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Help Desk 411

Whether institutions outsource or run their own help desks, most question how they can make sure the services they provide are effective. "You need to take time to step back and look at who really is using your services and how," says Bill Bradfield, CEO of PerceptIS, a provider of customer support services to higher education. The following findings from PerceptIS' study of its own client data may provide some valuable insights.

Most help desk inquiries come from faculty and staff.

TrendspotterIt's a common assumption that help desk services are created for and used by students. But PerceptIS found that nearly 60 percent of four-year college and university help desk contacts-- including telephone, e-mail, chat, and other communications with help desk personnel-- are in fact initiated by faculty and staff. At community colleges, the percentage of student use of the help desk increases; with less residential housing, there is less immediate peer support at community colleges-- and so more use of the help desk by students. But in general, help desk volume is not overwhelmingly dominated by students.

Faculty and staff prefer telephone calls; students favor electronic messaging.

TrendspotterOf the help desk and self-help options open to them, users go for a comfortable fit. PerceptIS noticed that students opt for electronic messaging (e-mail, chat, etc.) by far, over telephone contact with the help desk. Faculty and staff, on the other hand, will most often call for assistance. That means it's a good idea to staff the phones with people who can deal with high-end customers. And what about new highly touted self-help services (use of a knowledge bank and/or other resources, as opposed to personal contact)? PerceptIS noted that faculty rarely if ever use self help, and students use it only a little more than that-- data that correlate interestingly with an industrywide data point from the Help Desk Institute's 2007 Annual Survey: Only 3 percent of inquiries get resolved at the self-help level!

Help is where you find it.

Whether it's a faculty member feeling more connected via telephone, or a student who would rather fire off an instant message, you will most likely want to prepare for a wide range of "help" options. Bradfield comments: "A one-size-fits-all approach to service is an inadequate value proposition. People want to get help in the manner that is best suited to them. That could mean a phone call, a chat session, a web form, an e-mail, self help, self service, or the emerging phenomenon of crowdsourcing-- whatever means is most convenient and most comfortable for end users. More and more, you will need a quiver full of arrows when it comes to support services."

Source: PerceptIS LLC

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