by January 2, 2003 0 comments



Are your customers really happy with the service you’re offering them? Is your support staff able to handle their queries and complaints effectively? Can you pull out the past history of that important customer that you lost to competition to figure out what went wrong? If you use traditional support means, such as the telephone or even e-mail, it will either be impossible or will take ages to do so. What you need, therefore, is some sort of helpdesk automation.

Helpdesk automation is not about choosing a good helpdesk-management software alone. That is, in fact, the final stepping-stone to your helpdesk system. Helpdesk automation involves understanding your existing helpdesk processes, finding out what’s wrong with them, and then working out a way to improve their efficiency. Some of the things that you should take into account are whether customer queries are being answered on time, which are the most time-consuming queries and whether they are being repeated, is the technology being used efficient enough, and is proper workflow happening with the queries? To answer these questions, let’s look at the traditional customer-support systems and the problems they face.

Set up a Helpdesk
Install and configure a simple Web-based helpdesk-management system on Windows
Helpdesk on Linux
Use the Request Tracker helpdesk system to request, track and manage your customer queries

Traditional help
The traditional way of providing customer support is over the telephone, be it the customer-support cell of an organization or an outsourced call center. Telephones provide customers a chance to talk directly to the organization and put forth their complaints and queries. In this system, the support staff must be knowledgeable enough to tackle all sorts of queries. There can be other limitations here as well. What if the customer is put on an eternal hold or all the telephone lines are engaged? What if the query is not answered the first time and the customer has to call a number of times? Or what if the staff doesn’t call back later if he’s not able to answer the first time? Tracking such a system can be very cumbersome.

When e-mail came along, it helped to at least keep a record of the queries that came in. The support staff could now have all queries in writing and wouldn’t have a customer standing on their head to get the answer. They could forward them to others if they were not able to answer. Policies could be built around this system such that the customer was issued a trouble ticket, which is some sort of proof that there’s a query pending.

There are, however, limitations to this system as well. There’s no way of tracking a customer’s conversation history, nor is there a way of doing some sort of an analyses of the number of open queries, or escalating the ones that have been pending for long. So, an e-mail system could work for very small setups that have a handful of customers.

The new way of helping
As the number of customers grows, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the e-mail. That’s where having a Web-based helpdesk system comes in.

Most of the new helpdesk systems are Web based and they can help automate a lot of processes that were otherwise manual. While helpdesk systems can vary from standard e-mail-ticketing systems to the top of the line CRM solutions, they help resolve some of the basic problems of telephones and e-mail. Answering the same old queries, for instance, was a major issue on telephone-based helpdesks, and to some extent even the e-mail ones. So, by using a Web-based helpdesk, you can build a knowledgebase of answers to the most common types of queries. This can be built over a period of time as the number of queries increases. So, whenever the same query comes in, the support staff simply has to dig up the database and send the readymade answer. Otherwise, the company can even put up the most common types of queries on the website and allow only the customers to access them. Being on the Web means it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also eliminates a lot of redundancy, and the support staff can focus on the more important queries.

The other major advantage of helpdesk systems is the tracking and reporting of queries. Most of them provide a threaded view of conversations between the customer and support staff, allowing you to track the history easily. You can also have reports of customer queries answered, open cases, or those on high-priority.

Having a Web-based helpdesk system can also be used by your internal customers, meaning your employees. It can be used by employees to check out the most common problems they face with the network, their PCs, etc. This will help answer all the regular queries that could come in, leaving the IT support staff to do other crucial tasks.

Which one to choose
Everything finally boils down to one classic question: which helpdesk should one choose? It all depends upon the level of automation you want. You can, for instance, have a helpdesk that can integrate with your call center and record all phone calls as well as data. It also depends upon the volume of queries you receive and how much it is expected to grow in the near future. You can even go for a system that can put an online chat client on the Web so that the support staff can directly interact with customers coming to the company’s website.

Another important factor is the kind of workflow that the helpdesk system will allow? Will it, for instance, be able to automatically escalate queries that haven’t been answered for long to the management? There’s no end to the functionality you can have with a helpdesk system.

Attitude matters
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that all the automation in the world will not be able to give you the results you want. You could have the most expensive CRM software laced with the top of the world features. However, what’s the use if your support staff is not competent enough or simply doesn’t answer customer complaints. So, over and above having a good helpdesk software, it’s important to set your processes right and ensure that the support staff has the right skills and attitude to tackle problems.

One must also remember that helpdesk software isn’t a replacement to the traditional means of customer support. You will still need telephones and e-mail to answer queries. It’s just a way to enhance and automate your support processes. Perhaps, you can give your top customers access to data that others can’t access. Or, perhaps you can reserve special telephone lines for them.

In the pages to follow, we’ve hands-on material on how to set up two simple helpdesk systems. One is Windows-based and the other works on Linux. Both of these systems can be used by small to medium-sized organizations and provide very basic features. These are to give you an idea of the type of functionality you can expect from a helpdesk system.

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