Help Desk Representatives


Exploring this Job

It's easy to get computer experience these days, so take advantage of every opportunity. You can subscribe to computer magazines, join your school's computer club, surf the Internet—even playing computer or video games can give you a feel for some of the functions of modern technology. Naturally, you'll want to take as many computer science classes in school as possible; this will help you figure out if you have a natural inclination for the technical arena. Also, look into signing up for more advanced computer classes at a community center or local technical school, or visit online learning platforms such as Udemy and Coursera.

Another good way to experience the job of the help desk representative is to come to it as a customer. You can learn a lot by pitching computer problems or questions to a help desk representative and listening to how they respond to your questions. Also, ask your school counselor or computer teacher to arrange for a help desk representative to speak to interested students at a career day.

Finally, try to get a part-time or summer job at a computer store. This job will give you firsthand experience working with customers and computers. If you have enough computer knowledge, you may even be responsible for dealing with the problems customers have with their computers.

The Job

It is the responsibility of a help desk representative to assist users of a company's online services with computer- and service-related issues. These specialists are faced with the task of simplifying technical issues for users of the company's services and, ultimately, for ensuring the satisfaction of every user who is having enough trouble to call for help. In large businesses, there might be enough need for online services help to warrant the creation of an internal support group for that purpose. Internal help desk representatives help users from their own company with online services. External help desk representatives offer aid to the company's customers.

Whether representatives are internal or external, they usually provide assistance over the phone. A customer or user experiencing a problem will call the representative for help. The person who initially takes the phone call, usually called a call routing specialist, will try to determine the general nature and importance of the customer's problem by asking a number of questions. The person in this job must determine the severity and type of the customer's problem and decide on the best department or individual to handle the call. In most departments, the telephone systems allow for the placement of the call into a queue so that callers will wait on hold until a representative is available to handle their call. 

The job of the help desk representative is to pinpoint the exact nature of the customer's problem and then go about helping the customer to fix the problem, or at least determine a course of action to follow the phone call. This work can be very difficult for a number of reasons. The customer may be upset and unable to describe clearly what the problem is, which can hinder the problem-solving process. The help desk representative will need patience and understanding to deal with the customer's frustration and to communicate effectively with the customer. A typical day in the life of a help desk representative is hectic, with phones constantly ringing and technicians working hard to help customers with their issues and requests. The job is often stressful and challenging.

Help desk representatives speak with customers over the phone and are usually unable to see the customer's computer screen. Those who work internally, however, may be able to access users' computers and solve the problem, even from remote locations. To understand the problem, the representative must first ask detailed questions. Some help desks develop scripts to aid the representatives in quickly categorizing and isolating the nature of the problem; other situations may require the representative to use his or her analytical skills and experience to get to the solution.

Some help desk departments have different levels of support based on the expertise required to solve a problem. In these cases, customers may initially speak with a level one support specialist or representative, who has general, less specialized technical experience. If these specialists are able to isolate the problem to a particular area but unable to solve it, they may refer the customer to a level two support specialist or representative who works with that particular area. These representatives have greater knowledge and experience with a few areas of expertise and are more qualified to handle complicated issues.

Help desk managers typically oversee the work of help desk representatives as well as work on technical issues themselves. Their managerial duties may include training new employees, reviewing representatives' work, and meeting with other company department heads to keep up with new developments and company goals. Almost all help desk departments make recordings of the phone calls they receive asking for help. Managers may use these recordings when training new employees and for monitoring the effectiveness of their current employees.

Response time is another critical factor in evaluating the effectiveness of help desk departments. At more sophisticated departments, computers track the amount of time a customer waits before speaking to a representative, the number of customers who give up waiting before their call is answered, and the amount of time the customer spends with a representative. The statistics may be tracked for each employee to be used in evaluating job performance. Many help desk departments relay the average hold time data to their customers who are waiting on hold to give them an idea of how much time they will have to wait.

In addition to their telephone support services, most help desk departments offer the option of having questions answered by e-mail. There may be help desk representatives dedicated to answering the e-mail questions, or it may simply be the occasional duty of all representatives to help with this task. 

In high-tech businesses, customers may also be given the option of receiving online support. This type of support will usually be accomplished through a special Web site where the customer will engage in a live chat session with a help desk representative. Naturally, this option assumes that the customer is still able to connect and use the online services. Online support has the advantage of allowing the representative to handle several customers at once.

At some companies, customers may need the option of receiving support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At these companies the help desk typically will be run in three eight-hour shifts per day.