Response From the Service Desk: 12 Pieces Of Advice For IT Service Desks – From A Customer!

I can’t believe I have been keeping this blog for over a year now. I was looking for something to read today during some of my downtime at work, and I just get the most random ideas for topics to search on the internet. Today was a particularly hell-ish day at work, so I felt inspired to do an internet search on what people expect from tech support. What I found inspired me write a post venting/explaining things people don’t understand about tech support-slash-help desk-slash-service desk-slash whatever else you want to call your IT people at work, similar to a post I wrote just over a year ago to vent/explain things about the hotel industry from a [formerly] insider’s perspective.

Here is the article I will reference, i.e. quote and respond to. It is called “12 Pieces Of Advice For IT Service Desks – From A Customer!” posted by Stephen Mann but written by an anon customer who has obviously dealt with people like me at work. I would like to respond just based on the two places where I’ve worked tech support, and, hopefully, this will provide some insight for many others out there who have had to deal with IT or will have to in the future. Just as the post provided by Mann was from one customer’s standpoint, the response is from my standpoint, although I know there are customers and IT professionals who agree with both respective standpoints.

Old Skool IT Support Seemed To Work

First of all, there are still places that have one or two IT guys who go around and help everybody at their location. At some of the locations my company has worldwide, this is the case. My co-worker from my last post would be one of those “IT guys” at the location to which he’s trying to go, because he’d be working in some podunk city that has relatively few employees to support. Where I work, we not only support our headquarters, which is a huge building with four floors worth of people…we also support every location worldwide–including, ultimately, that podunk city. We’re the people the IT guys at Podunk call when they don’t know the answers…which seems to be several times a week.

The one thing I will say–well, three things, actually, but they boil down to one base–I have a problem with when it comes to having a “service desk” vs the IT guy: 1) IT guys and ladies at Podunk often don’t know schitt because they were placed in those positions without the proper background and/or the proper training; 2) When you have a big worldwide company with various locations, you can have techs at Podunks, but there is probably one location–often headquarters–where certain issues must be sent and only those IT people have what’s necessary to resolve them; 3) My company ranges from having “service desk” at headquarters to having absolutely nothing at other locations, not even an IT guy, which makes all those people have to rely on the “service desk.”

All three of those things are nonsense, to me, and it’s one of the reasons why tech support has gotten worse and more difficult for customers to deal with. Every company that calls itself having “IT” assistance needs to have it on site somehow, especially when you’re talking about a worldwide company. There’s no efficiency in my being in the Southern USA being the only support for people in Australia or Puerto Rico, but that’s precisely the way it is. That’s bad for so many reasons, from time zone differences to language barriers. It’s hard enough to assist customers, but then you throw in factors such as never really having support when you need it because our office hours are drastically different from Europe’s or Australia’s hours and native speakers of Asian languages or Spanish trying to communicate with me in their 2nd or 3rd language. These people all need their local IT guys and ladies, even the US Podunks. And those IT people need to know their schitt instead of being pulled from the Accounting department because they can tinker with computers a little bit. And they need to be able to do everything without us at headquarters having to be involved.

Obviously, part of the reason why there’s not just an IT guy everywhere now is due to money. But there are also now more service desks than IT guys at businesses because there’s more technology used in business now. It’s not just about web sites, email and desktop computers anymore. It’s everything from laptops and elaborate networks to iPads and cell phones. You really can’t just have one guy taking care of 50-100 people anymore. I can’t for the life of me understand why people at my company need a “company iPad,” but they rolled those suckers out to hundreds of thousands of people and now we have to support that schitt on top of laptops, desktops, cell phones, web sites, email, ftp, vpn, printers, software, servers, etc.

…all my colleagues and I want to know is “Why can’t I log into my email?” and “Can you fix it quickly, please?”

Oh, that’s “all”? Here’s why that’s not so simple:

1) Don’t implement strict procedures whereby you will only deal with issues that are submitted as a ticket and confined to the service desk.  Instead take in requests/incidents via every method of communication available to you and your customers – make yourself more widely accessible.

See, “service desk” doesn’t implement anything. That’s the problem. If we implemented things, your life probably would be easier. But no–we have managers, and our managers have managers. They are the ones who come up with the most convoluted bullschitt ever. We know we sound completely psychotic and roadblock-ish to you when we’re telling you the rules, but the sad truth is we don’t make them and we’re not about to risk getting yelled at or even fired to make life easier for you.

While we’re being truthful, truth is that our managers and their managers want to make people in IT less accessible to you. They want everything going through the service desk, despite the fact that service desk workers often can’t actually do schitt to resolve your problem. The guys who can resolve it don’t want to speak to you, though, and our managers don’t want them to speak to you. These people only want you to speak to us, the people who can’t help you 80% of the time. We at the service desk would be happily turning flips if we could just transfer you where you need to be instead of opening a ticket for the person who makes $90,000/yr to help you whenever he feels like it, but we can’t without eventually getting lectured about it by our manager and/or without the person who actually can help you getting pissy with us because we tried to make him do his job.

Convoluted, yes?

2) The customers’ problem may not be of high importance to the IT department but it’s important enough to the customer for them to have taken time out of their precious working day to seek advice and help.

This is not always true. I have people call me often and tell me it’s not important, they were just wondering or figured they’d ask, as if we have all day. There are just people who feel very comfortable picking up the phone to call “service desk” absolutely any time for absolutely anything, and I just don’t get it. Just the other day my co-worker and I were talking about this, and I told him that even if I weren’t in the IT industry I just can’t imagine ever calling IT unless it was one of those things that absolutely has to go through them.

I have a psychology degree and then I went to law school; I did not major in Computer Science or Information Technology or Management Information Systems. I know what I know about computers for two reasons: 1) When I had technical issues, I played around and figured out how to resolve them myself, and 2) When I had technical issues, I did [and still do] research to learn how to resolve them myself. But there are people who literally call me every…single…day. Sometimes the same person calls with one issue and emails with another issue on the same day. These people who contact us daily quite simply do not have urgent issues every single day. They just think we exist to serve only them, that’s all, i.e. they’re self-centered/self-important. The worst is when it’s one of the Podunks’ IT guys or ladies calling every day (and several of them do). They need to figure it out on their own the way I learned to do back in the 90s.

3) Nobody wants to hear the word “no” or “we can’t help.”

The one thing I liked about my previous “service desk” job is we were allowed to tell people “no” or “we can’t help.” They drew a line on what they’d assist people with. For the most part, we’re not allowed to do that where I work now. Because of that, sometimes I get stuck with issues that are above my head but don’t technically belong to one of the little sectors of the IT department, meaning there’s no correct person to hand it to for resolution. I also get stuck with issues that are going to be time-consuming to figure out, but no one who works service desk has time for time-consuming issues because issues are constantly coming from all directions. In these cases, you’re not going to get issues resolved quickly.

The truth is that we don’t know everything. There are also just some things that can’t be done for security reasons or just literally can’t be done because there’s no technical way to do it or because it’s a software/site that we don’t administrate, i.e. Google.

4) Don’t make a decision based solely on how it works for the IT department. You need to think about how it affects the people in the organization. Remember that if IT fails business people cannot do their job properly, and chances are these are the people making money for the business. Remember that they probably pay your wages – you are their overhead. Put yourself in their position in the context of IT and support.

Again–you need to talk to my dumbass manager and his manager. Also, if you can figure out the direct line to some of these lazy/anti-social $90,000+/yr IT guys, please give them a call about this one, as well.

5) Treat customers as human beings. Know who they are (including their names) and what their IT needs are.  Do not regard them simply as a “ticket number.”

I’ve got bad news for you–if we know who you are, that probably means we don’t like you because you’re one of those people I mentioned above who contacts us way too much. Either that, or when you contact us it’s always something crazy or hella-difficult. Nobody’s ever just a ticket number to me and they’re never treated that way, but most of the people I assist whose names I know very well are the people me and the other guys who work around me just groan, shake our heads and talk about how annoying they are. So, it might be at least a little bit better if we don’t really know you.

6) Help your customers understand life on the service desk. Maybe if your customers better understood the issues you are facing (and the larger corporate IT issues) they might be less inclined to complain about service and IT as a whole?

That’s what this post is for. Incidentally, I don’t really think any customer has ever complained about me–at least not to the point of going to my supervisor or even my co-workers. I actually get, “Thank God it’s you” or “I was hoping I’d get you” at times when I answer the phone, which surprises me, but I think it’s a customer-service thing more than anything else. I have gotten complaints about others, though. Obviously, those of you who know about my rude co-worker Lazy Tech know that’s a customer-service thing, as well. I don’t think our service desk as a whole receives complaints, just individuals.

7) You need to know how to say sorry for IT mistakes regardless of whether you caused them or not.

This is a big, big thing with me and one of the reasons I absolutely must get away from service desk jobs. I… cannot… stand… getting… blamed… for… schitt… not… my… fault! Well over 90% of issues are not service desk’s fault, but service desk is the face and voice of IT, which I think really just enables everyone else in IT to be lazy, to make mistakes and to not take ownership. I’ve had experience with this enabling factor, but we’re the ones who get harassed about the issues not being resolved, the issues reoccurring repeatedly and being told one thing when it’s not the case. I’m just not going to apologize for these people, to be honest with you, because we work harder, take more schitt and earn less money. Some of my co-workers and I spent 30 minutes after work one day just talking about all the people in our department who don’t do any work.

I didn’t realize so many people didn’t work until I actually started taking my full work breaks. When I started taking breaks, I started to see that there are quite a few people whom every time I’m on break they’re walking around the building, standing around talking or hanging out outside. A lot of people in other departments are like this, but a lot of these are IT guys, too. I started to understand why every time I go looking for one of these guys or try to call them at their desks they’re not there. I see the exact same people, regardless of when I take breaks. These people are just flatout not working. My previous service desk job was the same way. So, no…no apologies on their behalf. In fact, I’d like to throw them under the bus to you.

8) When a corporate machine wipes itself clean owing to a virus don’t tell the customer it’s their fault due to something they downloaded when corporate IT security has failed to do its job properly (I’m also sure I don’t have the rights to download stuff anyway).

Honestly, where I work, we’re not allowed to tell you it’s your fault. But a lot of the time it is. Just because you can’t see how it’s on you doesn’t mean it’s not. And IT security, whatever that is, can’t prevent everything. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be an anti-virus program, firewall, a guy who sits and monitors schitt all day every day or what (and if it’s supposed to be that guy, then, like I said, he’s too busy walking the building or smoking outside). But none of that schitt is 100%, kind of like a condom or birth control pills. Some of getting pregnant is still going to be on you, you know. It’s like wanting to put the blame back on the pills just because you forgot to take them one day.

9) Encourage and welcome suggestions on how you can improve IT support…

I really have nothing to do with IT improvement, unfortunately. Our dumb managers and their managers don’t even listen to our suggestions, which are probably similar to yours anyways. Had a co-worker get pissed about the fact that our manager encouraged suggestions and then got chewed out when he gave some to our manager. That actually started our 30-minute conversation about all the people who don’t do work at work.

10) Let your customers know what work has been done (and is being done) to improve IT service delivery and keep them informed of potential upcoming issues/downtime.

That’s not practical, most of the time. Now, if we know something is coming that affects a lot of specifically-identified groups, sure, someone needs to send an email blast. That happens sometimes; other times not. More often than not, when something is happening service desk is not even informed about it. That’s those guys who hardly work suddenly deciding they want to do work but still being too lazy to let anyone else know about it. We find out when you find out, honestly. And issues don’t wear signs that say, “I will be resolved in 30 minutes.” They just don’t. Plus, if we’re getting calls from 30 different people about an issue, we can’t keep 30 different people informed on top of everything else going on at service desk. Again, if it affects the entire organization or an entire location, an email blast can work or we can contact an IT guy/lady if you have one. Otherwise, no.

11) You need to appreciate that not everybody works in the same office as IT Support staff – you may have global offices or remote workers.  Informing external staff that you will “fix the issue when you are next in the office” is simply not good enough.

See my discussion near the beginning of this post about service desk vs IT guys. I will also add, though, that there’s a very real challenge to assisting people who have issues you can’t see or touch. This is especially the case when the customer is–sorry–a dumbass, computer illiterate or wants you to fix things with the least amount of information provided as possible (or inaccurate information). This is also why every location needs its own IT guys/ladies, and not someone from the Accounting department.

12) …putting machines into complete lockdown to the point where they probably need an admin password just to fire up Microsoft Office is not acceptable…

I completely agree. I think my company makes everything ridiculously hard to access, and it’s annoying and can cause tons of problems. But again, it’s not service desk’s doing. In fact, it’s something that really makes assisting customers unnecessarily difficult.

I am a CUSTOMER

Be that. Don’t be a brat, and don’t be unrealistic. A lot of IT fixes are not going to be quick and easy, and yelling or talking about how you need XYZ “right now” isn’t going to change that.

I also have to tell you this very important thing–you’d be surprised by how many people in IT range from not being good with people to not liking people at all. You shouldn’t be, though. I mean, what’s the stereotype of someone who is a tech geek? That he/she lacks social skills. Plus, IT is one of the first fields that comes up when someone asks for career suggestions for people who don’t want to deal with people. Unfortunately, if someone starts out on service desk, they have to deal with people. And just about every tech geek I know hates the “dealing with people” part of service desk, to some degree.

I admit readily and freely that I don’t like people. However, I come from a psychology background and an English background in college. So, I can communicate with people and communicate the right way with people. But most people in IT don’t come from backgrounds like mine.

IT Service Desk Management

There are times in the blog post when management is mentioned. I can’t really tell if service desk is being addressed, IT service desk managers are being addressed or if the two are being collapsed in the blog. Honestly, to me, my manager is not part of service desk at all. Maybe that’s something that needs to be understood by customers, too. The post needs to be addressed to IT managers, not the service desk.

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