Know Thyself: Tips for Help Desk Agents (Help Desk, Part 2)

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (17-Oct-2006)

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The resolution of any technical problem begins with communication between the help desk agent (HDA) and the user with the problem. They're equally responsible in seeing a problem through until a positive outcome is achieved. Users, like patients going to a doctor, must be able to describe their aliments and symptoms so that the doctor can know what tests to run, make a diagnosis, and prescribe a treatment.

In part 1 of this series, It's Not About the Byte: Creating a Human Help Desk, I highlighted the importance of creating a human help desk, and the soft-skills required to guide users through technical problems in a human fashion. But before HDAs can help others, they must be able to manage their own thoughts and actions—sometimes under intense stress. If HDAs are unable to handle nerve-wracking situations, how are they supposed to help those in technical distress? In fact, the HDA might even add to the problem.

We can't control the behavior of others, but we can control our own responses to their behavior. To best serve the user community, HDAs should heed an ancient Greek aphorism: gnothi seauton, know thyself.

Taking Control of the Situation

Although both parties need to cooperate and communicate with the other during technical problem resolution, the circumstances surrounding these situations is decidedly lopsided. HDAs handle all manner of technical problems on a daily basis, but users don't—and for users, the problem hits a lot closer to home. They're the ones who aren't able to access an application with a crucial deadline looming; they're the ones whose computer went up in a plume of smoke on the eve of a big presentation; they're the ones who had a virus cripple their laptop on the way to a business trip.

Experienced HDAs are in a controlled environment and have most likely seen it all. Technical problems, regardless of size and complexity, are just part of a normal day for them. Users, on the other hand, are in exceptional circumstances. For them, the sky is falling. As a result of this, it's the HDAs responsibility to take control of these situations—and they must do it within the first few minutes of initial contact with the user. When users are too rattled or stressed out to adequately describe their problem, the HDA must lead the conversation and ask the right questions to get the information they need out of them.

Tips for Help Desk Agents

Learning a new technology is much easier than learning a new behavior; but it doesn't take a complete personal transformation to become a decent HDA:

To be continued...

Technical problem resolution between HDA and user requires cooperation. If HDAs can't take control of the situation quickly it can snowball and affect overall productivity: A stressed out user calls a HDA; the user, in a panic, is racing and unable to adequately describe the problem; they become angry with the HDA and use them as an outlet for their frustration; the HDA then becomes agitated with the user and is unable to perform to maximum capacity. In the end, no one wins. To get the best response out of users, HDAs must be prepared to offer the best they have as well.

In part 3 of this series, I'll be discussing one of the least appealing aspects of working in a help desk department: dealing with angry and abusive users.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.