“Nobody planned for a year-long pandemic.”
Quite the understatement, but Matthew Wright’s words can’t be disputed. No one expected offices to be shut down, forcing individuals who had never (or rarely) worked remotely to make the transition overnight. No one could have expected IT departments to be able to accommodate the move so quickly and seamlessly. And no one could have anticipated the enormous demand that would be placed on helpdesks to keep everything running smoothly.
“The layer and complexity of problems has greatly increased,” said Wright, who serves as Technical Support Manager at Western University of Health Sciences. During a recent webinar, he addressed the challenges of supporting a remote workforce along with his coworker David Mitchell (Enterprise Application Administrator at WUHS), and Andrew Graf, Co-Founder & Chief Product Strategist with TeamDynamix.
Whereas in the past, most calls came from team members who were sitting at their desks using standard-issued computers, once Covid-19 hit — and offices shut down — people began calling from their homes, often using shared computers and unreliable internet connections.
As a result, “the scope of services we provide has ballooned.” The limitations that had been in place went out the window, and forced help desks to adjust quickly. “We were pretty defined in what we did and didn’t support,” noted Wright. “We did basic software, but we didn’t do much with hardware. Now, we help with anything.”
According to Graf, this experience seems to be the rule, not the exception.
“Our customers saw a massive increase in inbound demand. You have an environment that’s much less controlled with remote work and the use of new technologies.”
Self-service & Automation
This is where automation and self-service can play a huge role, said Graf. In the past year, he has seen an increase in customers providing content and mechanisms for users to either resolve their own requests, or obtain the information they need.
One way is through Knowledge-Centered Services, a “systematic way to build and improve knowledge” by indexing content and making it easily accessible.
Before that can be created, however, organizations have to invest in the knowledge base by compiling articles that address the most commonly asked questions, and then categorizing it appropriately. It’s a strategy that has paid off for WUSH, according to Wright. His team implemented KCS when it became clear that the majority of requests coming in were for issues his team had already solved — and documented in articles.
Once the system was in place, “we were able to quickly turn around a ticket and say, ‘Here’s how you set up VPN,’ or ‘Here’s how you check your voicemail remotely.’ Getting that information to our customers right away and having live documents has been a tremendous help. It’s been mission critical for us,” noted Wright.
The other key piece is being able to automate tasks that may not seem particularly labor- or time-intensive on an individual basis, but when added together, can be quite draining — for example, things like adding users to a directory or making changes to their profile. With TeamDynamix’s Integration Platform as a Solution (iPaaS), WUHS can process and complete a request for VPN access, something that usually falls on tech support, according to Mitchell.
“Our goal is to automate a lot of things the helpdesk does that are repetitive or can be done by customers,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to help make life easier.”
And while every organization has a different set of needs (and a different pool of resources), many of the steps WUHS has taken can be applied to help optimize the helpdesk. Below are a few best practices for creating a solid repository of knowledge:
- Google it. If you want people to use knowledge base, make it as user-friendly as possible, said Wright. “People don’t want to drill down. They don’t have time for that. We live in a Google-centric world. They want to go to one webpage and they want to search for what they need.” What leaders should not do, he added, is to force users to navigate through different searches depending on the topic.
- Let them drill. On the other hand, some users — like Wright, for example — prefer a more structured system, and so his team made sure they could accommodate that as well. “We’re constantly tweaking our knowledge base, as well as our service catalog, to make things easier to find,” he added, even if it means they’d rather go digging. “That option is there for our customers.”
- Index matters. What’s just as vital as publishing content is ensuring it is indexed by Google, noted Graf. That way, “if someone types in your organization’s name and a topic, those knowledge-based articles appear,” which is vital, as more customers are starting to utilize that particular method.
- Always improve. One of the key tenants of KCS is to “ensure every request is tied to a piece of knowledge, whether it’s something that existed or whether we have to create something new, so that we’re constantly building that,” said Graf. By continuously reviewing articles and incorporating feedback, organizations can ensure the most accurate and pertinent information is being made available.
They can also determine which content has been most helpful by linking knowledge-based articles to each closed ticket. Although Wright’s team doesn’t necessarily leverage that function, they have run metrics on which articles get tickets closed out most. “That’s helped us guide some of the knowledge center service as well.”
When asked what other advice he might offer to colleagues looking to improve helpdesk services, Wright emphasized a willingness to try new things — something that has greatly benefited his team. “The customers of today are too familiar with technology. Doing the same thing you did last year and last decade is a recipe for mediocrity. You need to try new things because your customers will demand it, and they’re going want to be able to scale with you from a technology standpoint.”
Finally, he called on leaders to preach empathy and, perhaps most importantly, listen when others voice concerns. “Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to tell you what’s going on, how it’s been challenging for them working at home,” he said. “We strive for a humanistic approach. We listen and we work through it, but that kind of helps us provide, in my opinion, a superior level of support that maybe not every helpdesk is able to offer.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Optimizing Your Help Desk to Support a Remote Workforce (Sponsored by TeamDynamix) — please click here.