How to get the most out of your support desk

The other week my family banished me to the attic with instructions to get rid of all the stuff I had put up there “that might be useful one day.” I soon found myself sitting amidst piles of cardboard boxes reminiscing about school days and my early career in the computer industry. I even found my old beer mat collection from the ’70s!

As memories came flooding back about my first job on a support desk it struck me just how much more sophisticated systems have become. I also found myself pondering how difficult it must be working on a support desk nowadays and also just how important a good support desk is to someone trying to implement and run a system.

A support desk should be one of the main services that a software application supplier  provides to its customers. It will normally consist of a team of highly skilled and knowledgeable people offering advice and guidance to users of the application. It should therefore be seen as  a huge asset to an end user. And yet in my experience very few end users make any attempt to cultivate a relationship with a support desk and are therefore missing out on a valuable resource which could add huge value to their implementation.

So, I thought it might be useful to make some suggestions on how customers can make their support relationship work. First, I would strongly advise that before a new system goes live a representative from the support desk should visit your site to meet the people using the system and understand the solution.

As a customer, your staff should understand the role of the support desk. It is there to:

  • Resolve issues when the software isn’t functioning as expected
  • Provide documentation on using the software
  • Provide guidance on best practice (e.g. month ends, system administration)
  • Provide information on where to get additional information such as help files, manuals, tutorials, web forums etc.
  • Investigate potential bugs in the application, document them and correct any issues caused by them
  • Provide proactive information to help customers avoid any issues (e.g. tax rate changes, year-end archiving, housekeeping)
  • Help resolve mission critical incidents

The support desk is not there to:

  • Run your business systems
  • Provide free consultancy on how to implement the system
  • Provide free application training
  • Provide basic business training. Such as double entry book-keeping and Bill of Material design
  • Investigate/trouble shoot customer specific business processes

Some other things to bear in mind about a support desk

  • People on the support desk are there to help you. They have not caused the problem.
  • Just like you they respond to being treated well.
  • They cannot see the system and will have limited knowledge of your internal systems – they rely solely on the accuracy of your description of the problem.
  • Being rude to them is not fair and is unlikely to engender any sympathy or a decent working relationship.

How to get the best from a support call

  • Contact the support desk as soon as you notice the problem. It is easier to fix a problem early on before it becomes compounded into the rest of the systems
  • Don’t assume that the person on the end of the phone knows your business, can see the screen, or inherently knows what has happened
  • Prepare as much information as you can about the problem before you call
    • Be prepared to describe the business process that has caused the problem
    • Be honest about what has happened. If you have made a mistake or tried something different then say so
    • Make note of (e.g. screen print) any error messages – these are critical
  • When you call be concise, accurate and honest
  • Obtain a call number for future reference
  • At the end of the call, document what went wrong and how to fix it in future – most support desks would happily send you the call detail for you to file and reference next time.

How to cultivate your relationship with the support desk

  • Appoint a single point of contact with the support desk and ensure that all issues are channeled through this person. Over time the individual will learn how to correct errors themselves
  • Document all your calls and regularly check if the same issue is cropping up
  • Request a monthly call log from the support desk showing the cleared and open calls
  • Monitor the support desk performance, its response times and clear up times
  • Monitor your own call rate. If it is high, this is an indication that there are other issues – either in your understanding or in the system. Either way a plan of action needs to be put in place to reduce the support desk dependency
  • If possible, visit the support desk and meet the people who help you.

In summary

  • A support desk is a critical element to the on-going success of your system
  • The relationship should be nurtured and treated with care
  • Your support calls should be a KPI for the system’s health and should form part of your management reporting
  • An occasional “thank you” goes a long way.

And finally – an attic update

  • My beer mat collection is worth hardly anything.
  • Apparently the hobby of collecting beer mats is called Tegestology.
  • I didn’t get past the first box of junk so it looks like another session will be ordered. Stand by for more memories.

Andy Latham

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