Just how helpful is your Help Desk and is it playing its part in contributing to smooth store operations? Regardless of how you resource this critical function, it must be staffed and structured to deliver in ways that positively impact store operations. It's important too to measure its performance by regularly seeking feedback from those most affected by Help Desk services: staff at the point of customer interaction.

Only if you regularly audit your Help Desk performance - and act upon your findings - can you be confident that it is optimised to support your needs. Aim for feedback across all your brands and locations, both to get a representative picture and to pinpoint any areas of under-performance. Measurement of the following areas will give you a framework for consistent monitoring.

Open all hours

Have you set your Help Desk operating hours to match the trading hours of your stores as closely as possible? The trend towards longer trading hours, even 24-hour trading, plus the demands of seasonal peaks such as Christmas and sale time, can set a real challenge for Help Desk coverage.

To avoid a '9-6' Help Desk leaving store staff stranded with a till malfunction or a late evening cashing up problem, consider supplementing inhouse teams with outsourced resources. These operations are set to provide a breadth of skills as a shared service to a number of retailers. Out of hours support can often be provided at a fraction of the cost you would incur to do so individually.

Hanging on the telephone

Speed of call answering is critical both in terms of managing store staff frustration and minimising any impact on customers at the point of sale. Be demanding in this area and ensure that you have access to an adequate pool of analysts. For retailers with one-till operations such as fashion concessions or small convenience stores, speed of response is critical.

Whilst it's unreasonable to expect sub-second response times, an automated queuing system whilst tells callers where they are in a queue can reduce abandoned and repeat calls.

It's a people business

Nowhere is it more essential to select staff with the right combination of personal skills and technical knowledge than on a Help Desk. Telephone manner is tested when guiding store staff with varying levels of computer literacy through what can be complex fixes. It's important that an analyst's speech is clear and intelligible to staff from stores nationwide.

Make sure too to select analysts with a naturally helpful and patient disposition, able to put store staff at ease when experiencing the pressure of an IT problem and to give guidance without relying too heavily on technical jargon. You want staff to feel comfortable calling your Help Desk and disinclined to try to remedy problems themselves.

Getting it right

The speed and quality of problem fixes are the core measures of any Help Desk. Ideally, any fixes recommended need to be effective long-term, so that problems do not recur. This not only demotivates store staff but adds to the Help Desk workload, thereby slowing their response to other support calls.

Speed is critical too. In any store environment, staff and customers have a low tolerance threshold and problems must be fixed quickly to minimise business downtime.