Everyone (in IT) Should Do Helpdesk

“Have you called them?”

“Um, No…”

“Well, give them a call, find out what’s really happening and sort it out.”

It doesn’t matter where you end up in IT, having customer support experience is a must, or at least a strong recommendation on my part and one of the best ways to get that experience, especially at the start of an Information Technology (IT) career is to work on helpdesk.

Back in the day (around 1994-95) I started on helpdesk as a student in the holidays. After 8 – 10 weeks of the “ball and chain” the monotony of the calls and some of the callers had well and truly out shone the first few weeks of enthusiastically answering the phone (this is way before chat bots were even thought about).

That being said, the lessons I learned from that experience have served me well ever since. I’ll go as far as to say they have been invaluable:

  • How to answer the phone and listen to the caller’s issue
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes
  • Prioritising work
  • Delegating work to others
  • Following up
  • Closing off
  • Detecting what is really going on due to inflection in the voice
  • Building relationships

Of all the lessons learned, how to communicate on the phone and talk someone through how to do something is the most important. For the person calling in, they may feel like they are stupid as often they are trying to do something simple (usually print or put their password in) so the receiver of the call has to treat the caller with empathy and respect. A lot of young, new staff do not like using the phone and I think this is because of the texting / messaging that is done these days.

More than once I have followed up with a team member about a customer issue to get the response “I’ve e-mailed them back a few times but they still don’t know how…” That resistance to using the phone just seems to create a barrier to getting work done quickly. Sometimes sending multiple e-mails and messages is just a way to avoid talking with someone.

Coders (we used to call them programmers or developers) in particular should spend some time in a front line support role because they make the screens, buttons and functions that people use. Once the coder gets a feel for how the program will be used and who will use it, they are better equipped to make a product that works better. Using Agile / Scrum also helps these days due to prototyping and constant feedback during product development.

There is no better way to get to know what the customer is going through than to help them out first hand, to be on the end of the phone talking them through something that needs to be sorted. It is good for customer service and good self development for people new to IT.

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