Technical support professionals form the frontline of many businesses, vendors, and IT teams. To remain competitive, they need to be aware of how the sector is evolving and where it’s going. Here are six employment trends to watch.
Indispensable Soft Skills
Today’s support professionals need more than technical skills to get ahead. Just following a script won’t cut it: They have to know how to communicate well with customers and help them resolve their problems. While employers have long preferred desktop support personnel to have excellent soft skills, these qualities are now becoming must-haves. IT support professionals will have trouble getting off the ground in their career if they don’t have stellar communication skills (including the art of listening), empathy, a passion for customer service, and creative and proactive approaches to solving problems.
“I don’t need an IT hero anymore,” said Greg Daugherty, director of the Technical Assistance Center at L Brands, in the HDI/Robert Half Technology report The Technical Support Center of the Future. “I need people with well-rounded skills, who I can develop technically through our training program.”
The Growing Value of Certification
Certifications are becoming more than just a way to show potential employers your level of expertise. Preparing to become certified helps you stay abreast of industry changes and expands your skillset. Earning a certificate and keeping it current helps ensure you stay relevant in an increasingly complex technological world.
According to The Technical Support Center of the Future, in-demand certifications include Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), HDI Support Center Analyst, and HDI Customer Service Representative. The Robert Half Technology Salary Guide reports that tech professionals with an HDI certification can earn up to five percent more in starting compensation.
Innovate to Stay Relevant
To meet customer expectations, companies must drive innovation and make the best use of new technologies. A successful technical support team is one that shows initiative, dares to make big changes, and goes beyond just “keeping the lights on.”
How can support personnel help drive innovation? Here are some ideas:
Make the time. With the press of customer calls, chats, and other demands, there’s little time or energy to devote to new ideas. Make it a priority to schedule brainstorming sessions and even some downtime so that staff has time to indulge in creativity and fresh thinking.
Encourage unconventionality. Ever had your idea shot down because it was too off the wall? If so, you know that the experience had a dampening effect on future suggestions. In order to help your staff help customers efficiently and competently, you need everyone’s input and opinions, even the wacky ones. Besides, one worker’s quirky and unworkable notion can lead to brilliant offshoots and tangents.
Feed creativity. Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. In addition to the above suggestions, nourish the ideation process with training. Successful and creative professionals are those who have the latest knowledge and skills in their toolbox.
Wanted: App-Savvy IT Pros
When the iPhone debuted in 2007, it caught a lot of people by surprise. The previously tepid smartphone market hadn’t inspired much mindshare from developers. Then came the app boom. Many organizations made do with mobile versions of their existing website or web applications, which were inexpensive and didn’t require IT support staff to learn new skills.
Over the last few years, however, it has become apparent that companies need to migrate to—or, at least, have the option for users to select—native mobile apps: applications that run directly on the device instead of in the Web browser. This requires support personnel to learn a slew of new applications and techniques. To stay relevant in 2015 and beyond, support departments and employees must develop mobile app expertise.
Managers for the “Consumerization of IT”
Ever since computing devices became portable—particularly Internet-enabled devices—employers and employees have been finding new ways and places to do business. Untethered workers help companies boost productivity, improve recruitment and retention, and save costs. At the same time, businesses are coping with the technical and security challenges of having a mobile workforce, including independent contractors who access sensitive data on their own devices and outside of the company’s security perimeter.
Other changes for support teams related to the consumerization trend include:
- The BYOD culture in a growing number of organizations means the support organization must know how to troubleshoot a variety of devices, operating systems, web browsers, and other technologies.
- Departments that are provisioning their own access to various cloud services and apps need help making these tools work with the IT department’s systems.
- Support professionals should have the ability to diagnose the various networking and connectivity issues that can arise when devices rely on cellular data connections and various Wi-Fi hotspots.
- More and more, users are working on public networks and noncompany devices. Since much of security rests on the shoulders of these out-of-office personnel, the support team takes on the responsibility for helping them learn secure practices and enforcing organization security policy. So-called field support will become an ever larger component of IT teams.
Big Data Getting Bigger
The Big Data trend is about more than just harnessing the power of cheap computing to perform analyses. One of the hallmarks of Big Data is making use of information that previously was ignored or not collected at all due to the lack of tools or resources to make use of it. Innovative organizations will find ways to use data sets to drive improvements. Staffing trends show that support technicians can be a part of this process by working with analysts who are trying to unlock data and use them to the company’s greatest advantage.
The last few years have seen a revolution in the IT world, and alongside those changes is an increasing expectation for technical support to know more, do more, and do it faster. The support center of the future will be populated with adaptable and innovative employees who possess a customer service mindset and passion for staying on top of the latest technology trends.
John Reed is senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. He can usually be found racking up frequent-flyer miles traveling to RHT offices across North America and speaking to industry groups about workplace issues and hiring trends in IT. When he’s not on the go, he’s an armchair quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners. Follow him on Twitter @JReedRHT.