Behind every successful help desk are agents who make them run.
You rely on your agents to help form the impression that customers or users get of your service, to provide genuine help when people need it and to gather and pass on valuable feedback that will help your company move forward successfully.
The pandemic has continued from 2020 through 2021 and has presented unique challenges for many people. In the help desk world, this has often resulted in agents being overrun with requests and in danger of facing burnout.
Fortunately, this is something you can anticipate early and put steps in place to mitigate. Agents that feel supported and have genuine strategies in place to help them will tend to stick around and continue to do good work for your company.
Here are some thoughts on how your company might support your agents this year:
So many people have faced huge upheaval in their lives, often to the point that there are few remnants of the previous “normal.” This looks different for everyone, and while people often try to put on a brave face at work, sometimes they really could do with some extra understanding.
For example, do you have agents who are trying to support family members who are sick, isolating or at-risk? Do you have agents who are parents that are trying to juggle childcare or home-schooling, where there are limited resources for those things? Do you have agents who are worried about coming to work and being around others during a pandemic?
It’s always a good place to begin, to have some understanding and grace for the situations that people have found themselves in. The first step is always to acknowledge that your agents are individual humans with individual needs!
Some of your agents may find that they need some kind of flexibility or special accommodations that they never needed before. For example, for people who are at-risk themselves, who have at-risk people at home or who have kids at home for their school work may appreciate being able to work remotely if possible.
Sometimes it’s not that people need a huge change, but maybe they need to adjust their hours of work to accommodate necessary new routines. Your team will appreciate your willingness to be flexible.
One thing you can do here is deliberately create an environment where people feel comfortable coming to you. There’s often some perceived stigma in asking for accommodations, but make it clear that you’re willing to see what you can do and that people are welcome to speak to you about their needs.
What can you do to help make agents’ jobs a little easier? Look at any resources they might need to help them do their jobs. For example, would a better ticketing system help? (Check out JitBit’s fantastic features for easing the load on the help desk).
Look for any tools or programs you can put in place that will help to streamline work, facilitate clear communication and help your agents provide the best possible service. This might include any equipment or infrastructure needed to help them to work from home.
You might also update or remind employees of access to any programs such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or any other initiatives they can use. It’s often helpful to remind people of how and where they can access those resources.
Do your agents have all the resources they need to manage through the pandemic?
Everyone has faced different types of stress over the pandemic. For employees, one of those has often been what they’re going to do if they or someone in their household gets sick. The recommendation in most areas is 14 days of quarantine, but many employees don’t have access to that many sick days.
If your company can manage it, updating your sick leave policy to account for any COVID cases makes sense. You don’t want people turning up and possibly spreading the virus because they’re worried about being paid or being able to keep their job, when they should be quarantining away from others.
A sick leave policy should be inclusive and reassure employees that they should follow recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID. They should also know that their job will be safe if they do need an extended period away due to illness.
From a financial perspective, it may make more sense than ever to ensure that you’ve got reliable systems in place for working from home. This would mean that your agents could choose to work from home anyway, whether or not they have to quarantine.
It’s not just your agents that may be feeling stressed or challenged from situations in their lives, but the customers or users whom they are helping as well. It can start to wear on your agents when they deal with a lot of stressed or upset people and they need ways to work through hearing people’s problems all day.
One way you can support agents is by finding ways to keep up team morale and help them to decompress. You might keep up team traditions or fun rituals and encourage the overall “team” vibe.
You could also organize team events, even if they’re virtual. Some examples might include surprising people with coffee or food delivery (from wherever they are working) and having a team “happy hour.” You might have team quizzes, challenges or other activities designed to bring in some fun and encourage camaraderie.
If your team is working remotely, or even if they’re working together with COVID distancing protocols in place, it can be easy for them to feel less “in touch” than they were before. This makes it very important to find effective ways to keep them informed, especially if any changes are happening.
It’s key to take an inclusive approach to keeping agents informed by making sure that your communication methods are easily accessed by all. For example, even if you announced something at a meeting with everyone in attendance, make sure that it is documented in written form so your agents can revisit it if needed. This also gives them time to process and respond to the information. This is a good practice to follow, pandemic or not!
Throughout everything, having streamlined systems and processes in place is a great way to support your agents in their work and ensure that the help desk continues to perform efficiently. Now might be a great time to review - is there anything that needs improvement?
Consider things like how agents and users access information, how tasks and messages are communicated and tracked, and how any issues are escalated. The aim should be to ensure systems and processes are as painless as possible, allowing agents more room to deliver their best service.
These are some trying times for most of us, not least for your help desk agents who often have to deal with the stress of other people, too! The ideas above are just some ways you can ensure you have an inclusive, supportive work environment.
When you look after your agents, they feel appreciated and supported. They may feel better-enabled to continue doing a good job at work, helping you to retain good staff. To everyone doing their best to manage through the stress and challenges, all the best from us. We hope to see a return to better times soon!
Alex has founded Jitbit in 2005 and is a software engineer passionate about customer support.