Running a successful and efficient help desk can be a matter of thinking outside the box and taking advantage of initiatives elsewhere in your firm, said Greg Davis, information technology director and principal at Salina, Kan.-based CPA and business advisory firm Kennedy and Coe.Running such a desk, however, requires forethought, especially in hiring the right people, standardization of procedures, clarifying objectives and measurement systems, understanding clients, and securing the support of a firm's management, Davis said.

Davis delivered his remarks to session attendees at the recent Tech 2006: The AICPA Information Technology Conference, held here. Davis led a session titled "Best Practices for a Corporate Help Desk."

Responding to such audience suggestions as paying attention to security and trends, an over-reliance on a help desk to provide staff training that should be coming from elsewhere, and better matching of caller sophistication to help desk personnel, Davis noted that a good help desk can increase the productivity of clients, improve overall revenue and profits, and produce more knowledgeable clients, among other benefits.

* Hiring: Davis said that firms must determine exactly how many staffers they need on their help desk, considering as well the need for a desk manager, front-line staff to gather information and log calls, and the location of the help desk. He recommended one location - as close as possible to the hardware supported.

Help desks are also "high-stress" posts, he added, seeing turnover sometimes as high as 40 percent annually.

* Training desk staff: Davis also recommended shadowing, or on-the-job training in which recruits work side by side with veterans of the desk for a week or two, then veterans shadow recruits as they try to handle their first calls. Staff should also be rotated on and off phone duty, especially during tax and other busy seasons.

* Management and measurement: Help desk calls should be reviewed to look for patterns of problems, Davis told attendees, adding that some firms have opted to e-mail a "tip of the week" to staff based on these patterns. Management can also use determined trends to set up client and staff training and cross-training, and to determine when hardware needs to be updated. Satisfaction surveys should also be conducted yearly and randomly by call, and include regular interviews with key clients and firm management.

Davis also recommends that help desks prioritize calls (often by simply asking clients and staff where and when they need work done), and track unproductive time using time and billing software. As a measurement, the time needed to resolve each call can also be a "false measurement."

Repeat calls on the same subject or problem should also be tracked, Davis told attendees.

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