IT Credibility Challenge #4: Stop Thinking of Your Helpdesk as a Helpdesk

By Patty Azzarello

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If users have a terrible experience with the helpdesk, they will likely form a bad opinion of IT and/or the CIO. It’s very hard to recover your credibility once this view is widely held. If you want to build a consistent, positive impression for IT you need to focus on things that users can see and understand, which is not the technology. A critical and good place to start is by thinking of your helpdesk as much more than a helpdesk.


Your helpdesk is your statement to the world outside of IT about who you are, what you do and how you do it. You should think of it as your “store front”. It can entice, welcome and serve customer’s needs, or it can send them away unsatisfied and annoyed. This article will discuss some critical questions to consider and take action on:




Store Window


Do you ever get up from inside the "store" of IT operations, go outside, and look in your store window?  What is on the website home page? What impression does it give? What are you communicating? How are you communicating it? What are you not communicating that you might like people to know about IT?


What is it like to call in? What happens when you log a request online? or send an email?


Unless you've done these things personally, you have never looked in your own shop window.


Take a Shift


If you haven't done this recently, (or ever), you need to. You’ll learn both what it’s like to be on the support staff, (which will win you big points with your front-line employees), and you’ll get a direct view of people’s experiences then they call in.


You will learn way more in one shift about what is working and broken about your processes than you ever will from talking about it with your team. Do this at least once every six months.


Delete the Jargon


In a prior article IT Credibility Challenge #2 : Inconsistent View of IT performance I talked about the importance of letting the business name things. Nowhere is this more important than on the help desk, because that is the most visible, widely, and frequently used contact point with IT. IT organizations often present their help desk services in terms of the IT skills involved instead of what the business users are likely to be looking for. Examples are things like "SAP database support".


When requesting help for a problem, a user is not going to know if he needs help with "SAP database support". From his perspective, he has a problem with "SAP financials".


It is critical that you don't project your IT labels for things out into the business. Take the time to get the list right, and make sure it's understandable to non-IT people by getting the business to help define and approve the names for IT services.


Be Consistent


If the website, the email interface and the phone scripts have been developed separately, often the list of services or problem descriptions is different for each. This is particularly maddening to a business person who is trying to find what they need, and has to go someplace different than last time.


Assign someone to audit this, and once you have an official list, make sure it is used everywhere. The act of creating this consistency alone, will go a very long way to establishing IT's credibility and the perception of the level of service you are delivering.


Compelling Storefront


Don’t leave the content of your main IT website homepage and helpdesk interface to chance. This should be constructed/approved very intentionally (by you)—not only to deliver service with a user friendly interface, but to show additional content, which serves to create a positive impression of IT for all who visit.

What do you want to offer your users that come by? What impression should they leave with? Here are some ideas:


User support area: Users will come to your helpdesk to either get help with a problem they are having, or request IT support for something they need not "submit a trouble ticket" or "log an incident". These are IT-speak. Get them out of your user interface.


That’s is a good start. Now add two category titles that are action statements:



Under these two category titles list your set of services in the names that the business has defined/approved. Then anyone that comes here will easily be able to find what they are looking for.


If you are concerned that tickets will get incorrectly routed with this level of abstraction, don't be. It will only take one step to correct it if it is wrong. In reality, the users are more likely to pick incorrectly from a list of IT-oriented labels anyway, so your chances of correct routing on the first step may even go up.


SLA reporting area: Use some of the real estate to report on SLA performance trends for key business services. Whenever someone comes for help, they will see you are delivering on what you said you would do.


Schedule of upcoming IT projects area: Provide a timeline for new project rollouts, maintenance upgrades, switchovers to a new technology, etc. That will let people know when they might expect good things or be prepared for outages. Giving them a heads up will also let you know before hand if you have scheduled something with particularly bad timing for the business, so you’ll avoid shooting yourself in the foot.


Feedback area: Have a place on your website that allows users to give you feedback—and make sure it works. I’m amazed at how many times I have bad experience with a website and clicked to “give feedback”, but then there is a technical or system problem which prevents me from actually sending then the feedback.  


Make this easy, and respond to the comments.


"If you need to talk to a human" area: Have a list of contact numbers for people who need to talk to a human. Don't make it hard to find as a way to discourage people from calling. One angry executive with an IT emergency who can’t find someone to talk to before a customer presentation can do a lot of damage to your credibility.


If you have made your other interfaces consistent and easy to use, you won't get too many phone calls, and you will get the ones you need to get.




Don’t leave your company’s perception of your helpdesk to chance. By thinking of your helpdesk as your “storefront”, you will be able to create a user environment which is useful, effective, and easy to deal with, and it will become a primary tool for establishing and maintaining your credibility.


Patty is the CEO of Azzarello Group which works with companies to develop and motivate their top performers and with individuals to create success in their business and career. At 33, she was the youngest general manager at HP. She ran a $1B software IT management business at the age of 35 and was a CEO for the first time at the age of 38. She has been working with CIO’s for many years.