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In many organizations, users who have questions about how to use various application features typically call the help desk for assistance. However, it has started becoming apparent that the help desk may not always be the best source of support in these types of situations.

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By Brien M. Posey

In many organizations, users who have questions about how to use various application features typically call the help desk for assistance. However, it has started becoming apparent that the help desk may not always be the best source of support in these types of situations.

The Limitations of a Help Desk

There are several reasons why the help desk may not be able to help the user to the degree that might have once been possible. The first reason revolves around the fact that the help desk staff is often overworked. When a user calls the help desk for assistance, the chances that they will receive immediate assistance are slim.

More often, someone will gather information from the user, and then queue the user's request. The user will have to wait for assistance until a support technician becomes available. In the meantime, the user's productivity is being impacted because they must wait just to get what may be a simple question answered.

This problem has been compounded by the recession and by the fact that many organizations have had a considerable decrease in the number of help desk staff members that they employ. Even if an organization's primary help desk support hasn't been affected by the recession, the odds are good that after-hours support has become a casualty of the seemingly ubiquitous corporate budget cuts. As such, an employee who needs help after-hours may not receive the help that they need until the next day.

This can be especially problematic for employees who are traveling and may be working in a different time zone. The time difference may mean that the remote employee has limited support options, even during business hours.

Another reason why a help desk may not be the best resource for a user who has questions about how to use an application's feature is that often times, help desk staff members are simply not trained to provide those sort of answers.

Help Desk staff members are usually experts on general networking and on the inner workings of desktop operating systems. This expertise allows them to quickly solve things like printing problems or blue screen errors, and to assist users who are having trouble logging in. However, if a user calls and asks someone on the help desk staff how to import data from a Microsoft Access database into an Excel pivot chart, then the chances are good that the help desk will not know the answer without looking it up.

The Anywhere/Anytime Self-Service Portal Solution

In my opinion, one of the best ways that an organization can cope with the help desk's limitations is to provide users with a self-service portal that they can use to get answers to their questions without having to wait on the help desk. Of course most users are not technology experts, so the help system needs to be designed in a way that makes it easy for the users to find what they are looking for, and the information needs to be presented in a way that is easy to understand. Such an environment would ideally include videos that are task-based demonstrations that walk the user through the answer to their question in a simple, step-by-step manner.

The Results: Increased Productivity, Lower Support Costs

This type of solution would ultimately boost productivity for both the end users and the help desk. The end users no longer have to wait for the help desk to get back with them, because they have been empowered with the ability to get answers for themselves. Likewise, the help desk staff will be able to focus on helping users who have technical problems, rather than spending time teaching users how various software features work.

The end result should be increased productivity and lower support costs.

Brien Posey is a freelance technical writer who has received Microsoft's MVP award six times. Brien has written or contributed to about three dozen books, and has written well over 4,000 technical articles and white papers for a variety of printed publications and Web sites. Prior to going freelance, Brien served as CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare companies. He has also served as a Network Administrator for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox, and for some of the nation's largest insurance companies.

To learn more about how an anytime, anywhere self-service portal solution can improve training in your organization, sign up for free trial access to ClipTraining at http://www.cliptraining.com/news_082610.cfm

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