Creating a Human Help Desk: Page 2

Posted September 27, 2006

Paul Chin

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And there lies the crux of the problem. Although most HDAs have a solid foundation of technical skill and a formal background in technology, there are some HDAs who find interpersonal abilities an auxiliary (and in some cases, unnecessary) skill rather than a complementary skill to technical problem resolution.

It can be difficult for some people to change their habitual nature -- especially if they're unwilling to do so. These people just aren't cut out to work in a front line service department. Earl points out, "Some techies just can't be bothered [with interpersonal skills], and prefer to stay in their comfort zone of technology. They should not be in a support role. Research is fine, but in a support role they tend to minimize or reject the importance of interpersonal skills and trivialize the hapless end user."

On the other hand, she adds,"Some very successful tech support people are inherently people people, and have stretched their comfort zone to learn technology. These are often the best HDAs, beloved by users, and conscientious to the very end in search of the best solution for the user."

Who's Responsibility Is It?

Companies need to measure the success of a help desk not only by the number of successfully completed service calls, but also by the level of user satisfaction. But who's responsible for ensuring this satisfaction? Is it an HDA's personal responsibility-as part of his or her job in a front line service department-to ensure their service meets both technical and interpersonal needs, or is it the help desk manager's responsibility to find candidates who already posses these interpersonal skills? The answer is both, but the right people must be put in the right positions.

"In my experience," says Earl, "most help desk managers are promoted because of their technical brilliance, not necessarily their people or organizational skills. Technical skills are easier to measure and to a technical person often seem like the only relevant criteria. Sometimes tech managers can be blind to the existence of interpersonal skills, the importance of these skills, or trivialize their impact because they, too, lack interpersonal skills."

This presents a problem: If managers lack interpersonal skills themselves, how are they to recognize these qualities in others during the recruiting and hiring process? Earl explains, "they scan resumes for the requisite technical knowledge, but fail to assess the candidate's communication or interpersonal skills, or whether or not the job is a good fit for that candidate."

Help desk mangers who do possess interpersonal skills, or at the very least recognize the importance of these qualities, will be in a far better position to build a help desk staff.

Qualities of a Good Help Desk Agent
Besides technical proficiency and the ability to solve problems in a timely manner, a well-rounded help desk agent must possess the following crucial "soft-skills:"
Emotional intelligence Wikipedia defines EI as "an ability, capacity, or skill to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups."

Earl stresses, "If [HDAs] don't have the ability to manage their own thoughts and actions, they'll stress out on the job, and not respond well to end users."
Communication HDAs must be able to express themselves clearly and concisely-especially when giving out lengthy troubleshooting instructions. But communication requires more than just speaking; it requires an HDA to listen to their users when they're explaining their problems and concerns.
Empathy User empathy is one of the fundamental qualities of an emotionally intelligent HDA. "If [HDAs] can recognize the user's frustration and respond with empathy," says Earl, "the conversation will be more productive and the customer will feel more satisfied with the interaction."

A lack of empathy, however, can have a snowball effect. "If the HDA cannot empathize with users," Earl adds, "he or she is more likely to come across as overbearing and superior. This annoys the user and creates a more lengthy conversation, as a frustrated user can become less cooperative."
Patience HDAs need to have patience when dealing with users-especially non-technical users who may not always understand complex explanations or instructions during the first go-around. "The job can be tedious," explains Earl, "but also frustrating with users asking the same question over and over, or non-technical users requiring a lengthy, water downed explanation."
Flexibility HDA can't choose who they support; they must be able to provide assistance to all users regardless of their technical know-how -- and they must be able to adjust the manner in which they provide this support to accommodate the user's experience (i.e., don't talk to an administrative assistant the same way you would an engineer).

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