How to strengthen technical support - 6 secret ways

Original author: Mary Shacklett
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When it comes to IT support services, there is no room for idle talk. These employees are at the forefront of your business, who have an excellent understanding of system performance and user experience of customers and employees, which can help significantly improve the performance of your business.

Support services are often considered the starting point in the careers of new and inexperienced employees who seek to get into the field of IT or move to other areas of it. But if the IT director is serious about the culture of service, then it should not be so.

Now is the right moment. New technologies in the support service, along with trends such as digital transformation, provide an opportunity to strategically use this undervalued point of contact to improve customer service.

What can CIOs do to transform IT support services and create more productive tasks? Start by understanding the effects of your own perception.

Perception is the basis

"The most forward-thinking IT directors see services as a strategic direction for IT," said Steve Stover, vice president of products and integration at Samanage, a cloud provider of IT support services. “They see the support service as part of the IT service development strategy and see it as the main point of contact for meaningful interaction with end users.”

In this context, the IT support service is positioned as an external interface for accessing various IT services provided by the company.

“Support services usually serve as the only point of contact for employees when it comes to any requirements, problems or assistance they need in consuming technology services,” says Prashant Menon, manager of IT-support service software ManageEngine Service Plus . “In mature organizations, the support service guarantees timely assistance and quick problem resolution at a guaranteed level of service quality (SLA).”

How else to use the potential of the support service? In this matter, organizations find specific solutions.

“How an organization uses a helpdesk depends a lot on its size, management vertical, specific requirements, appropriate investments and how these investments fit business goals,” says Menon. “Some organizations can use their technical support to simply provide access to basic technology services for employees, while others could use it strategically as a driver for introducing new technologies.”

Organizations that prefer to support a help desk as a platform for solving problems that function the same way as they did 25 years ago also tend to see tech support as a cost center. Others see new challenges and opportunities for this service.

“Self-service and end-user involvement are the conditions in which many companies today are transforming their IT support services,” says Stover. "The generation of millennials has grown in terms of self-service and user activity, so it expects this."

Changing the culture of "worked and run"

Nevertheless, even when IT-support uses more opportunities for automation, development of self-service and introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, which today are transformational for business, for support staff, the desire to go to the best IT positions today is just as great. like 25 years ago.

“The main challenge for companies is to provide IT managers with an understanding of the importance of their contribution to achieving business goals,” says Menon. “Technical support is often seen as an auxiliary, and not as a core business function, so IT support teams usually focus only on their tasks. The support service and IT managers do not understand how closely IT support should interact with the business as a whole and how the provision of high-quality IT services has a profound effect on the company's total profit. ”

Recognizing the strategic importance of IT support is where IT directors should put their efforts. If the IT director continues to treat technical support services as a reflector for user questions and concerns that should not be disturbed by database administrators and top-level application developers, the culture of “worked and run” for the support service will not change.

IT executives understand this. They include support managers and staff in conferencing sessions in which database and application administrators participate. They want tech support to tell them the history of specific systems, to determine which of them are experiencing the most problems or which types of interfaces are most troubling to users. From the support service, you can find out the errors that should be avoided when developing applications, and which systems should be replaced.

“A truly mature technical support service can also focus on ensuring that end users are not faced with problems in principle,” says Menon. "Support service managers and staff can track their own performance indicators in terms of user experience and satisfaction, using these indicators for strategic operations within the company, such as digital transformation."

With this strategy, IT staff becomes real leaders. They teach other subgroups within the company (for example, HR, customer service) how to use tech support technologies to answer user questions and solve problems. They also help identify areas where self-service is a great option.
On the contrary, less experienced tech support teams that do not have a vision and do not have the quality of leaders are likely to be engaged in “extinguishing fires” in most cases, as has been historically. Fire fighting means that they have no time left to monitor and analyze performance indicators.

6 ways to restart technical support

In early 2016, the credit union implemented an IT system to organize its technical support. Thanks to the right combination of input forms and process automation, they were able to improve and measure key technical support indicators, such as open tickets, with violation of the SLA conditions, the load on the performers, their performance in accordance with the SLA, as well as the division and categorization of ticket breaks. Within two years, they expanded the concept of service management beyond IT — to four departments, including HR.

Other organizations can also “reset” their technical support service by reviewing the six best practices:

1. Determine the strategic direction of the support service and believe in it.

“The lack of leadership in IT is a frequent cause of frustration with the help desk,” says Menon. “If management doesn’t clearly identify the value that tech support brings to business, and instead focuses more on transactional operations, IT support staff may not know why they should do what they do. IT leaders need to explain the difference between just a bunch of bricks and the construction of a cathedral. ”
Menon is right. Many IT directors continue to mainly use the help desk to separate user questions from IT functions that they find more valuable, even while recognizing the value of technical support.

How to change this?

Identify support service initiatives that bring tangible value to the company and make it an integral part of this strategy.

“In one case, the IT department implemented an AI-based assistance system for its support service and reduced the average labor time by two hours per week,” says Stover. “The company has implemented a rule-based system in which AI was used to work with historical technical support data. This system had a 96% success rate when technical support agents used it in their work. ”

2. Enlist support within the technical support service and implement initiatives.

Companies that are mired in the perception of technical support in the style of the old school must overcome the resistance points in the company's culture, as well as investment and technological obstacles.

Transformation of the support service and ensuring acceptance of its value and role begins within the service itself.

“People in tech support really don't understand their roles and how best they can contribute to what their company wants,” says Menon. “When there is a lack of understanding of goals between top management, departmental leaders and IT managers, productivity may turn out to be zero.”

To avoid this, managers and technical support staff can set goals and service indicators, feedback channels for internal IT systems and other targeted improvement areas, as well as SLAs to meet customer needs. It may be worthwhile to place support staff along with staff from more respected IT disciplines, such as working with databases or developing applications. They can help each other get the budget needed for development.

The second stage of recognition of the importance of support services is business representatives.

In 2017, American Express published its Customer Service Barometer and found that more than half of US consumers abandoned a planned purchase or transaction due to poor service.

Technical support is crucial for customer loyalty, which in turn affects the total profit. This is an area where the experience and technology of customer support can be used across the company to achieve competitive advantage. It is also a great opportunity for IT-directors to demonstrate the technologies and approaches of the IT-support service, as well as the value of attracting these employees to improve service efficiency in other departments of the company.

3. Focus on continuous process improvement

“In one case, the company developed a chat bot,” says Stover. “The goal was to free support service from first-level requests. The company has redesigned its support portal to integrate chat with help desk messages to create a more holistic experience for end users and a more complete context for technical support staff. ”

There are many digitalization tools that can be integrated into the technical support structure and can increase its performance. However, attention should be focused on whether these solutions improve the lives of end users and support staff. If technologies do not do this, they will not be accepted by people.

“The IT support team can develop AI-based bots to respond to user requests and quickly solve problems, giving employees time to take care of other important activities,” said Menon. “These bots can understand and respond to voice, as well as through text interfaces, even if support staff are unavailable or busy with other tasks. Machine learning opportunities (ML) will help reduce the workload, for example, replacing a person in processing huge amounts of data, searching for patterns and determining the required actions for a typical situation. ”

IT support can also use popular applications for communication and collaboration.

“If the support team invests in integrating their tools with applications that users already use and are good at understanding, this is a win-win situation for both parties in terms of the value they get from each other,” says Menon. "An example is to allow users to send requests through WhatsApp, and not to force them to go through a set of complex forms on the site."

4. Focus on user experience

Your support team will not be successful if your users are not happy.
User feedback on the effectiveness of support services must be continually collected and evaluated. If there are areas where improvements are needed, then these improvements should be carried out immediately.

Secondly, users should have access to support service resources using methods that are convenient for them. These can be chats, self-service manuals or pop-up alerts, collaboration tools, and more.

Invest in professional support desk staff training. This training should cover communication skills and interpersonal skills, as well as knowledge of systems. Well-trained staff is competent, self-confident and capable of providing IT support to world-class users.

5. Hire the right people.

“The fundamental characteristics that any support staff member should have is empathy and patience,” says Menon. “Willingness to listen and solve problems of other people, combined with deep knowledge in their field, attention to the correct understanding of the problem and experience to find and implement the right solution - makes the support staff a champion in the eyes of users. Moving forward, support staff will be even more successful if their experience and knowledge allows them to think ahead and create systems that not only handle everyday problems, but also predict the best way to solve future problems. ”

6. Create a career path for support staff.

Finally, for support professionals, you need to create career opportunities. These people should know that they have a future in the company if they want to stay in tech support.

Career development in QA, tech support and other undervalued IT disciplines is still a dream of many. Therefore, it is not surprising that even those people who really enjoy working in a support service are not fully involved in their work and committed to their cause.

It is not right. To create an attractive career path, ensure promotion and professional development. If IT directors are serious about developing an IT service culture, saving valuable employees and support desk managers by providing career opportunities is something to think about.

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