help desk always seem to be in a reactive, fire-fighting mode? 
  • Is the help desk unable to anticipate issues? 
  • Is your help desk’s call volume out of control? 
  • Are resolutions and troubleshooting inconsistent? 
  • Are customers given different answers to the same questions? 
  • Do you find that employee and customer satisfaction rates are low? 
  • Are help desk employees not pulling their weight equally? 
  • Do you lack reporting abilities? 
  • Do your reports provide inconsistent measurement and trending? 
  • Do you notice a lack of continual improvement? 
  • Is customer satisfaction just a goal, not a fact?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your desk is ripe for a makeover. The formula for a successful service desk involves balancing people, processes, and technology. The right balance can greatly improve help desk and support operations by reducing incident-handling costs, improving agent workflow, enabling shared knowledge, and fostering collaboration. By following the three phases of transformation described in this article, you will achieve this goal.

Review and Analysis

The review phase is primarily concerned with figuring out what you have to work with. As with any project, you must understand where you are today before you can determine where you want to be tomorrow and how you will get there. In this phase, you will assess the help desk’s tier 1 agents and examine its processes, procedures, policies, and other documentation. To assess the agents’ skills, take advantage of assessment tools that evaluate listening, verbal, telephone, questioning, and problem-solving skills. You also need to determine whether individual agents are logical thinkers, team players, effective communicators, and cool under pressure.

In addition, you will need to assess the help desk’s staffing model, utilization rate, schedules, resource management process, leadership, mission and vision, process management, and customer, operational, and business results. Some of the areas to pay close attention to in this phase are business alignment and integration, alignment of the help desk within IT, resource optimization, teamwork, marketing, and the distribution of information. You will also want to examine any of the training plans you have in place, along with coaching and career development processes. Ask yourself, do we have a rewards and incentive program for our help desk? Do we have the right tools and tool configurations? Do we have service levels and are we meeting them? How can we do better?

Review your call scripts and knowledge base to verify that they are effective and up to date. Additionally, look at your communication plans. Is there adequate communication between the help desk and other IT departments and customers? Take a look at the reports you’re currently running. Are you reporting for the sake of running reports, or do you produce meaningful reports that are used to identify trends and areas of improvements and then used to plan for service improvement? Based on this review, you will be able to develop an action plan for your help desk’s transformation.

Plan and Execute

In this phase, we will design the activities and documentation that will be implemented in the next phase. As part of the planning and execution process, you will be working off of the action plan you created in the previous phase. By this point, you should have drafted your new process documents, policy documents, and standard operating procedures (in ISO 9001:2008 format), as well as a full communication plan. This plan should cover the operational aspects of the help desk, including notifications and escalations, as well as help desk marketing tactics. It should also address communications between the help desk and the customer, and the help desk and the rest of IT.

The next key step is to start designing individual and group training programs. Based on the skills gap analysis that was completed in the previous phase, create an individualized training program for each agent. In addition, select, design, or procure group training for the entire staff (e.g., ITIL v3 Foundation, customer service skills, etc.). Be sure to include specialized training for the leads and supervisors that covers coaching, leadership, and management skills. Next, create a RACI matrix for each process—incident, problem, request fulfillment, access management, etc.—detailing roles and responsibilities. Make sure each position has an accurate and detailed job description.

Create a robust rewards and incentives program, complete with service excellence awards. You should also draft a new help desk operations manual that provides an overview of the help desk’s operations and training procedures, including roles and responsibilities for the rest of the organization (e.g., system owners, support owners, business leaders, etc.). This will help new employees learn about the help desk operation.

Finally, create new reports based on the previously assessed service level agreements and operational level agreements. Make sure those reports measure group and individual performance, as well as trends.

Institute and Support

This is where we put it all together. We implement everything that was designed or sourced in the planning phase. Now is the time to start your training programs and boot camps. Stage role-playing exercises where agents can practice their new skills with each other and their managers. Managers should also implement one-on-one training and coaching sessions with the agents, and create new call flows based on their agents’ skills.

Another important factor here is being a hands-on manager, interacting with the help desk, your agents, and your customers. Don’t try to manage through e-mail or from your chair. Get up and get involved. Meet with your agents and ensure that they understand the whats and whys of the transformation (what is happening and why). Make sure they know exactly what is expected of them. Be firm, but fair. Always praise in public and critique in private. They need to understand that “this ain’t your mama’s help desk!” This is serious business and they have to know you mean it; they have to be invested in its success. If they aren’t, help them move on. For those who see the transformation through, their jobs will become easier and more fulfilling.

Begin measuring and reporting and reviewing these reports with each agent. Publish the reports and encourage friendly competition between the agents. Finally, now is the time to execute your communications plan, implement your knowledge management program, begin building your knowledge base, and start performing trend analysis and problem management.

The New Service Desk

When the transformation is complete, you will have a new service desk. Customers will be impressed by the consistent and accurate support provided by highly trained and confident agents who display empathy and practice great customer service. In this new environment of total contact ownership, you will notice that the agents think of the people they support as customers, not just users. They will answer the phone with a smile and solve problems efficiently and effectively. No longer a helpless desk, your agents will be proud to work at the new service desk.

The HDI Capital Area local chapter conducts workshops on this subject. For more information, contact the chapter at [email protected] .


Lee Weekley has been in the IT industry for over eighteen years. He has held several distinguished appointments on the governor’s Homeland Security Task Force, the Military Affairs Advisory Committee, and the National Small Business Committee, among others. He is also a member of the National Defense Industry Association and president of the HDI Capital Area local chapter. Lee holds several ITIL certifications, and is a certified HDI Support Center Director.

Tag(s): process, practices and processes