I’m Clair Hillier and I’m the Support and Maintenance Manager at Waterstons. Sounds pretty grand, I did think that the title would have come with a badge but you can’t have everything, can you?
A bespoke development help desk
The Waterstons bespoke development team create one-off solutions for our customers. The solutions we build range wildly in size, complexity and technology to fit with the varying requirements of our customers who differ vastly in business size, sector and strategy.
Once we have built a solution and a customer is using it in the real world they will inevitably find that they need assistance and improvements to be performed in time. The Waterstons team saw this as a crucial part of the life cycle of the systems that we create and so, seven years ago, the bespoke development helpdesk was created and a service desk manager was appointed.
A service desk manager’s jobs mainly include keeping an eye on the tickets raised, ensuring that tickets are progressed in line with your company’s expectations, acting as an escalation point when the tickets are proving challenging or when there are problems and generally ensuring that customers are happy with the service that you are providing.
This isn’t a job for one person; the team would cope without the support desk manager but I know that I wouldn’t be able to cope without the team and any support desk manager thinking otherwise should never say as such in front of their team.
The Waterstons team and their ethos
We think it is extremely important that all of our bespoke developers have an in-depth knowledge of the customers that we interact with and as such everyone spends time on the helpdesk. The majority of the team do periodic rotations on the front line of the desk while our lead specialists take an active role in supporting the team when they need specialised help. This allows us to provide the best possible service and gives the team an opportunity to share the wealth of experience that they have gained.
Our overall business goal is to be our customers’ Trusted Partner. This means that we work hard to have open, honest and efficient relationships with our clients. We work transparently. Our consultants do not shy away from giving our clients the full picture even when that might include telling them something they don’t want to hear. Over twenty one years of having honest open dialog we have found that our customers really value our openness even when it involves ‘bracing news’.
The cost of knowing your clients
The trusted partner status needs to be earned and this can only be done by investing in the team and their knowledge. To be able to advise openly and honestly, it is essential that you and your support desk know your clients and their systems intimately. This needs to be done across the board for the entire team - you never want a single point of failure when one member of staff is on holiday.
Once you have a team of honest, knowledgeable people in place then it’s all about choosing the best delivery mechanism to ensure maximum take-up and most efficient results.
There are four options for delivery:
Every service desk should have documentation that details and instructs anyone supporting a customer. These shouldn’t be your only point of call but they are definitely a reference point.
The architecture of the solution needs to be detailed, the purpose that the solution fulfils, any interactions or dependencies on other systems, instructions on how to update and any reoccurring issues need to be detailed too (obviously these should be ironed out where possible).
In order to be as intimate with your clients as possible, your team should also know how your clients go about their working lives.
- What the customers’ business entails
- Who their clients are, what they do and when they do it
- What release protocols are in place
- When do business critical tasks happen
- When do you need to raise changes to their change board
- When are their staff available
It’s vital that you understand where the pain points are for your clients. Without knowing these details you can’t serve your customers as efficiently as possible.
Initial handover to the team
When a solution enters support (whether that’s a solution written within your organisation or something that is being transferred to your support team that was written by another company) it’s essential that the team are given an opportunity to understand it and ask for information about it.
It’s a large responsibility for the person doing this handover into the team. An efficient handover requires that they have spent significant time investigating the client, the solution and the technologies used.
Handovers need to be structured to ensure that all the important requirements are covered but they also need to be an open forum. A team that take the responsibility of support seriously will be inquisitive by nature and a lot of questions will be asked. A culture of learning needs to embrace and encourage absorbing as much as possible about customers and their systems as well as the technologies.
We supplement handover sessions with regular refreshers. These allow experienced staff to share the information they have gleaned working with specific systems and to communicate any important updates that may have happened to the solution or the customer. They also help new staff to become familiar with the systems and businesses we support.
I’d always recommend recording these as they can then be made available for any new starters to the company to make the system more familiar.
Side along fixing
New team members will be eager to learn from the more experienced members of the team. One of the fastest ways for them to absorb as much as possible is through pairing up support team members so that they can work on the same tickets. New team members will be able to ask questions, understand some of the finer details of how the solution is accessed, edited and they’ll learn the release procedures too. From here on, approaching the same solution will not feel like an unknown.
Group sessions can sometimes be a little difficult to manage. You have a room full of smart people who all want to chip in and all think that they are right (obviously) but this should never put you off holding them. They are really useful for:
1. Showing how individuals use problem solving techniques
2. Dispensing system and client information
3. Education in specific technologies
They are especially helpful when dealing with a more complex issue. Every support desk will have a ticket that doesn’t follow any typical paths and hangs around a lot longer than you and your customers would like it to. Getting a group of people around a screen and talking through the issue and its history with some fresh eyes will always bring benefit. Even if the problem isn’t solved there and then a plethora of suggestions for next steps will give the team a boost to set them on to the path for resolution.
What works best for us?
All of the above techniques for sharing knowledge and empowering your team will give them pride in supporting your customers. When it comes to which is the best technique it’s not possible to pick one and say that this will work for you. Every individual in a team responds differently and absorbs knowledge in their own way so each technique will work at differing levels for each team member.
At Waterstons we do them all. An environment that puts customers first will see all the time above as an investment in the team and in their clients. We strongly believe this is worthwhile.