Beware of making social media your IT support desk

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Social media has colonised the world, and its assimilation by business has been no exception. When it comes to IT support, however, it’s often been more of a hindrance than a new business asset. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms might seem to open new avenues for personalised support, but in a technical field like IT, structures have evolved for good reasons. Those systems and structures (ideally) lead to the shortest possible route to functionality again - something social media can as often corrupt as facilitate.

Business’ dependence on IT comes with certain unavoidable paradigms - the greater the dependency, the greater the need for prompt, effective service. Now that our way of doing business is so heavily dependent on IT support, business at large can’t afford IT support muddying the waters when it comes to keeping the working world turning as efficiently as possible. IT companies that have allowed social media to ‘replace’ their IT service desk have had mixed results.

Social media platforms do bring entirely new and often up-close ways to connect with staff, users and customers but, looking at end results, they often come with far lower productivity and customer satisfaction. Mostly, a sense of urgency permeates IT support issues - business is stalled or stifled until issues are resolved. Factoring that clinical need into IT support issues makes social media even less attractive as an alternative to the traditional help desk.

IT support is not a social engagement

It is, of course, a social engagement on a basic level - people are dealing with other people to sort out technical issues - but the ethos of social media and that of business assimilating the phenomenon of social media is different to that of genuine IT support. Indeed, IT support from Computers In The City or similar firms around the world follow logical response dictates. The nature of the issue at hand, the ability for remote support to successfully address it, and the ultimate results (satisfaction) for the client are the imperatives that guide a response.

While social media can enable an immediate contact with IT support, that’s often where the joy ends. Typically, such comms is populated with support from other users that may or may not enhance matters, as crowdsourced solutions seldom come with the clarity and learning a help desk provides.

In fact, a few obvious tendencies hamper social media’s ability to perform as a help desk:

Users might be able to directly connect with IT technical staff via social media, but multiple answers on a third-party platform can allow the process of elimination and ultimate resolution to evaporate.

Direct input from multiple respondents often floods the user with possible solutions, while avoiding the usual process of elimination that would lead to genuine resolution.

As the discourse is unmanaged, outage time is often extended, not reduced, no matter the direct access to technical support on social media.

The productivity of all parties involved in the quest for a solution often dips substantially. The reality is that social media might be quick as a ‘ping,’ but it’s not geared for IT support per se, and doesn’t conform to the timelines and results users can expect in the legacy arena.

It’s an unnecessarily challenging task providing IT help desk support via social media.

The proliferation of devices - smartphones and tablets - has resulted in far higher customer expectations around an immediate and ‘easy’ response. Legacy IT support didn’t anticipate providing service across so many channels, being able to reach customers anytime, anywhere and on any device. Rather than a failing of IT to see the connected future approaching, there are good reasons why IT support follows a certain route to resolution, almost none of which are enabled by social media.

In the wide-open ocean of social media, customers instant messaging support staff isn’t the best of ideas.

For one, organisational learning is zero via the channel – there’s too much data in social media to try to extricate lessons learned from a social media interaction into a company culture. Perhaps far more importantly, without a support ticket and oversight and feedback, customer satisfaction is open to diminishing. How to ‘queue’ enquiries (and how to avoid customers learning how to jump the queue) on social media is a prime example of the havoc possible outside of the legacy arena.

Another aspect of social media support - and one that cyber crooks haven’t overlooked - is that the relatively open platforms of social media can give rise to all sorts of opportunistic input or subsequent phishing and scamming of users.

Not for self-preservation nor dictatorial control, but rather for good reasons has IT support followed a narrow trail to client satisfaction. The fraternity has defined the best route for the average user to regain control of their IT, and social media wasn’t a part of that. Now it often is, but the fundamental differences between legacy protocols and social media engagement remain.

In a nutshell, the guaranteed resolution of IT issues is lost on social media when social media is offered as the company solution to a help desk. The two options are not interchangeable.

Social media can be a great addition, but it takes careful management when incorporated into IT support

On the plus side, utilising social media as a tool of IT support does have the potential to lower costs and boost productivity. It’s the mismanagement of that potential which produces less than stellar results. Social media needs to be allocated a place within the support structure - not posited as the final answer or help desk.

Put simply, IT support can accommodate users’ expectations of liaison via social media, as long as there exists a clear understanding of the limits and dangers. IT protocols cannot bend to social media’s limitations or alternative roll - they need to maintain a journey towards an ultimately successful solution. Quick resolution queries are handled very well via social media, often in the same working day where IT technicians are manning the help desk. But there needs to be a crossover point: technicians need to define, based on experience, what can and can’t be effectively addressed on social media platforms.

As soon as the effectiveness of the process is seen to bend, technicians should return to legacy protocols to address support queries. In this way, client satisfaction goes up because of the immediate availability of support staff on social media, but it’s also maintained by the logical dictates IT support has developed, no matter that they might clash with social media’s roll.

IT managers need to know when to take issues off social media and apply legacy protocols. That might sound simple, but with a host of user devices, queries and expectations, it can be a difficult call. The best approach to meet user expectations of social media engagement is to incorporate social media as a contact point for IT support, but to maintain the legacy support structure of opened tickets and monitored resolution at the end of the interaction. How exactly this is done will vary from company to company, but it’s imperative that the relaxed - yet often more emotionally charged - arena of social media doesn’t impinge on support’s ability to deal directly and timeously with user issues.

When social media creates confusion, overkill or open-ended conversations that lack confirmation of success from the users themselves, it’s not a help desk anymore, and client satisfaction can take a serious knock.