What is a help desk?
A help desk is software that enables customer-facing teams to interact with customers and resolve their inquiries. It can help organize inquiries, report on performance, and aggregate knowledge. It may also offer multiple mailboxes for different teams, easy escalation paths, and productivity features like saved responses and automations.
A help desk is generally the next step customer-facing teams take after they have outgrown their shared Google inbox or other personal email. Typically, this growth is associated with needing new features and functionality teams can't achieve with an email client designed for personal use. Help desks have a designated alias that multiple users can read and contribute to. Instead of firstname.lastname@example.org, you may end up with support@, customercare@, info@, or one of many other options.
Aliases make it easy for your users to have an easy-to-remember email address to reach out to when they need help.
Why use help desk software?
The transition to using help desk software can seem nerve-wracking. You must train your whole team on a new tool and build new help desk procedures to fit it. However, there are some real benefits to transitioning to software designed to help you help customers.
Create structure for your team
Most help desk software has the functionality to help create structure for your team. Rather than everyone having a free-for-all in a shared inbox, for instance, you can organize and prioritize incoming conversations. Some help desks also allow you to create automatic assignments that take even more of the guesswork out of team members' day-to-day workings.
Improve your quality of service
The additional functionality of help desks makes it easier for team members to focus on their work rather than worrying about finding the right conversations and responses. Most help desks offer in-app saved replies, the ability to access knowledge bases, and automatic ticket assignment. With fewer extraneous things to focus on, your team can spend more time and energy writing the best responses to your customers.
Use surveys to understand your customers better
One of the vital ticket handling best practices is allowing your customers to tell you how they felt about your interaction. While you can find third-party tools to do this when using a personal inbox, with most help desks, the functionality is built-in.
When you purchase a help desk, you will most often get access to a built-in knowledge base. The best help desks will allow you to search through knowledge base articles directly in the editor you use to write responses. Sending additional documentation and information to your customers proactively helps them understand more about your product.
Automate routine tasks
Many help desks have built-in functionality to help automatically or manually route conversations based on the content of the conversation or where your team members believe they should send them. Some even have an option to allow customers to sort their tickets based on need — you can prompt them for how urgent their conversation is as they fill out your contact form.
Help desks have built-in analytics that can help you detect trends in performance. You'll have access to several metrics that you might not have without a dedicated tool. For instance:
- Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)
Time to response
Time to resolution
Number of responses to resolution
Busiest time of the day and week
Number of responses per team member
Trends in reporting over time
Most frequently used saved replies
Most commonly sent knowledge base articles
You can also correlate different metrics to see how one impacts the other. For instance, you might notice customer satisfaction going up as your handle time goes down. These metrics wouldn't be available without a dedicated help desk.
What makes an excellent help desk?
Even though all help desks are a step up from a non-dedicated shared inbox, some features set apart great help desks from good ones. Here are a few things you should look for when evaluating a new help desk.
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1. Integrated functionality
Ideally, all the functionality you want should be directly available within the help desk. While you can buy piecemeal add-ons, it's much easier if everything is already attached and works together. Here are a few things you may want to consider:
Knowledge base capabilities
Social media monitoring
With direct integrations of all of your features, you minimize the amount of context switching your team needs. Beyond that, your analytics and reporting are even more in-depth when you keep everything under one roof.
2. Great self-service functionality
Self-service is essential for most customers and can be a great way to help empower your support team to focus on things that are a bit more high-impact than answering low-hanging fruit inquiries. When looking for a help desk, seek software that facilitates help desk processes around building documentation and self-service.
These features may include things like:
A documentation builder
Built-in search functionality for documentation
Automated documentation suggestion in your contact form
A WYSIWYG knowledge base builder
Building great self-service options for your users is at the top of the list for ticket handling best practices.
3. Ability to automate
Automation often takes over tedious work that your team doesn't necessarily need to be doing. It can be anything from sending out a survey after an interaction to automatically routing a conversation based on its content. For instance, if one of your team members is typically responsible for going into the queue and assigning conversations all day, imagine what they might be able to do if you gave them that time back.
4. Easy-to-use interface
No matter how many great features a product has, none of them are going to get used if the interface is hard to work with. Bring your team members into the evaluation as you pick your help desk. It's vital that anyone who is going to be working in the help desk every day feels excited about it. If there's anything in the user interface that your team doesn't like or that doesn't feel intuitive, it could cause issues with your help desk procedures down the road.
How do you manage a help desk team?
Keeping your customer-facing teams happy is equally important when you're focused on providing an excellent experience for your users and customers. After all, they won't be able to keep customers happy if they aren't happy themselves. A big part of most folks’ job satisfaction is having a good relationship with their direct manager, so here's how to manage your help desk team well.
Get to know your team
Understanding the motivations of the folks you are managing helps you twofold. First, knowing their personal motivations gives you context for conversations that you have socially or at the beginning of one-on-ones. Second, knowing their professional motivations helps give you insight when considering career progression for them within your team.
Work on the front lines
There's no better way to cultivate an understanding of your employees than to experience what they go through daily. Occasionally working in the queue helps you know what types of things need to be prioritized in your support help desk strategy and understand what matters most to your customers.
Pay attention to your data
There is little that’s more informative about the performance and health of your help desk than hard numbers. Keep your eyes on the analytics associated with your help desk, such as response time and customer happiness, to understand what is working and what needs to be changed.
Learn your leading and lagging indicators
Analytics are helpful, but they are even more impactful if you understand what they are forecasting. Work to understand which of your metrics are leading indicators that something needs to change and which are signs that something is already causing problems.
Leading indicators are metrics that show future conditions of the business, whereas lagging indicators show you where your team currently stands. By knowing which of your metrics land in each category, you set yourself up for an even more meaningful interpretation.
People in customer-facing roles are required more than most to deal with users’ emotions directly. When your users are angry, frustrated, or emotional, it's your team's job to help them without losing their cool. The constant pressure to uphold excellent customer support standards while being patient and kind can be tricky.
Start recognizing the signs of burnout in your team, and work to designate specific release valves into your team's culture. For instance, you could offer no-questions-asked mental health days or require that people take a certain amount of vacation every year. Proactively finding ways to work against burnout and recognizing the signs in your team members is one of the best things you can do while managing a help desk team.
Cultivate a culture of helping
Everything is better when you're working together, so encourage your team to work collaboratively. Knowledge sharing, pair coding, and collaborative troubleshooting are excellent service desk best practices to build into your team's culture.
For instance, imagine a ticket gets assigned to a team member who doesn't know how to resolve it. Rather than having them escalate it to another team, partner them with someone on that team to learn how to solve the issue. Then, when a similar ticket comes through in the future, they’ll know how to handle it.
What makes for a great help desk employee?
Management can only go so far in the success of your help desk team. The rest comes down to the talents and competencies of your individual team members. The attributes that make for a fantastic help desk employee will be different based on the type of support your team provides. That said, there are a few essential qualities that are important no matter what product you're supporting or the level of technical knowledge required.
Attention to detail
Inquiries that come through help desks are not always clear-cut, and users often mash several questions together in one email. Help desk employees must be skilled at reading between the lines. Beyond that, picking up on every detail of a customer's question without having to ask them for clarification is a critical skill that can set a person up for career success.
When looking for new team members, ask candidates for examples of working with details: projects with a lot of moving parts, tricky customer inquiries, or some other task requiring deep focus are great starting points
There's little point to working in a customer-facing role if you don't have customer focus. The best help desk employees prioritize the customer over almost anything else. In internal conversations, they advocate for the customers’ needs and desires. They work to draw attention to feature requests and veto product changes that could be detrimental to the customer experience.
When interviewing, ask candidates about a story with a customer that made them feel outstanding. Pay attention to whether their response prioritizes the customer or something else — if they went above and beyond to help a customer and that's something they're proud of, they're a winner.
It's hard to keep your cool and continue being helpful when a customer is yelling. While most customers don't get to the point of yelling at help desk employees, frustrating interactions may require your team members to bite their tongues. Patience is integral to a person's success on your help desk team.
Ask potential candidates about an occasion when it was hard for them to be patient and how they handled it. With their answer, you'll be able to gauge how cool-headed they would be with your users.
Great customer-facing employees always assume positive intent and try to look on the bright side when they can. Rather than getting discouraged or hopeless in the face of difficulty, the best help desk employees look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Ask your potential candidates about times when they faced something tricky and how they handled it. Their answer may help you predict how they'd react in a similar situation when working on your team.
Excellent team worker
Providing an excellent solution is a team sport. Not only is knowledge-sharing integral to the success of a customer-facing team, but working together on tricky tickets and larger projects outside of the queue is also important.
To understand how well a new team member might acclimate to a team-focused environment, ask them about a time they had to work as a team. How did it go, and what was their role on the team? Understanding how they think about teamwork and where they usually fit within team dynamics will be vital in understanding how they'll work on your team.
Strong communication skills
One of the critical responsibilities of someone working at a help desk is communicating effectively with customers. To find a great help desk employee, you should look for someone who has strong communication skills in the language in which you provide support and who is skilled at communicating across all your support channels (phone, email, chat, etc.).
When interviewing, evaluate if your potential team member communicates in a way that feels aligned with your team's values.
Most tickets that come through to your help desk will likely include some problem to resolve. Because of that, an ideal help desk employee will be excited by the idea of troubleshooting. Ticket handling best practices dictate that help desk team members try to uncover as much about an issue as they can before reaching out to a user for more information.
To uncover more information about this competency during the interview, ask your candidate about a time they had to troubleshoot and what steps they took.
Help desk best practices save your team time and effort
While it can seem like a lot of work upfront, investing in a help desk is important for the long-term success of most customer-facing teams. It helps you add structure, better understand performance, and streamline processes to reduce the burden on your staff and let them focus on serving customers.