4 Common Mistakes and Top Tips for Building an IT Help Desk

InvGate April 17, 2019
- 5 min read

In our opinion, the IT help desk is one the most important functions you can have in any service-oriented organization. Having a help desk in place means that there’s a single point of contact for the business to engage with IT, end-user requests and incidents are managed centrally, and nothing is lost, ignored, or forgotten about. However, there are some common mistakes that organizations make when setting up their IT help desk. Here are four such examples (of mistakes) along with our top tips for building your help desk in a way that best serves your organization and the people who work within it.

1. Forgetting That It’s All About Your People

You can have the fanciest IT service management (ITSM) of help desk tools, quality standards and frameworks (such as ITIL 4), and the most structured processes ever – but if you don’t have the right people in place, then your IT help desk will likely fail.

It’s also important to remember that IT support is really people support – with your service desk agents enabling people to become productive again rather than merely fixing their IT issues. With this in mind, here are some of the key attributes, skills, and capabilities to look for when recruiting for, or retaining your, service desk agents:

  • Customer service skills – being able to relate to every end user and manage their issue, large or small, while giving them the best possible experience.
  • Communication skills – service desk agents talk to everyone in the business, from the intern on their first day to the CEO (or at least the CEO’s PA). Your people will need to communicate everything from supplier updates through to major incidents to senior management. So great interpersonal and communication skills are a must.
  • Troubleshooting and problem-solving skills – you might not be the most technical person in the world but if you're able to talk the customer through the logical steps needed to check network connectivity or to reinstall an application that’s not loading properly, then that’s hugely important in eliminating faults or potential issues. And preventing them being passed to the next level of support.
  • The ability to work under pressure – in the nicest possible way, most help desks aren’t known for being particularly Zen places. There will be times when there are more calls in the queue than there are people to answer them or multiple major incidents in effect. Here’s the thing – if you’re able to keep calm under pressure, then you can focus on helping the customer no matter how tough things get. It’s a really important personal quality to have.
  • Teamwork and interpersonal skills – this includes being able to work with other support teams and suppliers effectively. More often than not a complicated issue will take multiple teams to resolve it, so being confident in reaching out to other team members is a must.
  • IT support experience – in an ideal world your people will have some experience in supporting the hardware and software that makes up your environment. So, they at least have some experience in the basics.

People can make or break a help desk, so invest time in them – be it during recruitment, performance appraisals, or providing additional training. We promise you that it will be worth it.


2. Failing to Build Strong Processes and to Provide Underlying Work Instructions

Great people deserve great processes to support them. And if you don’t have clear processes in place, then you don’t have control of your help desk environment.

Your IT help desk processes need to cover the core tasks associated with incident management and service request management and should be flexible and scalable such that you can continue to meet the changing needs of the business.

Then underpin your processes with detailed work instructions such that everyone is aware of what’s required of them on a day-to-day basis. Also, when writing process documentation for an IT help desk environment, try to approach it with the mindset of “If I had to train someone on their first day, but had a crisis to deal with, could I hand them the training material with the expectation that they could do at least some tasks?”

Work instructions to cover when getting started will include:

  • How to raise an incident
  • How to raise a service request
  • How to categorize incidents and requests correctly
  • How to prioritize incidents and requests appropriately
  • Managing the VIP list (this is typically senior management and their PAs)
  • How to escalate to the next level of support
  • How to escalate to a third-party supplier
  • How to deal with management escalations and complaints
  • How to deal with a potential major incident.

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3. Not Making Your ITSM Tool Do the Heavy Lifting

All too often we get so excited about the sparkly functionality an ITSM tool can offer that we get carried away making our forms and self-help capabilities more complicated than they need to be. Instead, keep things simple, especially when starting out. All an end user wants when contacting the help desk is, well, help.

So, keep your forms quick and easy to fill in, for example:

  • Name and contact details
  • Service affected (if known)
  • A quick description of the fault
  • How serious is it?
  • How quickly do you need help?

That’s all people.

Take it from us, when you’re already under pressure and then your IT equipment fails, the last thing you want to have to do is to fill in what feels like a thousand-word essay on why your laptop has died.

Also, a little knowledge sharing can be wonderful – so, self-help in the form of FAQs, wikis, or knowledge bases will be a great addition to your help desk (and tool). In a world where nearly everyone uses Google, smartphones, and Facebook, self-service can solve a variety of problems quickly and easily without having to wait for a callback.


4. Not Asking for Customer Feedback

You need to build feedback loops into your help desk operations such that you can learn from customer satisfaction ratings and customer feedback. Learning from this feedback means that you can make improvements to the tools and processes and thus ensure that your customers are being looked after in the most effective way possible.


What common mistakes have you seen and what are your top tips for building an IT help desk? Please let us know in the comments.

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