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Boot camp offers insight for help desk staff

Published on March 25, 2003
on CNET's

Client support analyst Patricia Boone has been to many classes and seminars, and some of them have turned out to be real duds. So when someone suggested that she attend the Help Desk Institute's (HDI) Help Desk Analyst Boot Camp presented by Global Help Desk Services, Inc., she agreed but went with low expectations.

"I thought it was going to be another waste of time," said Boone of GATX Corporation. "So I probably didn't go in with the best thoughts in mind."

By the end of her three-day course, Boone had changed her mind. She said the class exceeded her expectations, and she came away with skills she needed to succeed in her new help desk position.

Boone’s initial perceptions about, and ultimate satisfaction with, the Help Desk Analyst Boot Camp mirror those of TechRepublic member and former senior help desk analyst Angel Lopez, who took the course through HDI. But while both Boone and Lopez were ultimately pleased with the courses, they did have some advice for future campers. Their tips and others from Global Help Desk Services president Steve Wetherall offer insight for support pros who want to get the most out of the help desk boot camp experience.

More about HDI

HDI created the boot camp for people who provide customer support on the help desk, including help desk managers. The course compresses what would ordinarily be two courses—the two-day Customer Service Specialist course and the three-day Help Desk Analyst course—into three lesson-packed days. In addition to helping workers polish their skills, the courses prepare people for HDI's Customer Support Specialist (CSS) and Help Desk Analyst (HDA) certification tests.

About the curriculum

Heading into the course, students can expect to listen to and critique case studies and real-world examples in an effort to better understand the roles, responsibilities, unique challenges, and appropriate attitudes of help desk workers. Through brainstorming and role-playing, students learn how to turn around potentially volatile customer interactions through effective listening. They also learn strategic methods for taking control of the situation and resolving clients’ problems. Students learn the warning signs of potentially explosive situations, how to handle such calls, and when to escalate them.

On the technical side, the boot camp offers an overview of help desk tools and computer and network technology awareness. For managers, HDI promises participants will learn the essential skills for administering the various aspects of the support center, such as processes, assets, resources, and security.

Attendees' likes

To a great extent, the course delivered on its promises for Boone and Lopez. They both said the course didn’t necessarily offer them new knowledge, but it reinforced best practices.

"Usually when you're on the help desk getting bombarded by calls, you tend to forget the stuff you know," Lopez said.

Lopez said that group interactions provided pointers about technical solutions. These solutions allow help desk workers to track a history for machines and users that might have ongoing problems. Other lessons he learned were:

  • How to handle hysterical callers.
  • How to patiently guide desktop users through steps that will solve their problems.
  • How and when to escalate an issue instead of letting it languish without attention.
  • The importance of using laymen’s terms instead of geek speak when explaining things.

Boone also had positive things to say about the experience. She said she discovered how to deal with difficult people and how to keep her own opinions in perspective.

She said a pivotal discussion about service level agreements (SLAs) particularly stuck with her. Although her company doesn't use SLAs for the help desk, she discovered the importance of understanding customer expectations.

"A lot of problems come when a customer thinks that their problem should take a certain amount of time when they really don't understand the extent of the problem and the work that goes into resolving it in a timely manner," she said.

Though help desks may not have SLAs, which define in black and white how long it takes to resolve customer issues, customers still have high expectations that problems will be fixed quickly, whether or not they can be. This insight helped Boone understand the importance of setting and meeting reasonable customer expectations.

Selecting the right trainer

A number of HDI authorized training partners offer the course, such as Help Desk Solutions, Global Help Desk Services, Inc., and WaveTech. Prices for the course range from $1,095 to $1,495, because training partners can set their own prices. HDI members can save an additional $100 on the price of the courses.

But shopping by price may not be the best strategy, said Global's Wetherall. The quality of the courses, along with their prices, can vary considerably based on the level of real-world experience the instructors can offer students. For that reason, Wetherall recommended that students investigate instructors prior to the course.

Some training companies, such as Global Help Desk Services, include instructor bios and photos on their Web sites. But if that's not an option, students can phone the training company and ask to speak to instructors directly, said Wetherall.

He recommends that you ask about the instructor’s level of experience on the help desk as well as where the instructor has taught. If the instructor has conducted classes in only one city or for only one chapter of the HDI's membership, he or she might be less informed about help desk issues than those who've taught in other locales, according to Wetherall.

Class size and the level of student participation can also affect student satisfaction, noted Boone and Lopez. Boone, for example, said her class had only three people, reducing the amount of knowledge sharing that could go on with student peers. In addition, if the attendees come from many different companies or industries, they may offer insights into divergent help desk practices and processes, said Lopez.

Wetherall said that for some students, though, small class size could be a benefit. For example, if a student wanted to focus on a particular problem, such as customer types, service levels, or metrics calculations, small classes offer students more opportunity to interact directly with the instructor. Wetherall recommended that people concerned about class size or student demographics call the instructor before the class starts to inquire about the number of students and the course material covered.

Overall opinions

Lopez said that he wished there had been more actual role-playing during his course. Though his class listened to taped help desk/client conversations, he said he was left wanting more. In addition, Lopez said there weren’t enough opportunities to network with other help desk workers. Class time was scheduled so tightly that students could share additional field knowledge only during short breaks or lunches, when people were often absorbed with checking e-mail and making phone calls, he said.

Despite these minor disappointments, both Boone and Lopez earned a certificate of participation for the course, and Lopez went on to get a help desk analyst certification from a Thomson Prometric testing center. Both said they would recommend the boot camp to others.

"It opens up your eyes and helps you understand the other side [of help desk issues],” Lopez said.

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