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Help is on the way

There’s more to help-desk work than listening to complaints. Training Advisor hed: Help is on the way dek: there’s more to help-desk work than listening to complaints. By Molly Joss

A few years ago some trade show organizers got the idea that they should station workers around convention center lobbies wearing hats or buttons emblazoned with the bold slogan, “Ask Me.” I think the idea was that if you had a question about where, what, when, or even why that was related to the show, seeing the bold slogan would encourage you to ask one of these people for assistance.

I mention this because people not in the help-desk niche of the IT industry often ask me what a help desk is and why they should care. If you’re one of those people, think about the Ask Me buttons. Help-desk workers and managers wear figurative Ask Me hats and buttons and their job is to answer your questions about some aspect of computer life.

If you’re looking for an IT career with long-term staying power, look no further than the help-desk sector. As long as computer companies have products to support, they will need someone to answer the questions and calm the fears that arise when something goes wrong. You’ll need nerves of steel and the patience of a saint at times, but you’ll be employable if you’re an experienced help-desk person.

Help-desk experience and certification may also help you find a job outside the IT sector. Non-IT companies sometimes establish call centers or help desks internally to help their employees handle the computers they’ve been given to use. These companies think it’s easier, and less expensive, to provide the technical support themselves.

General certifications

There are general certifications that you can acquire with a modest investment in training time and in testing dollars. Several organizations offer help-desk certifications. I’m going to tell you about two such organizations: the Help Desk Institute and The Resource Center for Customer Service Professionals.

All of these certifications are for people who are working in the help-desk field, but if you are trying to break into the field, you can learn by taking the training. Leave the tests until you have at least a few months’ experience for the basic certifications, more if you want to pursue a help-desk manager-level certification.

What’s nice about generalized IT certifications, including help-desk certifications, is that they focus on actions rather than products. They tell the world you know how to do something rather than how to use a particular brand of software. They imply flexibility and that makes you more marketable in the end.

If you are interested in help-desk software certifications, some of the software vendors offer solution-specific certification programs. Though these programs are outside the scope of the article, you can find out more about them from the vendors themselves. For example, STI Knowledge, makers of Help Desk 2000, offers training and certification programs for its software.

Help Desk Institute

The Help Desk Institute is a trade organization that is devoted to providing training and resources for the help-desk industry. It offers three levels of certification: the Help Desk Analyst (HDA), HDI Support Engineer (HDSE) and HDI Manager (HDM).

The HDA certification is for help-desk workers who have been on the job for nine to 18 months–so it’s perfect for anyone who has some experience and wants to learn more. The HDA certification covers topics such as understanding how to set priorities, manage customer expectations, and remain professional even when your customer refuses to. I like the certification because it is designed for someone so early in their help-desk career and it focuses on key help-desk topics.

The HDSE certification is for experienced internal help-desk and external support-center consultants. In other words, if you’re beyond the HDA level and have at least a year of experience, consider the HDSE. It would be a good certification to have if you want to stop answering the phones and start working behind the scenes in a help-desk center.

Support engineers are the people who help set up and run help-desks centers. The HDSE exam covers topics such as designing a new support center or troubleshooting an existing one. It also covers the technologies, such as software and telecommunication systems, needed in help-desk centers.

The HDM certification is for experienced help-desk managers–the people who manage the people who answer the phones. If you have experience in managing the day-to-day operations of a help center, consider the HDM. If you are considering changing jobs and want an objective measure of your skills, the HDM would help you do that.

The HDM covers areas such as team building, creating and understanding financial reports, staff scheduling, load balancing, and measuring customer satisfaction. It also covers the technology side of help-desk management–what kinds of systems and software are useful and appropriate.

The Resource Center

The Help Desk Institute certifications cover three major areas of help-desk jobs; if you are looking for something more specific, check out the certification programs offered by The Resource Center for Customer Service Professionals.

Like HDI, The Resource Center is focused on meeting the needs of the help-desk professional by providing training and other resources. The Resource Center provides a full range of certifications along with a broad array of seminars related to customer-service management.

I have picked out a few of the certification programs to tell you about; you can learn more about these programs and the others I didn’t have room to mention by visiting the Center’s Web site.

I like the Center’s programs because the training sessions for the certification are two to three days long and are held in locations all around the country. The sessions are small and specific enough that you can easily hone in on a particular area of interest.

The Certified Help Desk Professional certification requires two days of training; you have up to six weeks to take the exam after you complete the training. The training covers topics such as handling difficult customers and dealing with stress, improving your listening and problem-solving skills, and when to hand the problem off to someone else in the help-desk chain.

The Center also offers a certification I haven’t seen elsewhere called the e-Support certification. The title of the certification is Managing Electronic Customer Support: e-Support Training and Certification. The training for the test takes two days and you have six weeks after the class to take the exam.

This certification covers the basics of providing help-desk support via the Internet–by e-mail primarily, but also by providing information online so that people can hunt for answers themselves in online FAQs. The training covers logistics, planning, evaluation methods, and methodologies.

Worth doing?

While boundlessly important, help-desk work can feel nebulous and menial at times. Companies should provide adequate training for help-desk personnel, but many don’t. Training that leads to certification, even if you opt not to take the test until you get some experience, is a good way to set your feet on solid ground and network with other help-desk professionals. The certifications themselves are an objective way to underscore your professional performance and experience.

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