Help desk nightmares

Spending a full day at home, his phone blasting a combination of his service provider’s advertising and bad elevator music on speakerphone, Aaron Bradley, director of marketing for The Utility Company, became fed up with waiting for helpdesk service.

After a couple hours, the advertising monotony ended, but the waiting game wasn’t worth it – not one member of the service team could answer his request.

Bradley asked to speak to the manager – alarmingly, the company didn’t have one working at that time.

“I don’t think I’m unique at all but I do literally cringe when my wife asks me to call someone about a problem,” he said. “People have that fear engrained in their head about the helpdesk world.”

“We talked to a guy who had bought a Blackberry and had a small nagging issue with it that didn’t disrupt use but irritated him every time he turned it on. He thought calling RIM would be a painful experience so he was living with the issue instead of fixing it.”

Long wait times are one of the biggest complaints with helpdesk service, Bradley said. Most helpdesks have someone screening the call first to take notes rather than answer your question immediately. People become frustrated having to tell their story two or three times over the phone.

Bradley said the average wait time at popular OEMs can be as long as 30 minutes on average and the technical know-how of the staff is so limited that tech experts use re-formatting to “fix” problems far more often than is necessary.

Unacceptable helpdesk customer service is something The Utility Company is hoping to change. The Ottawa-based single source provider of technology for the SMB market is transforming the way customers view helpdesk services.

“We think it’d be nice to debunk the myth that all help desks are nasty,” Bradley said.

1-866 My Utility is a phone number that aims to eliminate worry to small and medium-sized business owners dependent on technology and who hate receiving inadequate treatment from service providers.

SMBs receive their technology from a variety of different vendors. If there is a problem with one component, there are a lot of different “throats to choke,” in order to find a solution, Bradley said.

It can be difficult for the average consumer to determine which component of their system is failing, and when they call one place for help, service providers often “pass the buck” to another vendor, Bradley said.

The Utility Company wants to provide one efficient service number for all SMBs to call with any kind of question. The company will provide advice by accessing the computer remotely and charging on a per/minute basis rather than one flat rate.

Many helpdesks will charge the same high rate for five minutes of service and two hours of service.

“Our founder saw the way customers were treated in the past and saw a lot of disconnect between the company and service provider,” Bradley said. “We wanted to also effectively help the SMB market who cannot afford IT staff and who can’t waste time on the phone.”

A survey of CIOs conducted by Robert Half Technology, a California-based provider of information technology professionals, revealed that technology experts and help desk professionals get asked a wide range of odd-ball requests, which require patience on behalf of tech support staff.

Some of the strangest questions support staff yielded was “How do I get my computer’s coffee cup holder to come out again?” or “Can you reset my Internet for me?”

These unusual requests require a high degree of empathy, a sense of humour and the appropriate technology skills, according to Robert Half Technology.

Bradley said traditional helpdesks think of their service as a cost centre and want you off the line, but that isn’t the case for the Utility Center who has turned helpdesk into a paid service.

“For us, our service is a revenue generator, so we embrace customers,” Bradley said.

The company sells insurance-like IT expertise, where they will monitor your system for you and automatically fix problems and install updates. The Utility Company takes control of the screen and fixes the issue, rather listen to the user describe what’s on the screen, which can be frustrating for both parties.

The service can be purchased through The Utility Service franchisees or select resellers who have become “powered by utility partners.” But the company’s Per Minute service can be sold through either or by mass marketing, Bradley said.

For new customers not registered with the company, the company charges $2.00 per minute. So for $30, a SMB owner can receive pretty immediate service rather than call a “geek squad” to come on site and charge $75 in gas fees, just to get there, Bradley said.

Almost all of The Utility Company’s calls are picked up within three minutes and resolved in 30 minutes or less, he said. Eighty to 90 per cent of issues can be fixed remotely.

“We talked to one small accounting firm of 30 staff members and three IT guys. The owner said he didn’t even know what the third guy did. So we replaced the cost of staffing three people and improved productivity in the company.”

Employees of companies are much happier without a know-it-all IT guy making them feel stupid, Bradley said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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