Using social tools for help desk support inside organisations

rustypipesA convincing use case for social tools in the enterprise is as part of the support ecosystem for different IT systems. This is not an uncommon scenario on the internet where discussion boards are used to crowdsource support for software to supplement more traditional help desk channels.

Instead of asking questions through a helpline or via email  and then issued with a ticket, users post questions via discussion forums to a support community. These questions are then answered by peers to the best of their ability, generally out of goodwill and without payment. Those questions which do not get answered may then require a more traditional response from the help desk. In practice there is often a community manager or moderator in place so those questions which need an “official” response get one.

Naturally peer to peer support is good for organisations as it potentially reduces help desk costs. Some have argued it also is good for customers as they tend to get faster responses and it also strengthens community networks.

Different companies are carrying this out to different degrees, with mobile phone operator GiffGaff perhaps the best known example. Peer to peer support is part of the company’s business model and one of the ways tariffs are reduced for customers.

Peer to peer support in the enterprise

Using a community model for IT support is also increasingly common for internal-facing systems within the enterprise. This is being enabled by social platforms or tools, usually through some sort of community group template, where users can ask questions and where there is also a searchable archive of questions. These questions are then usually answered by experienced or power users,  a business implementation team or, if necessary, the right IT person.

This model can be effective in providing support in some scenarios:

  • Where the IT helpdesk may be so under-resourced and stretched that it is unable to provide a half-decent service.
  • Where the use of a platform is so specialist that a power user really is likely to be able to answer a user query better than a help desk person
  • Where the proportion of questions are not actually technical and are better directed first to the support community rather than IT
  • Where a system has been implemented with little or no IT support and they have not agreed to support it, a situation which is not uncommon for cloud-based solutions such as Jive.

Does it work?

Some companies are finding success with this model. In a recent episode of Digital Workplace Live, global beverage producer Brown-Forman revealed that it builds a community site on its intranet (based on Salesforce Chatter) for each application.  Here users can ask questions, announcements can be made and feedback gathered.

Meanwhile Dutch bank ING has used its social network Buzz very effectively to support its IT systems:

  • A group dedicated to Buzz itself receives up to 10 questions per day with a community moderator ensuring every question gets answered
  • A support community for a system called Kreta has 250 members and has decreased the response time to get queries answered when they were sent to the IT help desk. Questions are answered both by peers and the Kreta team within ING.

A mix of peers and central teams

The internal-facing examples I’ve cited include the ability for both peers,  business support teams and quite possibly IT departments to answer questions from users.

Having the presence of a spectrum of roles with a wide range of experiences means that the right questions can be answered by the right person. It also means that active members of the site can learn from each other and point new users to the right answers more quickly, protecting the IT help desk from answering questions which are better addressed by business owners, super users or even fellow newbies. A community manager will also be needed for tying up loose ends.

However it’s also important to bear in mind that this type of IT support is not always appropriate. Firstly some users are still going to prefer a more traditional option for IT support. A traditional ticket system may also be more efficient, for example if you have workflow in place for routing certain queries or where the nature of an application means a form is needed to help users specify their issue.

Proving success

Measuring the impact of a support community is key. If there are positive metrics such as a number of reduced calls to the IT help desk and an increase in the speed of questions answered for employees then usually an associated cost benefit can be derived, which can be shared with senior management as evidence of success.

All going well, you should have an unambiguous successful use case for your social platform with some associated numbers to cite. This helps enormously in stakeholder engagement and the sustained effort in driving adoption.




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