By: Alan Morris

In a retail world built on technical environments that are multi-faceted, multi-channel and increasingly complex, the Help Desk can constitute a valuable hub. As such, it should be moved up the company hierarchy to a position that reflects its critical role.

Often sitting in the shadows, its now time to move the retail Help Desk centre stage. As retail operations expand, executives frequently fail to face up to the scale of whats needed to support an increasing use of, and dependence on, technology.

Poor customer service, complaints, missed service levels and lost revenues all point to the need to review technical support provision. As a rule of thumb, if your Help Desk is doing what it has always done, then it needs looking at. You need to analyse what could make this operation of greater value to the business as a whole and plan to invest accordingly.

The very nature of retail and the temperament of those that drive its most successful businesses tend towards dynamic, opportunistic, above the line activity. And thats how it should be.

Less appealing to those businesses and individuals are the below the line planning and investment needed to sustain expansion. Its wise to review whether infrastructure services are growing at the same pace as the business. If not, theyre unlikely to be stable and robust enough to support that growth.

Even if new stores arent being opened, new channels to market may well be in development. Heavily dependent upon technology, they will certainly take their toll on Help Desk operations.

Merger and takeover activity also make demands on the Help Desk. At these times, what the business needs most is stability and consistency: precisely what a well-resourced Desk can contribute.

Time was when it was a matter of pride to have a lean (ie. under-resourced) Help Desk. We all know businesses where this function is manned by a couple of people, clearly overstretched, who spend their weekends with a phone strapped to their waist, and race around the business fire-fighting.

Whilst this may seem cost-effective, the downsides are little control, no means of measuring effectiveness and therefore no way of judging that the business is getting value for money from its Help Desk.

Regular performance management is critical. That means not solely judging the Desk by its SLA achievements but viewing its impact on the business in the round. User satisfaction, indicated by a level of comfort, reduced call volumes and the elimination of recurring problems, all prove that a Help Desk is contributing towards operational efficiency.

A well run Help Desk will make money through greater up-time on tills preventing loss of revenue, and save money through analysis of where costs are being incurred.

Not surprisingly, some retailers struggle to balance support staff availability with trading flow and budget constraints. The commercial pressures fuelling the drive towards longer trading hours and the need to be fully-functional at all times create a resource challenge that some fail to address.

At this point, its sensible to call upon external resources that are both specialist and, because of the shared service model that they operate, cost-effective. Certainly, for operations such as Out-of-hours support, a third-party supplier is invariably a practical option.

Improved systems availability, increased user productivity, reduced overall service cost and greater accountability for problem resolution are all benefits to be expected of a well-resourced Help Desk function sitting at the heart of the business.

In addition, by stabilising ageing systems, a proactive service can delay the necessity to replace them and enable the business to defer capital expenditure.

So, if your Help Desk is sitting in the wings of your business, take a hard look at what it could contribute and bring it centre stage.

About the author:

Alan Morris is Managing Director of retail IT outsourcing company, Retail Assist, and can be contacted at

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