D'Arcy Gue

Your Hospital Help Desk: A Sign of the IT Shop’s (In)Competence?

October 13, 2015

Healthcare IT, IT Service Desk 5 Minute Read

Many hospital IT departments get a bum rap.

Your IT department may have all the right ingredients:  a great staff that is knowledgeable, capable and willing to go 100 extra miles to do their jobs; advanced hardware and software applications; and seasoned managers and an accomplished, innovative CIO. Your department has achieved its share of recent successes: most notably, your IT staff has led the way through hair-raising Meaningful Use / MIPS initiatives, and enabled the hospital to cash in on millions of incentive dollars.

But, chances are customer satisfaction with IT is low. Chances also are that your users’ central point of contact with IT is your Help Desk. Therein may lie the problem.

It seems to be a fact in many hospitals that users see IT as a hindrance more than a help. It’s the IT staff who takes too long completing a needed new interface, and that insists on encrypting the physician’s IPad. It’s the IT department’s technical assessment that puts the kibosh on a C-Level conclusion to save money with Healthcare IT. The IT staff seems to respond with “no” or “soon” more often than it says “yes” or “now.”

In many hospitals, though, the biggest single reason for customer dissatisfactionhospital help desk, service desk, hospital service desk with the IT department is just one function: the Help Desk. (The term has been upgraded by many to “Service Desk” in recent years.)

In a recent MetricNet study across many industries, a walloping 84% of the 1000+ respondents rated Service Desk support as the most important factor in customer satisfaction with IT. Desktop support (often seen as the same) was the second most important factor. Network outages, enterprise applications and training came in as distant followers.

What’s the problem here?

Simply stated, your Service Desk is the face and voice of your IT shop. Most physicians, clinicians, and other hospital staff never see the department area, which is often deep in the basement, whirring and buzzing with impressive high-tech equipment and deeply focused technical staff moving a multitude of critical projects along. What users see and hear is customer support; what goes on behind the scenes is the least of their concerns.

Historically, hospitals have employed either an internal or external Service Desk strategy with a simple call-management and triage help desk. These often lack the bandwidth to manage multiple cases simultaneously. In most cases, these teams have little or no healthcare experience, do not understand hospital workflows, have poor training and management — and high turnover. That’s just the beginning of user dissatisfaction.

Beyond-the-basics issues received by the Service Desk are then thankfully turned over to the applications and operations staff — which has a completely separate agenda, such as major project work with tight timelines.  During off-peak hours and weekends, all calls go to the operations staff — sometimes even to their homes — or sent to voicemail. Throw in service level requirements, performance goals, and customer complaints, and it’s easy to see how overwhelmed staff may become, and why relations between IT staff and users wear thin.

Common user relations problems include:

  • Poor IT staff phone answering skills: impatience, long silences, rudeness, and even condescension. Most operations and applications staff have chosen their careers because they’re very comfortable with computing, and often less so with people.
  • Lack of listening skills. It is extraordinarily common for a service agent or operations employee to simply misunderstand the problem. This is often due to the caller’s low fluency with technology topics, but many support staff don’t take the time to ask the right questions needed to accurately understand the problem.
  • Few, or no systems or procedures in place to track calls.
  • Insufficient metrics to measure performance.
  • Inadequate training and reinforcement.
  • Poor understanding of, or commitment to the hospital’s primary goal, patient care. This lack of connection often results in a lack of urgency in responding to medically-related calls.
  • Insufficient staff to manage call volume. This increasingly has become a problem among hospitals that have implemented new EHRs. Users have been dealt a new hand of IT problems never seen before. A by-product of this situation is support staff burnout, which inevitably increases turnover.
  • Users who “game the system” by calling favorites at the second or third tier support levels. Or they stop IT friends in the hall. Proper ticketing then becomes a problem, often resulting in delayed or no response.
  • Lack of a constantly growing knowledge base that is contributed to and shared by support staff. Recreating the wheel call after call is slow, inefficient, and adds to user frustration.

The most important functions of every Service Desk are to carefully listen, learn, communicate effectively and politely; and expedite the resolution of problems to meet customer expectations. The most critical need, and the hardest to fulfill is the latter — meeting customer expectations — even if your IT support staff believes it is “doing everything right.”

If your users are calling your Service Desk their “Slurpy Desk” — and we have heard worse — here is a first recommendation to initiate improvement in user experience: 

Conduct periodic service desk surveys with your users, starting now. Capture as many respondents as possible through a super-easy online tool, such as Survey Monkey, if your your service software doesn’t offer strong user survey capabilities.  IT managers most understand underlying problems to solve them and ensure continuous improvement of service. Don’t guess, or rely on a few anecdotes.

Our ITIL-based Service Desk automatically surveys every service call upon completion. The surveys are short and clearly defined, collecting specific information about the IT service provided. The cumulative results of the surveys are published to our hospital clients’ IT management on a monthly basis, after which our managers meet with them to resolve discovered issues and trends.  The results are used to provide kudos to high achievers, extra training to staff who need it, and more valuable resource information to be added to our knowledge base.

Perhaps most importantly, by installing a consistent customer satisfaction survey process, your users, like our customers, will realize that their concerns are seen as important and worth addressing.  Users who see that the Service Desk staff cares, even if responses cannot always be as satisfactory as both sides wish, are users who start having higher opinions of the overall IT department.

A satisfaction survey process should be a cornerstone to continual improvement of your service team’s performance, the quality and speed of your services, and, eventually, improved customer satisfaction.

Stay tuned for more intel and recommendations to help you ensure that users receive the knock-out service call resolutions they expect.

One day, you may even find users seeking directions to your hidden corner of the building, just to meet your caring staff!

To learn about Phoenix’s 24 X 7 X 365 onshore Service Desk, please contact us.

Related Posts