Overcoming Customer Support Challenges in Educational Institutions

By Staff Contributor on July 18, 2017

web help desk, help desk, higher education it

Overcoming Customer Support Challenges in Educational Institutions


As the school year begins, IT customer support personnel across the country gear up for an intense back-to-school experience as campuses are flooded with students, faculty, staff, and alumni—each bringing multiple devices and each arriving with the expectation of fast and efficient IT support should the need arise.


The number and range of challenges faced by IT customer support departments in educational institutions are unique to educational settings—and growing by the day. Schools, colleges, and universities are under intense pressure to provide support for all of the devices that students, faculty, and staff use during the school year. Adding to the complexity of the situation, while the number of support requests is growing, the ratio of IT staff to the people demanding support is getting smaller, which can impact the quality of the service the help desk can provide.


When you consider the number of devices that will need support during a school year, the growing number of channels a customer will use to ask for support, and the fact that most educational institutions rely on some level of student assistance to staff the IT support function, the situation becomes even more complicated. Student turnover means IT supervisors must continually train new support teams and concurrently, they’re charged with managing onboarding at the beginning of the school year as students, staff, faculty, and alumni (all accompanied by their various devices) arrive and expect support. As an additional challenge, IT support teams in educational settings often need to provide support across various sites on campus. Added together, this can spell one gigantic headache for education, tech-based IT teams.


What the Data Says About Support Center Practices Industry-Wide


These challenges aren’t limited to the educational institutions—they exist across all industries. IT support departments are experiencing a growing demand for services and often struggle to find sufficiently skilled support technicians. Every year, HDI®, the association for technical support professionals, conducts research within the technical service and support community to learn about current practices in the industry at large. In HDI’s 2016 Support Center Practices & Salary Report, key findings include:


  • 57% of support centers reported an increase in ticket volume in the last year
  • 13% of desktop support teams reported a decrease in ticket volume in the last year, which was primarily attributed to an increase in service desk staff competency
  • For support centers the top three must have technologies for providing successful support (in order of importance) are incident management, knowledge management, and remote control tools
  • 24% of organizations report that their support centers are expanding (that is, creating and filling new positions), while only 3% report that they’re cutting staff; 51% are filling open positions but not adding new ones
  • 34% of organizations report having difficulty finding skilled desktop support technicians
  • 50% of support centers aren’t currently outsourcing and have no plans to start; 23% of organizations are outsourcing some or all of their desktop support services


The Role Budget Plays in Higher Education IT Support


Budgets, especially those for IT support in the higher education sector, tend to be insufficient to meet the varied demands placed on the departments by the students, faculty, and staff members. As a result, the need to increase efficiency is imperative and highlighted by the growing volume of both support requests and communication channels customers use to ask for help. As IT help desk management professionals work to manage their budgets and meet their support demands, it is vital they understand the reasons for increasing ticket volume so they can develop more efficient solutions.


Higher education help desks respond to a diverse customer base with an equally diverse set of needs and preferences for contacting the support team, so it makes sense to provide customers with a variety of options for contacting support. It’s important to note that not all support is provided using submitted tickets, and in many instances, educational tech IT support teams respond to walk-up requests for help at much higher rates than the general IT support industry reports. Other channels used include social media and text requests, which are expected to increase at a fairly rapid pace. Complex solutions delivered across multiple channels can mean more support, and more support, in many instances, can require additional budget dollars. But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Technology: The Solution for Higher Edu IT Challenges


Is there a solution to the challenges faced by higher Edu IT pros? There is, and as with many business solutions today, it’s the adoption of technology into the equation. A growing number of IT support teams are relying on remote help desk technologies to meet the combined pressures of a diverse customer base, multiple locations across campus, tight budgets, and difficulties in staffing and onboarding student tech support staff. Using a centralized help desk software that streamlines ticketing management from service request to resolution can provide IT support teams with an efficient support and ticketing process, which can help techs focus on higher levels of support troubleshooting. Most centralized help desk solutions also provide automation options for simplifying manual and repetitive tasks.


Another aspect of IT support in higher education is the increase in demand for self-service options. According to research published by Forrester® in 2015, customers increasingly leverage self- service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction. HDI predicts that, for IT help desk teams, the trend toward pushing more technical work to the front line and moving repetitive work out into robust self-service will be much more widespread, if not universal, by 2020.


Providing higher education customers with self-service support can be accomplished by utilizing web-based help desk software with knowledge repositories. By maintaining a knowledge repository, integrated into the help desk, IT support teams can add tech tips, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and knowledge base (KB) articles for centralized knowledge management.


This functionality can provide higher education customers with more options for self-service and self-resolution of support issues from the stored FAQs and KB articles. Toy Arkinson writes in HDI, “When an end-user can easily look up, locate, and apply their own resolution, we have level 0 self-service. The simplest example of this is [a] password reset. In an automated password reset, the end-user clicks a link, enters some identifying information, and then changes his/her password. No assistance from the support center is required, and no ticket is created.”


Automated help desk software solutions can provide other benefits to the higher education IT support team: ITAM capabilities, automated ticket creation, and routing, as well as FAQ and knowledge base. It also integrates with remote support tools for customer satisfaction surveys and other functions. Having the ability to automate the ticketing function, access IT asset management tools, and use remote support tools to provide resolution can help the IT support team provide better and more efficient customer service.


Higher education support centers face certain challenges that support teams in other industry sectors do not. They also have priorities and goals unique to higher education. For many of them, improving both customer service and efficiency are at the top of their lists of objectives, as they work with multiple channels and technologies to meet the support demands of a diverse customer base. The higher education tech support departments using web-based help desk technologies are not only helping keep educational institutions functioning, but are also providing improved customer service to their students, faculty, staff, and alumni.


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