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How to get the most out of your support desk

Posted on 5 June 2012 by Andy Latham

The other week my family banished me to the attic with instructions to get rid of all the stuff I had put up there "that might be useful one day." I soon found myself sitting amidst piles of cardboard boxes reminiscing about school days and my early career in the computer industry. I even found my old beer mat collection from the '70s!

As memories came flooding back about my first job on a support desk it struck me just how much more sophisticated systems have become. I also found myself pondering how difficult it must be working on a support desk nowadays and also just how important a good support desk is to someone trying to implement and run a system.

A support desk should be one of the main services that a software application supplier provides to its customers. It will normally consist of a team of highly skilled and knowledgeable people offering advice and guidance to users of the application. It should therefore be seen as a huge asset to an end user. And yet in my experience very few end users make any attempt to cultivate a relationship with a support desk and are therefore missing out on a valuable resource which could add huge value to their implementation.

So, I thought it might be useful to make some suggestions on how customers can make their support relationship work. First, I would strongly advise that before a new system goes live a representative from the support desk should visit your site to meet the people using the system and understand the solution.

As a customer, your staff should understand the role of the support desk. It is there to:

  • Resolve issues when the software isn't functioning as expected
  • Provide documentation on using the software
  • Provide guidance on best practice (e.g. month ends, system administration)
  • Provide information on where to get additional information such as help files, manuals, tutorials, web forums etc.
  • Investigate potential bugs in the application, document them and correct any issues caused by them
  • Provide proactive information to help customers avoid any issues (e.g. tax rate changes, year-end archiving, housekeeping)
  • Help resolve mission critical incidents

The support desk is not there to:

  • Run your business systems
  • Provide free consultancy on how to implement the system
  • Provide free application training
  • Provide basic business training. Such as double entry book-keeping and Bill of Material design
  • Investigate/trouble shoot customer specific business processes

Some other things to bear in mind about a support desk

  • People on the support desk are there to help you. They have not caused the problem.
  • Just like you they respond to being treated well.
  • They cannot see the system and will have limited knowledge of your internal systems - they rely solely on the accuracy of your description of the problem.
  • Being rude to them is not fair and is unlikely to engender any sympathy or a decent working relationship.

How to get the best from a support call

  • Contact the support desk as soon as you notice the problem. It is easier to fix a problem early on before it becomes compounded into the rest of the systems
  • Don't assume that the person on the end of the phone knows your business, can see the screen, or inherently knows what has happened
  • Prepare as much information as you can about the problem before you call
    • Be prepared to describe the business process that has caused the problem
    • Be honest about what has happened. If you have made a mistake or tried something different then say so
    • Make note of (e.g. screen print) any error messages - these are critical
  • When you call be concise, accurate and honest
  • Obtain a call number for future reference
  • At the end of the call, document what went wrong and how to fix it in future - most support desks would happily send you the call detail for you to file and reference next time.

How to cultivate your relationship with the support desk

  • Appoint a single point of contact with the support desk and ensure that all issues are channeled through this person. Over time the individual will learn how to correct errors themselves
  • Document all your calls and regularly check if the same issue is cropping up
  • Request a monthly call log from the support desk showing the cleared and open calls
  • Monitor the support desk performance, its response times and clear up times
  • Monitor your own call rate. If it is high, this is an indication that there are other issues – either in your understanding or in the system. Either way a plan of action needs to be put in place to reduce the support desk dependency
  • If possible, visit the support desk and meet the people who help you.

In summary

  • A support desk is a critical element to the on-going success of your system
  • The relationship should be nurtured and treated with care
  • Your support calls should be a KPI for the system's health and should form part of your management reporting
  • An occasional "thank you" goes a long way.

And finally - an attic update

  • My beer mat collection is worth hardly anything.
  • Apparently the hobby of collecting beer mats is called Tegestology.
  • I didn't get past the first box of junk so it looks like another session will be ordered. Stand by for more memories.


Topics: continuous improvement, Software implementation, Application support, User support, ERP Implementation, Support Desk

Andy Latham

Andy Latham, Managing Director of K3 SYSPRO in the UK, was born in Wolverhampton, but spent most of his school years at boarding school in Leicester. After school he completed a BSc Hons in Chemistry and Business Studies at Salford University.

His move into the IT world happened quite accidentally. Andy was employed in the financial sector when he came across an ICL billboard advertising jobs and free coffee to interviewees. He went in for the coffee and ended up with a job. He always wanted to own his own business, and in 1985 he established Information Engineering Ltd. His company soon became one of only two UK distributors of SYSPRO business software.

Twenty successful years later the business was acquired by K3 Business Technology Group, and Andy was appointed Technical Director in the K3 SCS division. In 2010 the K3 Group rebranded its dedicated SYSPRO ERP division as K3 SYSPRO, and appointed Andy as its Managing Director.

After more than 25 years working with and for SYSPRO, Andy knows the product better than most. He has served in every possible role from helpdesk, to implementation, to development, and everything in between.

Andy is happily married. In his leisure time, he enjoys sport and everything technological. During his years at university he played for the 1st fifteen rugby team until, as Andy puts it: “I became too small for the game and had to give it up.” He now enjoys playing golf.


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