Thursday, February 03, 2005

How Not to Run a Help Desk Part 2

In my continuing rant on how not to run a help desk I will start by looking at how a help desk technicians are evaluated for job performance. The point of a help desk technician’s job is to provide customer service and correct computer problems - seems pretty straight forward. With this goal in mind it seems logical that the best way to determine how well an agent is doing their job is to look at items like; Customer Satisfaction, Number of Calls, First Call Resolution. These statistics are directly related to how well an agent does their job and are the natural measuring stick for job performance. If I talk to 30 people in a shift and fix 29 problems myself, and the customers are all happy, then I have done my job properly.

Let’s look at what these items actually mean in the help desk world. Customer Satisfaction is exactly the same as any other customer service business, if a customer is happy you will get a good rating and if they are mad you will get shredded. Number of Calls is a no brainer, this is how many calls an agent takes - the more the better. First Call Resolution is the most important stat; this is how many calls are resolved without requiring the customer or the agent to call back. Unfortunately, most help desk only track these number for an entire team not for individual agents.

The reality of the situation is much different, since help desk managers, as previously mentioned, do not know how to do the job they must use performance matrices they can understand. In a help desk environment the agent must log into a phone queue. The queue is run by a computer that tracks everything that an agent does on their phone while logged in. It has the ability to track how long each call was and how many calls an agent has taken. It tracks how many out bound calls and they can track every keystroke on the phone. Some of the key stats that are tracked are: Ready or Available, Release or Unavailable, Wrap-up or After Call Work. In addition the agent’s time is stamped, like a time clock, for start time, lunch and breaks.

Before I go any further I need to explain what the stats really mean for those of you who are unfamiliar with the help desk world. Ready (Available) is time the agent spends logged into the phone waiting for a call. It is seen as productive time for most call centers. Release (Unavailable) is time the agent spends not in Ready or Wrap-up, most call centers count this as unproductive time and it counts against the agent (I am not sure why this is something that an agent can do). Wrap-up (After Call Work) is time the agent spends after hanging up with a user but is still working the case; it is productive time to a point. In addition to these stats there is also the Talk Time stat. Talk Time is always productive time but if an agent’s Average Talk Time is significantly higher than the team average then there may be a problem with the agent.

All of these stats are important for determining how well a help desk is operating but they do not give a clear picture of what level of service an agent is providing. I have work with many people who were expert at managing their phones but had no clue how to fix a computer problem. Since help desk managers put such high value one these numbers they will frequently recognize the wrong employees for awards such as employee of the month (more on this jewel later). As previously mentioned, help desk managers will use the phone system as a form of time clock; an agent is considered on time if they login within 2 minutes of their scheduled time. In addition, agents log out for breaks and lunch and at the end of the day. If an agent is to go to a meeting or work on non-call related projects they will log off as well. Each time an agent logs off he/she must enter a Reason Code. If the agent enters the wrong code it will be counted against there job performance. Like most jobs, if you are tardy too many times in a period/quarter that will also count against the agent. It is, however, interesting that positive contributions are frequently less important to a manger that these petty mistakes. At times, the most productive people will be penalized because of substandard phone management and the most useless people are getting awards because they always login on time and use the correct codes. Needless to say, this is murder on morale.

Silent Monitoring is a popular quality control tool used by many help desks in an effort to track and address job performance issues. The idea is that an agent’s calls will be taped, unknown to the agent, and then reviewed by the manager or a technical lead. After the call has been reviewed the agent will be informed and the evaluation will be covered with the agent. Ideally this should be done very soon after the call so the issue is still fresh in their mind. Often, however, they are reviewed with the agent days or even weeks after the fact. Sometime these silent monitoring evaluations are never reviewed with the agent, making the entire program a huge waste of time. Staffing concerns can contribute to a manger’s ability to perform this process; a manager who is running an understaffed desk will not want to pull an agent from the phones to review calls. Technical ability also impacts this program, a manager with poor technical skills will not want to review calls because they have little understanding of what is happening.

Continuing with the topic of quality review help desk will also review the call tickets for each agent. This is done for two reasons: 1. the customer can frequently see these cases and you don’t want your agents looking like illiterate fools, 2. the ticketing system is used to create customer reports on the common issues and may be used to create documentation of solutions. These are two very important reasons to review each and every case to ensure that they have been properly categorized and that there are no spelling errors. This is clearly a function for the best people on the team and ideally for a lead. Ticket review is never something that should be a peer review item, but it often is. This tedious task will be assigned to the person with the lowest call volume, which is frequently the least qualified person to be reviewing someone’s work. Quality control should NEVER be a peer review process. My co-workers don’t know any more about the job that I do so what makes them qualified to determine if I am doing the job correctly? Nothing; the manager of a help desk or a dedicated, trained, QR person should be doing these functions to ensure that the review process is not a collection of opinions but actual fact.

Another common issue that plagues many help desks, particularly at companies that have cash problems, is staffing. Help desk managers, in an attempt to control costs, will short staff, which greatly increases the impact of poor quality agents; this in turn contributes to agent burnout. A help desk that has been short staffed will, obviously, have a higher work load than a properly staffed desk. In the short run this seems like a good idea but over the long haul there begins to be real problems particularly with scheduling vacations. On a short staffed help desk every time an agent goes on vacation the already high workload increases, sometimes to the point that agents begin to get burned out. This burnout contributes to unscheduled absences (sick time). When an agent is on vacation and another is out sick the problem of short staffing is at its worst. Poor customer service is inevitable in this environment.

In the end, help desks are run pretty much the same as any other operation. They are filled with competent people who are under appreciated and ignorant people who are glorified. They are run by managers that don’t know the difference between a technical help desk and a telemarketing operation. Sometimes it amazes me that anything gets done.

1 comment:

The Mad Tech said...

Great Post, and completely true in every regard.

The Mad Tech