Transforming the Help Desk

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The past five years have seen enormous changes in the help desk and technical support industry, due to factors such as technological evolution, the need for more stringent business practices, changing customer requirements and the growth of distributed work teams. Help desk and support center leadership must understand and master all of these factors in order to perform their jobs with excellence.

Technological evolution is one of the most important factors of change in the help desk/support industry. It has added multiple channels for customers to pursue their support needs, from Web-based self-service to remote control of desktop systems. At the same time, it has enabled the help desk/support center to better capture customer information and document solutions to problems so others may learn from them. Furth-ermore, businesses are increasingly asking support centers to justify their technology investments, meet performance goals and better document financial flows.


Another key change factor is represented by the increasing use of common business metrics in help desks and support centers. Metrics commonly used in other lines of business are now being applied to support centers, such as ROI calculations, Balanced Scorecard Development and other key performance indicators (KPIs). Customers are demanding service-level agreements (SLAs) and require detailed reports on how a support center is or is not meeting them. For example, a company may decide the average speed to answer is important to track as a part of the SLA. Help desk/support center directors must then decide what they will use to measure items identified in the service-level agreements, whether it is using purchased software or allowing the automated phone system to track it. ITIL (the IT Infrastructure Library) presents help desk/support centers with a comprehensive new framework of best practices, which thousands of corporations are now adopting to address the increasing challenges they face, such as offshoring, around-the-clock service provisioning and mobile/remote workers.


These same factors are influencing the evolution of the help desk as it becomes more tightly integrated into overall business processes. The business-centric help desk or support organization knows the value of the customer and understands that customer values and priorities must be integrated with support values in order to meet the greater needs of the entire organization. The support team has a collegial relationship with its key constituencies or key contacts within the customer groups they serve. Help desk/support leaders understand the business of the customers they serve and how support impacts organizational productivity. Likewise, the business units served have an understanding of the costs and benefits of various support options and how they can work with support to improve overall organizational productivity. The support organization provides performance reports that detail how support impacts organizational performance. The support function is fully automated and support tools are integrated. Clearly, these requirements also affect the changing role of the support center director.


“The help desk of yesterday was focused on problem resolution,” said Ron Muns, founder and CEO of HDI, the world’s largest membership association for service and support professionals and the premier certification body for the industry. “Today, successful help desks are transforming into full-function strategic service desks and support centers. As such, they need to be focused on much more than just calls and problems, they need to focus on much larger issues such as building the support center, maintaining the center and promoting the benefits of the support center to the organization overall—and most importantly, understanding, aligning with and supporting the larger business objectives.”


A help desk/support center director may be responsible for building a support center from scratch, but more likely has been charged with either growing a support center from a small/reactive phase to a larger, more proactive stage or from a proactive to a customer-centric stage. This evolution requires skills and best practices in the areas of finance and strategic business development, in particular. Help desk/support center leadership needs to implement strategies for delivering quality service and support to customers. They also need to master negotiating skills for maximizing vendor relationships. Understanding the role of new tools such as knowledge management and how to implement them into the support environment is crucial.


After building the center, the help desk/support director needs to maintain the support center’s performance. This also requires skills in finance and business development, but adds the need to market or promote the center to the executive level. Leadership, strategic vision and advanced team management skills are critical. Not only does the help desk/support center director need to implement quality strategies, he also needs to measure performance against goals and make the changes necessary to keep the support center on track. Revenue-building strategies become particularly important, and being accountable to cash flows, P&L statements and budgets is critical.


Promotion is so important within the business-centric, strategic support center, it represents a stage of its own. The value proposition of the business-centric support organization is that it has developed the optimal method for evaluating support in terms of its overall value to the organization. The costs and benefits of support are understood to maximize productivity across the organization. Support center directors need to acquire such skills as: understanding business metrics for cost justification; service-level agreement performance statistics; building, tracking, meeting and reporting on goals and objectives; understanding industry trends and articulating how the support center can help keep the company abreast of them; transferring knowledge from customers gained through support interactions to upper management; building business cases; and using sales and marketing techniques to communicate with and persuade both executives and high-level customers.


The support center director is defined as an experienced management position directly responsible for providing strategic leadership to the support organization. Due to the increasing demands placed on help desk/support center management and the evolution of help desks/support centers as they become increasingly strategic, a set of best practices and industry standards was needed for this position. Based on feedback and debate among HDI’s strategic advisory board, HDI members and support industry experts developed a set of standards to ensure help desk/support center management best practices across the industry. These best practice standards fall into four categories: customer, financial, planning and leadership. Each category has a set of knowledge elements and accompanying criteria:


There are four knowledge elements in the customer category:



  • Evaluating, reporting and KPI (key performance indicators) setting the goals/measurements.
  • Service maturity models.
  • Quality management.
  • Vendor relationships.


Spotlight on Vendor Relationships: As the help desk/support center director is usually the budget manager and decision maker when it comes to vendors, it is critical that she understands the vendor/client relationship from the point of view of the vendor—for example, knowing migration or installation pitfalls—in ord

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