It’s no wonder why conversations between IT service techs and the employees who need their help often lead to some tense moments.
Many employees only call the help desk after failed attempts at fixing the problem themselves have already cost them valuable time and patience.
This leaves the techs who emerge from the company cellar at the 11th hour with two problems — the technical issue and a frustrated colleague that they may or may not have received training on how to handle.
But Weill Cornell Medical College is trying to improve these interactions and make IT more accessible with its launch of a Smart Desk earlier this year.
This service center, located in a prominent public area of the college library, is staffed with 16 techs who have been begun taking social cues from their new neighbors — friendly librarians — in how they interact with students and faculty, said Christine O’Connor, associate director of user support at the college.
Desk techs provide free support to multiple departments in multiple buildings on the New York City campus, including the hospital.
“People wanted to interact with us, not just on an oh-I-need-you basis,” she said. “There needs to be a little more transparency. And we thought, ‘how can we do that in a centralized area that more convenient for you?’”
There are few limitations on what the technicians can handle in the Library Commons. They often respond to queries that students and faculty have about their personal devices, requiring in-depth knowledge of many different makes and models.
The Information Technologies and Services Department at Weill supports more than 10,000 users and several specialized software applications that facilitate clinical care and medical research.
O’Connor said it’s important that new hires possess advanced technical skills and chops for interacting with the college community.
“Personality is a big part of the job,” she said. “It’s challenging to find the right people. On a service desk, (many) don’t want to be out in the open. Some are more introverted.”
But that’s the key to this whole experiment — to get the technicians engaged with the users, and vice versa.
“You have to put yourself out in front of the client,” O’Connor said.
The effort seems to have paid off, leading the college to keep the desk open into the evenings twice a week.
“It’s the off hours that people want to come for help,” O’Connor said. “We are also looking to add resources on the weekends.”
O’Connor said she would like to see the customer-facing strategy employed throughout academia and the corporate world.
Similar setups in retail settings like Apple’s Genius Bar and Best Buy’s Geek Squad have also laid a path toward this kind of approach.
“I think people would be pleasantly surprised,” O’Connor said.
The goal and challenge, she explained, is getting technicians and the people they’re meant to help engage in a crisis-free environment.
“There is a fear of interaction. Everyone is very protective,” she said. “We have to establish trust. Once people trust you and are engaging with you, there is a better sense of security that their problems will be solved.”
Andrew King is a former editor and business reporter for the Journal News in New York. His work has also appeared on the website of USA Today.