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Improving IT help desk services with vendor support

In the world of IT help desk services, customer demand is insatiable, but proper integration of vendor support and cultivation of vendor relationships can ease tough expectations.

Unlimited expectations: The often-unspoken demand that others spare no expense to solve our problems. (Tech support definition)

My BlackBerry isn’t synching properly. A phone call doesn’t fix it, so I keep trying, escalating up through server and Internet groups. And if that still doesn’t do it, I’ll stay on until the CEO of BlackBerry’s Research In Motion Ltd. is on the phone, if that’s what it takes!

This scenario isn’t so far-fetched. Today, our businesses are imbedded in IT rather than the other way around, and we can’t accept any service interruptions, even at the single user level. One missed message or conference call threatens razor-thin margins and competitive advantage. In some government services, it can mean life or death. Things have gotten serious in the data center.

Most IT help desk services focus on first-call closure, using pre-planned scripts to quickly fix a customer’s problem. The ticket is passed to second- and third-level support if there isn’t a resolution the first time. What happens if the server or data center doesn’t resolve the problem, the ticket is still open and the customer doesn’t have an answer? It should automatically be passed on again, but to whom?

This is where it’s important for the support grid to include external vendor technical contacts. A vendor support contract must ensure the fast and thorough responses we expect.

Get a TAM
Obtaining a technical account manager (TAM) is usually the first incremental step for adding direct vendor support to IT help desk services. They can engage internal admins fairly quickly and guide them to the right technical resource with the vendor. TAMs learn the business, even if it’s offsite, and develop a productive relationship with the help desk services team and support managers. Although TAMs aren’t free, they’re valuable and come with almost any sizable enterprise system contract.

One setback of using a TAM is the risk of delays. Most help desk services work with limited time and deadlines for resolutions, and after a deadline, the ticket is escalated. While a TAM is engaged, getting up to speed and calling in the cavalry, the clock is ticking. If time isn’t a luxury, the next option for external support is a technical operations center (TOC).

Employ a TOC
Many tech companies provide direct lines for their own TOC, staffed 24/7, in line with hours for help desk services. Once contacted, they respond immediately, saving the step of going through a TAM. A TOC is more costly, but usually much faster. It’s also common for the help desk to do a “warm handoff” to the TOC: The customer waits on the phone until the vendor is available rather than making a customer wait for a call back, making for a seamless customer service experience.

Having the best personnel on hand
The holy grail of service is having the best programmers, developers and managers who created the technology on call as soon as help desk services need them. You can negotiate contracts to limit the cost of bringing in top-level teams -- the men and women who work “deep nights and weekends” on gritty problems. They are expensive talent but won’t hurt your budget unless needed. If you experience a Katrina-like disaster, they’ll be worth every penny.

Embed vendors in IT help desk services
To keep raising the bar on performance of IT help desk services, supplement the staff with external vendor expertise regularly and make them partners in customer service. Help vendors engage a TAM, and for critical services, embed their external help desk directly into yours by connecting call centers and combining procedures.

The bottom line: You can respond to the increased customer demand through contracted vendor support, directly connecting to external support and by building ongoing relationships with vendors to manage unlimited expectations.

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