The Service Desk is typically seen as the entrance into Corporate IT. It is staffed with some of the most junior personnel who have the least experience with corporate life, and even less experience with the functions of the business they are supporting. I see this as a huge mistake. Although it is the first tier, and the expectation is that issues resolved at the first tier should cost less than escalated tickets, having a Service Desk populated with nothing but interns or entry-level employees is going to leave a horrible impression on your users. After all, the Service Desk is the single point of contact for the users into IT. If they call and get a Service Desk tech who knows little about corporate-level technology, and even less about the business processes that the technology is supporting, what kind of impression will they leave on your customers?
When staffing my Service Desks, I look for a mix of seasoned veterans and enthusiastic entry-level personnel. Quite often the seasoned veterans are easier to find than you might expect. Look around in your Systems teams and see if there are any employees who are near (or even past) the burnout stage. Sometimes being tasked with impossible projects over and over with no end in sight can cause an employee to disengage, throw their hands in the air, and succumb to frustration. They continue to do their job, but at an extremely low level with no desire to excel at their work. Maybe it’s time to pull them from Systems, and let them engage in supporting the business at the front end to see how the work of IT really affects the users. What the burned out Systems folks lack in enthusiasm, make up with young, energetic, and hungry entry-level staff. The Systems techs can be mentors to the entry-level staff, feeding them the knowledge they need to be successful, and the entry-level staff will remind the Systems technicians why they got into IT in the first place. All this being said, there are certain personality traits that are required if you want to have a successful first-line support staff.
1) Customer Service
Many people are surprised that I put Customer Service as the first requirement, but trust me, it is. I can teach just about anyone the basics of corporate technology, but I can’t teach Customer Service skills. You either have it or you don’t, and no amount of training or coaching will take someone who isn’t a people person and make them one.
2) Technical aptitude
Notice I didn’t say technical knowledge. Most entry-level IT employees haven’t had the opportunity to work with corporate-level IT technology. Sure, they may have built a Linux box at home and have put together a screaming gaming system, but I will almost guarantee they have never tried to determine the account for an orphaned SID when you find it attached to a directory’s ACL. The fact of the matter is that you should not expect them to arrive on the job with experience setting up Public Folders in Exchange. You should expect them to take diligent notes when you show them how to set up the Public Folder. Then they should refer to those notes (and perhaps ask questions and improve the notes) when it comes time for them to do it themselves. By the way, I have let Service Desk new hires go home and never return if they don’t start madly taking notes on day one.
3) The understanding that it is just a job. It’s not personal.
The Service Desk techs are often seen as the whipping post of IT. They take abuse from all sides. When the customer is frustrated, the Service Desk feels it. When other IT groups receive tickets that don’t have all the information they expect, they take it out on the Service Desk. When management isn’t happy with IT’s performance, it’s the Service Desk that is the first to be outsourced.
The Service Desk takes, and takes, and takes, and by definition of the role, are not allowed to reciprocate. It will wear a person down. Service Desk technicians need to realize going in to the role that this is the nature of the job they are signing up for, and until there is an IT revolution, it’s not going to change. It’s just a job.
- It’s not personal. Users don’t hate you. They’re frustrated with the situation and you are the person they are going to take it out on.
- It’s not personal. Most of the IT staff are jaded and have unreasonable expectations.
- It’s not personal. IT management can’t measure the cost of most sections of IT, but due to the fact that the Service Desk is one of the most measured aspects of IT, they can see dollar signs when they look at you.
Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s emotional. I once had a user who was so distraught at losing a document that she began crying because she was sure she was going to be fired due to a simple mistake (she saved over a document, there were no backups, temp files, or un-deletable files – it was just gone). In situations like that, or where you just got screamed at because of IT’s incompetence for something that was completely outside the control of the Service Desk, you can only relay a compassionate apology and step away for a bit. Maybe for more than a bit. But you have to come back. Because it’s your job. It’s not personal. It’s just what you have to do every day.