Strategies for Higher Ed Help Desks

As dependence on digital tools and online education increases, so has campus dependence on technology support teams. Often named the “Help Desk” or “Personal Support Center,” these crucial support teams face the paradox of being largely overlooked until a problem occurs. At that moment, expectations are that every problem will be solved quickly and completely. Below are some tips we’ve learned while supporting over 40 colleges.

Volume

In the rush to launch online education programs, technology support services are often overlooked until the last minute. It’s understandable how this can happen. The launch of a new program requires many players and comes with a lot of complex parts to manage. We recommend that you carve out the time to review tech support needs, and set aside a budget for tech support before the new program is executed.

Consider that online students will all need login IDs and passwords. They will have new learning management systems to learn, and they’ll be expected to do more with their online systems than traditional students need to.

We’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to expect around eight calls per student per year. As your team ramps up and begins to see patterns in the times and types of requests that come in, the volume should decrease over time. But, it’s important to be ready for that surge that arrives at the beginning of the school year. It’s not uncommon for request volume to be five times greater than usual as school begins.

Prediction modeling is critical to managing expenses, yet can only be as good as the data the team collects. In order to capture meaningful data, be sure to set up request-monitoring systems to require consistent inputs. Use drop-down menus, radio buttons or other point-and-click tools that will allow any tech support person to move quickly, yet document critical information such as the date, time and nature of each request.

Once patterns emerge regarding busy times, the tech support team will be able to staff accordingly. Understanding which types of requests are most frequent will help as new staff are trained in. Over time, efficiencies will grow.

Services
We find that a significant portion of our request volume comes in after 7 p.m., and that 35 percent of our volume occurs between 5 p.m. - 5 a.m. However, we recommend offering 24/7 service. Students today are juggling multiple jobs, kids, or other obligations and their most productive times may not align with traditional business hours.  

We also encourage tech support departments to be a one-stop shop. We’ve learned that both faculty and students benefit when there is one, unified campus-contact that they can reach out to regardless of the issue. This might mean your Help Desk will receive requests that don’t involve technology at all—but information and technology are a good combination. If someone is looking for help with financial aid or account payment questions, your team can point them in the best next direction.

It might seem counterintuitive to have a student call the Help Desk to get contact information for another department, but this way, the student gets a quality response in that they’re likely to connect with the source that is most able to assist. Alternatively, when students are required to search or go through directories, they often encounter frustrating dead ends. A one-stop shop goes a long way toward preventing frustration--  and that can make all the difference in preventing drop outs.

Does your campus have a lot of students who speak English as a second language? Be sure to staff multilingual support as needed. We’ve found that Spanish and Urdu are the most frequently spoken among our partner schools.

Hire Right

One widely experienced challenge in technology support is in finding right-fit job candidates. Not only must they have an understanding of technology, but they must have an aptitude for customer service.

Turnover among IT Help Desks can be 50 percent or higher per year. One way to keep from investing too much in people who may find the job is not a good fit is to pre-screen candidates with a brief online course or test. Our candidates must score 80–90 percent in order to be a fit. We’ve learned that if they score over 90 percent they are likely to get bored and leave too soon. Below 80 percent, they are less likely to be successful in the role.

Once we’ve brought people on to work with us, we strive to provide a positive work environment and do what we can to manage the fact that Help Desk support can be a high-stress occupation. After all, each request is urgent. The requestor may be panicked or upset and Help Desk teams often deal with people who are not at their best in the moment, all of which can cause your team stress.

Defined workspaces that allow workers to quietly concentrate, combined with couches, big screen TVs, and arcade games for break time, can help offset the intensity of the role. We’ve even gone so far as to ensure that opportunities to destress are easily accessed as team members walk to the break room or bathroom. We don’t want them to feel as if the “destressor” zones are out of the way or inconvenient.

Well-run digital systems free students to spend their time on their academic goals; an investment in technology support is an investment in your students. A one-stop shop, reliable Help Desk can have an enormous impact on student experience. Alternatively, when students get bogged down in searching for operational information, frustrations can add up over time and cause them to reconsider their decision to attend the college.

By understanding the patterns in requests for assistance, hiring right and supporting your team, you’ll be better equipped to respond to the demands of your campus.

About the Author

Justin Denton

Justin Denton is director of support services for the Collegis Education Personal Support Center. He holds a Master's in Communications & Network Management from the Keller Graduate School of Management.

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