Help desk The evolution of IT computer services from batch operation only into complicated Tele-Processing networks has enlarged the job of the IT staff. Simple tasks have become complex functions. The Service Desk is an excellent example of this. Since the early beginnings of IT, clients have approached Computer Services with questions or complaints about print output. The more complex the IT services have become, the bigger the increase in the number of problems of users/clients. In the early days of IT systems exclusively operated in batch mode and simple problems occurred, such as lost print output and problems with batch jobs. Work preparation, production management or even operations mostly dealt with these kinds of questions. Output was usually meant for one person at every user department and therefore questions only came from one party. However, operations and other departments can no longer handle the number of questions, as the size and complexity increase. The Service Desk is now an essential part of Computer Services and its importance grows as IT penetrates business. A distinction should be made between the physical Service Desk, where Service Desk staff are present in order to function as first point of contact for support, and the Service Desk process, whereby one or more IT staff (as well as the Service Desk staff themselves) are responsible for achieving the objective of the process. Helpdesk A Helpdesk is a generic name typically associated with the end user support center. Increasingly, the Helpdesk is being seen as an integral part of the service function, responsible for bringing multiple resources to bear to solve issues to the client's satisfaction. Often the term Helpdesk is used for internal support within the company, and others use this term for both internal and external support groups Many companies are turning to Helpdesk software to automate a variety of tasks and, at the same time, reduce costs by cutting staff and providing more user support with existing staff. The advantages of automated Helpdesk packages are critical in that they allow fewer people to deal with higher volume Users want Helpdesk packages that can be integrated with existing electronic mail systems and network management programs. The Helpdesk programs now available are only operable on a few operating systems but the number of platforms is expected to expand. Many Helpdesk software publishers are incorporating expert system Helpdesk and call centers typically handled only inbound and outbound phone enquiries. Over the past few years, with the explosion of Internet usage, and an increasingly sophisticated customer base, Helpdesk have had to morph into handling increasingly electronic methods of support. The Helpdesk is increasing in importance as companies move to client/server architectures. Users who interface with the Helpdesk often form a general perception of the Information system group. Information systems help desks have an important role within an organization. Although working the Helpdesk can be a stressful experience, an organization nevertheless can succeed in putting together an effective and responsive unit within the group. The Internet has made all these somewhat parallel efforts combine, and with some tweaking and re-training, today's Helpdesk is superbly equipped to handle complex, business driven customer interactions, that result in true customer loyalty. In education, call centers can be useful to the educational institution in many ways, ranging from simple provision of information to prospective students, to fundraising, collection of survey data, and even provision of instructional services (Hitch & MacBrayne, 2003). In distance education in particular, the call center concept can be an effective communication tool, enabling the institution to provide and improve service to students in many areas, including instruction (Adria & Woudstra, 2001; Annand, Huber, & Michalczuk, 2002). The first generation of call centers focused on answering telephone calls from customers (students). As the Internet has become more widely used, call centers have made use of this technology as well. Internet technology allows feedback to customers or students to occur through either of these two channels, and the more flexible Internet media provide a variety of tools, including Web chat, asynchronous conferencing, video conferencing, and Web call backs. Recently, call centers have also begun to make use of Web sites to provide their customers with more information. There has been a push to providing customers with “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) pages, where customers can look up answers to their own questions. Intelligent question and answer systems can look up answers for clients, and provide them automatically (Brandt, 2002). Athabasca University has developed such a tool, called Ask AU (see http://www.askau.ca). When considering any of the Web-based tools for use with a call center, it is important to consider their positive and negative aspects, and how they will affect call center operations. Since the Internet gives customers or students the power to seek out answers on their own, organizations have a challenge to develop integrated systems that allow delivery of services that are better and that operate faster than those that customers can find for themselves. In addition, people tend to like services that are “multi-channel”; they may use the Web site, but will also want direct contact with representatives. The channels should be viewed as complementary, not competitive. The Internet is capable of providing vast amounts of information for call center staff as well as for current and potential customers or students. However, developing user interfaces that make this information quickly available in a format that satisfies the diverse needs of users is an ongoing challenge. A major impact of the new Internet-based technologies is that the service bar is being raised. If routine issues are handled on the Web through automatic agents, the call center must handle more sophisticated calls. The staff of an online learning call center must incorporate skills from both call center and helpdesk environments, and have some specialists available to deal with particularly complex issues. Good skills within an environment such as this usually include strong communication skills, student (or customer) service experience, and an ability to adapt to new situations. The call center manager can help staff answer all types of questions by ensuring that all staff are aware of any new technology being used. Demonstrations on how the technology works, and time to practise and become familiar with the application are important for the staff. A good set of “Frequently Asked Questions,” complete with step-by-step solutions, should be made available to call center staff. And, as with course content queries, there should also be a technical expert available for more complex issues. Call Centers at University The Information Center, the call center operating as a first point of contact, was established in 1995. Information Center staff field all incoming calls not directed to a private line or to one of the other call centers, and determine the purpose of the call. Information Center attendants are well informed about the University's services, programs, and courses, and have access to a wide range of information. Many calls to the Information Center are redirected to student advisors, to the Office of the Registrar, to the Computer Services Help Desk, to the School of Business Call Center, or to course assistants. Prior to 1995, incoming calls came to a single telephone number in the Office of the Registrar, and many calls were lost. In addition, students expressed frustration with their experience in finding the right person in the institution to deal with their particular problem. Since 1995, many of these problems have been resolved, and the volume of calls, and students, has increased exponentially. In the past five years, the volume of e-mail queries has also risen rapidly, and an automated information system called “Ask AU” has been added to enable students to obtain answers to questions without intervention of a staff member. The Computing Services Help Desk, established in 1994, provides technical assistance primarily to help University staff obtain information and support for University computing resources; that is, it helps staff resolve problems with their Athabasca University equipment and supported software. The Help Desk does provide assistance to students in computing science and psychology courses, but students are generally referred to the academic units for courseware support. What is a Help Desk? A Help Desk is a generic name typically associated with the end user support center. Increasingly, the Help Desk is being seen as an integral part of the service function, responsible for bringing multiple resources to bear to solve issues to the client's satisfaction. Often the term help desk is used for internal support within the company, though this FAQ and others use this term more generically, used for both internal and external support groups. Use the glossary for common terms used in the call center/help desk industry. What is e-Support and e-CRM? How do they relate to Help Desks? Help Desks and call centers typically handled only inbound and outbound phone enquiries. Over the past few years, with the explosion of Internet usage, and an increasingly sophisticated customer base, Help Desks have had to morph into handling increasingly electronic methods of support, hence e-Support. The techniques for handling e-Support are quite different than phone based support, and typical support models do not map to the Internet. But that is the topic of a more detailed FAQ which I shall write at some point. e-CRM is yet another 'e' moniker added to the traditional CRM (Customer Relationship Management) space -- where every customer interaction is handled, much like 'trouble tickets' and 'incidents' or 'cases' in typical help desk terminology handle all aspects of the customers' technical interaction with a company. The Internet has made all these somewhat parallel efforts combine, and with some tweaking and re-training, today's help desk is superbly equipped to handle complex, business driven customer interactions, that result in true customer loyalty. Common Names used by Help Desks Computer Support Center Customer Support Center Help Desk Information Center IT Response Center IT Solutions Center Resource Center Service Desk Technical Support Center Hours of Operation They are staffed during business hours and often offer reduced support outside these hours. Some sites have actively started using the World Wide Web as a method of providing service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Multinational corporations are increasingly using a 'follow the sun' model where multiple support groups around the world take over support for the global corporation. Don't forget to take into account the differences between 'internationalization' and 'localization'. The former handles things like translations of web pages, documents etc., while the latter does this and adds context to internationalization.