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4 Ways to Improve the IT Help Desk

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When you ask CIOs to rank their key areas of focus and investment, it is unlikely they’ll prioritize improving the IT help desk. You are much more likely to see things like big data analytics, security, cloud computing, and digitization. While IT help desk improvement is one component of infrastructure modernization, you rarely see an explicit reference to the help desk in strategic plans.

I find this interesting because as much as 50 percent of the perception of IT comes from an interaction with the IT help desk. Despite all the shiny and innovative initiatives the CIO delivers, it still boils down to what Janet Jackson asked on her album Control: “What have you done for me lately?”

Tweet this: Become your company’s hero with these 4 easy steps to improving your IT help desk

If IT services begin performing sub-optimally—or stop working entirely—and cannot be restored quickly at the help desk, business users forget about all the value those services provided in the first place. Instead, they hone in on the inability to restore services, resulting in lost productivity.

Think about a State Governor who makes it her priority to fix and modernize the Department of Motor Vehicles within her first 100 days in office. Nearly every single one of her constituents has to go to the DMV at some point, and if there’s nothing else the Governor delivers during her term, at least constituents remember the improved efficiency and effectiveness of the DMV.

If your business users think you are doing a great job, then you are doing a great job. For an IT leader, perception is reality.

The mandate for the help desk has been to provide efficient support, reduce the total cost of IT, and improve customer satisfaction. Collectively, these guidelines allow IT to demonstrate its value to the business. While there are many metrics in place to measure efficiency and effectiveness, there remains only one way to measure customer satisfaction. You have to ask your users – and the majority of IT organizations aren’t doing this effectively. If you want to improve the help desk, here are the major red flags of customer communication you need to address, and my tips for how to fix them:   

1. You don’t know why you’re doing customer satisfaction surveys.

Doing customer satisfaction surveys the right way should start with one simple question: Why are we doing this? If your answer is we’ve always done it, or everyone else is doing it, or HDI said to do it, reset your initiative to focus on outcomes. This will determine how your surveys will be designed, managed, controlled and communicated.

Begin by asking questions such as:  

  • Why are we running the survey?
  • What do we hope to find out?
  • What will we do with the results?
  • How will the results improve our help desk?

Customer feedback is vital to survival as an IT leader, because only your customers can tell you what you’re doing well, what you’re not doing well, and what they expect from you. Define the information you’d like to glean from your survey, and then make your list of questions to ensure you’re collecting the answers that will help you make an actionable plan for improving your help desk.   

2. You send too many surveys.

91 percent of IT organizations send a survey invitation via email after a ticket is closed. While response rates may vary, most organizations range between five and ten percent with this approach. While higher response rates would be better, IT organizations (particularly large ones) only need a valid sample size of business users to act as a representative of the entire population. The distribution of surveys at the close of every ticket can overwhelm users, particularly if they’ve responded in the past, but no explicit actions have been taken on their feedback.

To reduce survey fatigue, IT organizations should:

  • Integrate your customer survey tool and the IT service management (ITSM) tool. The ability to cross-reference customer survey data with specific IT interactions and tickets will provide data that will help the help desk improve immediately. The majority of ITSM solutions provide this capability natively.
  • Build business rules into the ITSM solution that either randomize survey delivery, or ensure that surveys are only sent on a given schedule (e.g. at the close of every tenth ticket). Business rules should also make sure users aren’t surveyed more than once in a given period (e.g., three months). Again, the more flexible ITSM solutions can do this fairly easily. Because you are limiting the scope of potential respondents, IT organizations should consider offering a small incentive for completing a survey, whether it’s a $5 coffee card or a chance to win a larger prize (such as an Amazon Echo) in a raffle.
  • Mix survey types and response capture methods. In addition to sending a transactional survey when tickets close, also run annual surveys and conduct focus groups. In addition to web-based surveys, phone surveys can be effective in capturing customer feedback.

In this context, less is more particularly if respondents are vocal and honest with their feedback. If you’re more likely to get constructive feedback, you will be better able to improve your help desk.

Tweet this: 91% of IT organizations are overusing surveys. Are you overwhelming your end user?

3. You ask too many questions.

Provided IT organizations are surveying for the right reasons, at the right frequency, they still may see low response rates because they are simple asking too many questions on their transactional survey. Upon first glance, the user, who mind you has just been unable to work for the last minutes, is going to see a 10 question survey and politely decline, regardless of how much he enjoyed and appreciated the support experience. Ultimately, transaction surveys should ask two simple questions:

  • Was the issue resolved? (Yes or No)
  • How satisfied were you with the IT help desk experience? (Scale 1-5, or 1-7)

For IT help desks that integrate customer satisfaction surveys with their ITSM solution, or have the survey capabilities within their ITSM tool, the respondent’s “demographic” information will already be captured, so understanding their name, department, and nature of their issue will have already been recorded. Furthermore, an answer of “No” on the first question should automatically prompt the ticket to be reopened, with notification to management. Also, scales need not be numerical, having users select an emoticon can be an effective (and fun) way to capture user sentiment.

4. You neglect to communicate results to your customers.

Many IT organizations fear transparency, because it allows them to be publicly scrutinized, which may have negative consequences. However, if your customers think you aren’t listening to their feedback, they will stop providing it.

If one of the reasons you are conducting surveys is to improve, the process should begin with:

  • Sharing and discussing customer satisfaction as a help desk team to better understand customer expectations and IT’s ability to meet them. Focus on the feedback. When possible, change names to protect individuals. Nobody likes to be called out in front of their peers, nor does it make sense to cast judgment on someone for the one bad week they’ve had in twenty years of stellar work.
  • Provide a real time dashboard of IT customer satisfaction on the IT self-service portal. Doing so will convey the importance of metric to the IT department and will also provide the mechanism for users to familiarize themselves with the portal.
  • Deliver a periodic report to senior IT and business leadership about trends associated with customer satisfaction. Clearly communicating customer satisfaction changes during the rollout of the hosted email platform, for example, is key context to provide, especially if specific pain points are captured and shared. This helps IT understand customer expectations.

Tweet this: Having a transparent relationship by communicating results allows for better customer satisfaction overall

When you ask for feedback on what you can do to be better, you should exert effort to apply the improvement opportunities as they are communicated. Letting your customers know you hear and appreciate their feedback goes a long way in building trust and establishing an appropriate rapport for two-way communication. If you want your help desk to be a true business partner, an enabler and a knowledge hub, surveys are paramount in helping you to achieve your goals.


Once you know what your customers want from the help desk, it’s time to make a plan about how to deliver. You might need some help breaking bad habits and making lasting changes. We’re here to help. Check out our eBook, “Leap Out of the Service Desk Fish Bowl,” and learn innovative solutions to everyday challenges.

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