If you operate an IT help desk, and if agent performance is slipping, you may find that the root of your problem is communication.
Yes, even though these are people who talk all day.
We’re not talking about the quantity of communication, but its quality. In busy, complex work environments, effective communication sometimes gets sacrificed in the name of efficiency. But if the communication skills of your help desk agents and supervisors are lacking, performance suffers.
Here’s how to communicate with your help desk team to increase rapport and improve help desk performance.
Step 1: Improve Rapport With Your Agents
When you are approachable, employees talk to you. When you aren’t, they don’t. To be approachable, you must have rapport with your agents. Rapport is that elusive quality in a relationship that almost defies definition, but it can be more or less summed up as follows:
Rapport exists in a relationship when individuals or groups communicate easily with each other because the relationship is close and harmonious and because each side understands and trusts the other.
Rapport rarely happens by accident — it must be nurtured. The more diverse two individuals or two groups are, the harder they must work to build rapport. Here are some practical ways to build rapport with your help desk team:
- Have an “open door” policy. Keep your door open so that any agent can drop by anytime to talk. Communicate this policy often.
- Touch base regularly. Stay in touch with your agents through regular emails and messages. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Address your agents by name. The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own name, according to the legendary Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Agents are impressed when you know their names.
- Manage by walking around. One of the most effective ways to build (and maintain) rapport is to be available among the agents, asking and fielding questions. When you make yourself visible and engaged with your team, you increase trust and make yourself more approachable. Ask individual agents how they are doing, uncover any issues they have and ask if you can help with anything. Visibly communicate your concern, and you’ll improve rapport — and communication.
Step 2: Improve Agent Communication With QAs
One of the most pervasive fibs in business today goes something like this: “This call is being recorded and may be used for quality control purposes.”
This statement is less than truthful because plenty of businesses do the first part … but not the second.
One of the most cost-effective ways to improve the communication skills of your agents is to put your QAs to work. Listen to their audio, pay attention to what they sound like on the phone — and then provide coaching. Addressing the mistakes you overhear on agent calls is cost-effective because it focuses your constructive criticism (and remedial training, if necessary) where it’s specifically needed.
Some other places to assess agent communication skills are tickets and email correspondence. Review written tickets regularly. Examine them for thoroughness, clarity, brevity and grammar. Could any given agent or supervisor look at that ticket and know precisely what is going on?
Do the same thing with the emails that agents send to your customers. Effective communication isn’t just an internal issue, after all. How your agents communicate with your customers and users is also a way to measure help desk performance.
The key here is to make this process a positive experience for your agents. Act like a helpful coach, a caring mentor and someone who has your agents’ best interests at heart (since you do). And don’t forget about your own communication skills — the better you are at communicating with clarity, professionalism and empathy, the easier it is to set an example and train your team to emulate it.
Step 3: Build Rapport Between Teams
IT is a team sport, and the larger your organization, the more teams you have. We’re talking infrastructure groups, DevOps teams, security teams, telecom teams, IT operations teams and more.
Any IT team in your organization that you escalate a ticket to is a team that you must have rapport with; you must be able to reach out and talk to each other frequently and freely.
That being said, make sure teams understand the importance of sticking to the process. You want agents to be able to reach out to each other and get information as they need it, but the information and expertise also needs to be made available to the broader team.
Otherwise, you risk fiefdoms of knowledge where only certain individuals are privy. And users end up receiving inconsistent support because some agents have different knowledge than others.
Step 4: Use Longer Lead Times
One of the first things to suffer when people get busy is communication. The busier individuals and teams get, the more likely they are to communicate less often, and to communicate less effectively. If you’ve ever asked a long question in an email, only to receive a one-word reply, then you’ve been on the receiving end of communication atrophy.
The solution is to anticipate change and preempt busy seasons.
Processes always change. The technology and people you’re supporting always change. Your business always changes. You will always experience acquisitions, spinoffs, mergers, new rollouts, new software systems, new locations.
Change usually means pain for help desk agents because:
- The support issues change.
- The volume of calls increases.
The remedy is to anticipate and plan for how all pending changes will affect your help desk, building enough lead time into new initiatives that your help desk is in a state of readiness when the changes actually arrive. This is especially vital if you outsource all (or part) of your help desk: Get them the information they need and ensure they get that information out to their staff.
Fires are unpredictable. But most changes are predictable and come with a sufficient implementation timeline that enables you to get your help desk team up and ready beforehand.
Help desk agents are in the reaction business. They sit by their phones, waiting for calls from people who need their help. But if you want to improve your performance by improving communication, you must be proactive.
Don’t wait for your agents to raise issues. As a help desk leader make yourself available and grab a coffee, head over to the cubicles, and strike up a conversation. Take the initiative, ask the right questions, listen to your agents and your other support teams.
Then use what you learn to make your help desk even more efficient and productive — and helpful. For example, here’s what one of our customers said when they outsourced their help desk to Global Help Desk Services, Inc.
"The agent I worked with recently is very diligent, takes ownership of the issue, and works quickly to resolve it. His customer relationship skills are exceptional, and he has very good technical skills. He's the sort of team member any company would be happy to have. We are fortunate to have him!" — Financial, Technical Team Lead
Effective communication is a challenge for any help desk. If you need any help with any of the others, read our guide, “Top 10 Help Desk Challenges—and How to Overcome Them.”