College help-desk services lagging in tech use

Chat-based help desk services haven't taken hold in higher education.

University help-desk services need a technological makeover, according to a recent report that shows students and faculty at seven out of 10 schools can’t hold online chats with their campus technology support staff.

Tech-support experts said that while campus help-desk services are understaffed and overworked, an instant chat option—which has become commonplace in private industry—would be one way to help campus technology support staff answer frequently asked questions, known as “break-fix” and “how-do-I” queries.

Higher education had an overall first call resolution rate of 62 percent, just below the 64-percent average across all industries, according to a national report on technology help-desk services published Dec. 9 by support solutions company Bomgar.

Only 34 percent of college help desks meet their first call resolution goals, although industry officials said this statistic is unreliable, because help-desk goals vary from campus to campus.

Phil Verghis, an IT support staff leader at the University of New Hampshire and Duke University in the 1990s, said campus technology departments would answer student, staff, and faculty questions more efficiently if they would encourage the campus community to help each other with common computer questions.

“Just about every group I’ve ever managed ended up being overworked … because the vast majority of the work is redundant, and leads to burnout,” said Verghis, founder of The Verghis Group, a company that helps establish and improve help-desk services. “In higher education, you sometimes end up with five or 10 people trying to support 10,000 people.”

As many as half of the IT support requests on college campuses could be eliminated, industry experts said, if colleges did away with phones and automated their help-desk services instead.

“People calling asking for their passwords—this is absolutely mindless work,” said Jeff Tarter, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Association of Support Professionals, adding that college and university websites should be sophisticated enough for a student to request a password reminder through an automated system. “You need to get to the point where no human being touches [a password request].”

Higher education’s approach to help-desk services is also one of the priciest in the entire support services industry, according to the Bomgard report.

About eight in 10 education respondents said their campus’s help desk provides support to faculty and students who walk up to a help desk and place a request. In-person help, according to the report, is twice as expensive as online chat support and also is pricier than eMail and phone support.

Electronic improvements in help-desk services might be the key to providing more efficient support, Verghis said, but campus technology leaders should realize that even eMail is outmoded for most of today’s college students. Texting and online chatting, he said, better fit students’ taste for immediacy.

The Beloit College Mindset List, a compilation assembled each year by two officials at the 1,400-student campus, showed that this year’s freshmen class believes eMail had become antiquated, with some grouping eMail along with snail mail.

Text messaging has eclipsed all other forms of communication between teenage friends—including face-to-face contact and eMail—and half of teenagers send more than 50 texts a day, according to research released in April by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

One in three teen respondents send more than 100 texts a day, or 3,000 every month, according to Pew.

“The bad news is that we’re behind the industry,” Verghis said, adding that fostering a campus atmosphere in which students help other students could be more efficient for everyone at a college. “The good news is that we can completely leapfrog the industry if we do things right.”

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