It is vital that a computerised support operation is successful and how the change could achieve increased customer satisfaction. that the success is measured and quantified - but how should this be achieved and what are the best metrics to use? It is not simply a matter of reducing the number of calls to the helpdesk. In fact, many organisations find that the number of calls the support operation receives remains the same or actually increases when a new helpdesk system is implemented, as the efficiency of call logging and resolution increases. The helpdesk exists to improve customer service - whether the customers are internal or external to the organisation - and ensure that customers are satisfied with the support they receive. Every forward-thinking organisation is aware of the rising total cost of ownership (TCO) of technology, especially PC-based technology, and the benefits that can be derived from an efficient internal helpdesk. And, the fact that it costs four times as much to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, should be uppermost in the minds of any organisation with a customer support function. When implementing a computerised support operation, organisations expect a tangible return on their investment. Increased customer satisfaction can be attained by setting expectations - Service Charters, and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that specify response times, quality of service, and accuracy of fixes - and resolving issues in accordance with these expectations. By fixing problems quickly, business efficiency can be increased by improving the productivity of both internal and external customers. By providing accurate answers to calls received, the helpdesk can help reduce the TCO of technology and thereby increase an organisation's profitability. The problem lies not in identifying the areas that will be improved by a successful support operation, but in setting metrics that will adequately quantify that improvement. For example, customer satisfaction can often be difficult to measure - if a support call is resolved efficiently and professionally, it is soon forgotten, but if telephone calls are not returned and customers have to keep calling back, the customer will be unhappy even when the problem has been fixed. By monitoring the adherence to Service Charters and SLAs, the success of the support operation can be gauged. The level of customer satisfaction can also be determined through customer surveys and special interest groups that address the quality and efficiency of the service received. The ability to analyse trends within the helpdesk is key to measuring its success. By proactively examining the types of calls received by the helpdesk it is possible to identify needs - such as improved training, or upgraded equipment - which will help improve the business or personal efficiency of customers, and reduce the TCO. By analysing the number of calls to the helpdesk and the time it takes to resolve these calls, the efficiency of the support operation and the customers it serves can be gauged. Also, having the ability to monitor the service your organisation receives from third-party suppliers will assist in the process of measuring the success of the support operation - if your suppliers are not fulfilling their agreements the support operation will find it difficult to fulfil theirs. There are a number of ways in which the computerised helpdesk can contribute to the success of the support operation. Quick and easy access to information is essential for the support operation to function efficiently. If the caller is from a known customer base it is important to be able to identify him easily when he calls and know all the relevant details about him. This includes location, address, telephone number, or department, and call history. This data should reside within a central customer database shared with the sales and accounts departments, and new customers are added as they buy products and services. If this data is duplicated within the support system, then it adds a costly maintenance overhead. The data is often out of date and the success of the helpdesk can be jeopardised. Customer support decisions based on inaccurate and out-of-date data can lead to serious problems. It is, therefore, vital to use up-to-date enterprise-wide know-ledge to provide enterprise-wide customer service. Data mining and knowledge base tools are invaluable for increasing the number of calls that can be dealt with immediately. With a single click of the mouse, the current call description can be searched for as natural language in the entire call database or through a database of known symptoms, problems and corresponding solutions. The use of such tools invariably leads to improved customer satisfaction - the helpdesk is able to provide faster, more accurate and relevant solutions to their needs. These tools increase analyst empowerment and recognition - shared knowledge enables the helpdesk staff to grow and evolve their capability, improve their responsiveness and broaden their expertise. They also promote improved efficiency and responsiveness - re-using solutions minimises the time needed to resolve issues and guarantees consistency of response. No two support operations are the same - some are small, some are large; the products and services supported vary greatly as customers may be internal or external. In order to be successful, the computerised helpdesk must be flexible and scalable enough to meet the requirements of every operation. As support operations differ, the parameters of success will also differ. However, they must be clearly stated before the helpdesk is implemented. The objectives of the support operation must be defined, the means by which these objectives will be met must be outlined, the methods by which the success of the helpdesk can be measured must be set, and a timescale for improvement agreed. Alan Neilson is managing director at Royalblue CIS Division.
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