The importance of first contact

Call Centre WorkerI’ve been uncharacteristically quiet recently, the direct result of working harder than I can ever remember.  This unusual state of affairs was caused by my new role as Support Team Manager in the Clinical School Computing Service (CSCS) at the University of Cambridge. For the last five weeks I’ve been working in the Helpdesk answering the phones, preparing quotes, processing orders, remotely diagnosing and fixing problems, going out to site delivering repaired PC’s and generally getting to know the customers, systems and processes at the School of Clinical Medicine. This might not sound like the role description of the Support Team Manager, but I’m a subscriber to the theory that you can’t manage a department, team or function unless you know how it works.

you can’t manage a department, team or function unless you know how it works.


One of the things I’ve the opportunity and motivation to focus on is communication with customers.  The CSCS runs on a cost recovery model, which means we charge for our service; sufficient to pay the salaries of the staff who deliver that service and cover the cost of the infrastructure on which the service is delivered.  This means if people don’t like our service they can always go elsewhere, an option not available to most institutions in the University, or most HE institutions full stop (and certainly not to public sector institutions across the board).

The customer’s freedom of choice means it is critical that we understand our customers needs, and that understanding is based on communication.

Communication comes in many forms; over the phone, in person, in an email, on a website or on paper; however, the most important contact with customers is often the one which they initiate, which means they need a problem fixing, or a service provided.

First contact is an opportunity

Why is that initial contact so critical?  Because it’s the one where the customer most likely to care, because they started the communication based on an immediate or predicted need. This is when you have their interest, when they want to hear what you have to say, and when you have a ideal opportunity to make a good impression, or a bad one.

In an IT Service provider environment the Helpdesk (or Service Desk) are sometimes seen as a least important members of the team, because they’re seen as less technically able, and junior to the server engineer or the network specialist.  This is a tech centric approach, and often the sign of an old fashioned IT department, the one where users are seen as an annoying inconvenience which only get in the way of good IT systems.  On the contrary, as the first line of contact the Helpdesk is critical, and the skills used by that team to understand the users requirements are just as important as the skills used by a third line engineer to fix a busted server.

So, how do you make sure your first contact benefits both you and the customer?

How to make the best of first contact

  • Make sure you have sufficient resources to take the call, a missed call is a fail
  • Give your staff good systems so they can quickly access the information they need to help the customer
  • Train your staff and ensure they understand the customer and the systems, because they’re trying to bring the two together
  • Ensure your processes make sense to you, your staff and your customers

Over the next few months I’ll be trying to put these thoughts into practise, and looking for more effective ways of communicating with customers.  Discussion with customers about pricing, purchasing processes, asset management and the functionality of new systems all need to take place to make sure the services match the customers needs, but the question is how?

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