IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Hanging Up the Help Desk Phone

Chat, chatbots, knowledge bases, and other alternative technologies are becoming popular means of requesting and receiving technical support. By Rich Freeman
Reader ROI: 
USER PREFERENCES and price of IT talent are driving adoption of self-serve help desk technologies.
WEB CHAT TOOLS let you support several people simultaneously, but don’t juggle too many threads at once.
CHATBOTS, while no substitute for real technicians, can triage support queries for you.
CHOOSE A HELP DESK SOLUTION with “omnichannel” functionality rather than multiple point solutions.

DAVID WILKESON, a former MSP, is a man ahead of his time when it comes to delivering help desk support via channels other than the phone.

“We installed chat probably in 2012,” says Wilkeson, who is currently CEO of MSP Advisor, a managed services consultancy based in Youngstown, Ohio. “Hardly anybody ever used it.”

These days, however, younger end users in need of tech support would rather do almost anything than place a call. “They certainly prefer to speak with their thumbs,” Wilkeson notes.

It’s not just millennials either, according to Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Even my mother, who’s 82, doesn’t talk to United Airlines to book a flight anymore,” she notes. “You go to the app or you go to the website.”

Indeed, the telephone’s reign as the undisputed king of help desk delivery mechanisms is nearing its close. To an increasing extent, customers of all ages and across industries not only expect but demand access to support through online, self-serve, and automated channels as well. That has growing numbers of MSPs investigating alternative technologies—and wondering how many of them they must ultimately embrace.

Filtering the Simple Stuff

Needless to say, phones aren’t about to disappear from the help desk any time soon. They’re still the second most widely used source of customer assistance, after FAQs, according to research from Forrester, which found that 59 percent of U.S. adults had called a contact center in the last year. The phone remains the go-to option for handling difficult or emotional issues in particular. “It’s morphing into an escalation channel,” Leggett says.

“A chatbot will allow you to offload some of the work of going back and forth and allow a single person to multitask between multiple issues much better.”


Still, the long-term trend line in customer service clearly leads away from phone support, and not just because more and more customers prefer getting help that way. Staffing a help desk is growing harder and pricier. “It’s increasingly difficult to hire and keep good people,” observes David Tan, CTO of CrushBank, a maker of help desk applications based in Syosset, N.Y.

That has growing numbers of organizations funneling help desk issues toward knowledge bases and other self-serve support channels. According to Leggett, such tools can be especially efficient for handling the simple, common queries that suck up a lot of a typical help desk’s time, like how to reset a password or set up email on a new smartphone. “Even our help desk at Forrester, any time I have a problem, sends me a knowledge article or an FAQ or a process that I need to try first,” she says.

Talk to the Bot

Do-it-yourself support tools have limitations though. “A knowledge base is really only as good as the database it comes from,” observes Andrew Lezon, senior director of channel sales and partner programs at LivePerson Inc., a maker of customer service solutions headquartered in New York. Creating and maintaining a good database, he continues, is time-consuming work.

As a result, businesses are increasingly embracing technologies like web chat that keep subject matter experts in the support loop but allow them to cover more ground. “When you’re using a phone, you can really only have one conversation at a time,” Lezon notes. Chat, by contrast, enables technicians to maintain multiple conversations at once.

Just be sure not to juggle too many threads, warns John Custy, or else customer satisfaction will suffer. “The biggest challenge with chat is managers who think agents can handle three, four, five simultaneous chats,” says Custy, who is managing consultant  at Boston-based customer service advisory firm JPC Group. “There’s a very small number of people who can probably do that well.”

Though no substitute for live technicians, chatbots can extend their capacity by collecting basic information from customers like their name, who they work for, what device they’re using, and what sort of issue they’re experiencing.

About the Author

Rich Freeman's picture

Rich Freeman is ChannelPro's Executive Editor

ChannelPro SMB Magazine

Get an edge on the competition

With each issue packed full of powerful news, reviews, analysis, and advice targeting IT channel professionals, ChannelPro-SMB will help you cultivate your SMB customers and run your business more profitably.