Let’s get rid of the phones


I’ve had the privilege to meet a lot of great leaders at a lot of universities.  Almost any conversation I have with them about technology includes a discussion about improving technology support.

On the one hand, few of our IT disciplines are as well defined, structured, and documented as the Technology Service Desk.  A lot of great thinking has gone into how to run a help desk.

On the other hand, that creates a certain rigidity around changing things.  The basic model, where a customer reaches out with a problem, an agent takes their call and hopefully solves that problem, hasn’t really changed since help desks were created.

At the end of the day, the real issue with support is about the people involved and their relationships and their expectations. So I have a humble suggestion:  Get rid of the phones.  Switch to video.

We all know that a significant part of communication is non-verbal.  I usually see a number in the 90s thrown around – typically 93%.  So, we’re delivering IT support with a technology that only allows 7% of the communication to effectively come through and we’re wondering why people aren’t happy.

In this pandemic moment, use of video is a daily reality for most people.  For example, I’ve started using a telemedicine solution which has been fantastic.  And it would be horrible by telephone. There is something reassuring about seeing the doctor’s face.

So we have a moment in time where this switch would be significantly easier.  It would increase personal interaction for people who are isolated and allow a greater sense of connection.  It would increase accountability for the team who would be seen by their customers and not be just anonymous telephone voices.  It might allow for better relationships.  (As a sidebar, I find customers are generally happier when they know who their support agent is).  Imagine the benefits for students on the help desk when they actually see one of their faculty members (and when they are seen).

I believe this would enable higher quality information about the reason for the call, as well as the ability to show the problem, not just describe it.  Our customers are not technology experts and often struggle to describe what’s wrong.   Imagine if the agent could see the error message, the computer, and the frustration on the customer’s face.

Finally, it allows the help desk team to become experts on the video conferencing tools since they’ll be using them all the time which can help them be more helpful to our students and faculty who are living in a hybrid or distance education world.

We’re making everyone else use video to do their jobs.  Maybe it’s time to use the technology we deliver to take the service up a level at the help desk.