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This morning I received an email from a colleague, who doesn't want to call the help desk anymore, [we'll call him Joel.]

I manage a small team of IT professionals, responsible for the care and feeding of a pretty typical small/midsized business with less than 1000 employees. Among our many responsibilities, we all answer a shared phone line that we colloquially call the "Help Desk." Users call in with a variety of problems / questions. We have users that run the spectrum, from power users who only call when there is an outage, to technophobes who call for help whenever an unexpected dialog box appears.

Joel is a senior admin who has been a pretty regular caller in the past, but this morning he emailed me to let me know that he doesn't want to call the Help Desk anymore, instead he will be contacting me directly for all future questions. When I replied, asking Joel for details, he let me know he doesn't want to talk to my direct report [we'll call him Rick.]

"Nothing personal with Rick, but I have tried working with him in the past and he doesn't know or can't help and he is over bearing to talk too [sic.]"

Rick has been with the team for almost a year now, and he has a consistently positive attitude. He is far and away the friendliest and most outgoing member of our team. He is a knowledgeable and capable member of the Help Desk, and this is the first time I have heard any complaints about his performance there or anywhere else.

For a number of reasons, I don't want Joel contacting me directly every time he has a question.

I have read through some helpful answers to similar questions ([1], [2],) but these questions don't approach the issue from a manager's perspective, and so I find myself still struggling.

How can I convince Joel to call the help desk instead of contacting me directly?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 10 '18 at 0:53

14 Answers 14

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The best approach is to divide and conquer. Joel needs to understand that an issue with a specific employee doesn't invalidate an entire service model. He will understand this if you reinforce the service model and also address the employee issue.

Do what the other answers suggest: remind him of the procedure and why it's important, and redirect him if he tries to skirt the procedure. The redirects can be soft at first - take the call, help him with the problem, but indicate that you're recording it in the ticket system for him - and you can help him enter it correctly (or call the right number) next time. Then follow up and do that - transfer him the next time he calls. And so on.

But - don't stop there. You are Rick's superior. Outside of the fact that Joel is skirting policy, you've had a complaint against a member of your team. I'm sure your corporate policy or culture has a method for handling that, regardless of the job position. If there is nothing formal, there's plenty in terms of best practice available on the web. It's hard to give specific advice about how to address the conflict without a lot more background info.

It's fair to point out that any complaint handling process should include validation of the complaint. You don't want your current impression of the employee ("this is the first time I have heard any complaints") to predispose you towards dismissing the complaint, and of course you also don't want the fact that there was a complaint to cause you to assume there is an actual issue.

In summary, you're more likely to achieve your goal of getting Joel to follow policy if you also address his (totally separate) issue with your employee - instead of making this purely about him following policy.

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    That assumes there is an issue with the employee. Joel may also just want to bypass the "hassle of the process", or just not "tick" with Rick - and not handle it professionally. – TomTom Apr 5 '18 at 16:09
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    I'd expect a process designed to handle employee complaints would include validation of the complaint - I agree, we don't know if there is an actual issue - but we do know there is a complaint and it should be addressed. – dwizum Apr 5 '18 at 16:21
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    @TomTom there is an issue with the employee. It needs investigation. The result of the investigation might be "not valid, complaint dismissed" but the manager still has to look into it. – Greenstone Walker Apr 5 '18 at 22:22
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    @gnasher729 Joel basically said to Rick's boss "The guy is clueless and wastes my time on the phone and I am not working with this monkey, period.". If that's not an official complaint then I don't know what is. Remember, if this were an outward facing customer support team, where the client was external, you'd be on Rick like a tonne of bricks. – Sentinel Apr 6 '18 at 11:23
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    @Lumberjack, I think something along the lines of "Rick, you've been doing a great job and I want you to keep it up. However, Joel is very much a "strictly business" type, so I'd like you to keep small talk to a minimum with him and escalate to me a little more quickly than you normally would when dealing with him." would be appropriate – Kevin Apr 6 '18 at 16:12
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First, reply to Joel's email defending your team, outlining your role, and making it clear that he doesn't just get to bypass the process because he feels like it.

Joel, the Helpdesk is an essential part of our call logging and troubleshooting process, and Rick is a valued member of that team. If you have a specific complaint about his conduct, I'd be happy to discuss that further, but my role as IT manager is entirely different to the Helpdesk team. Please continue to use the published helpdesk number/email for any support related issues.

If you feel a specific issue is not being dealt with properly, let me know and I'll take a look.

After that, if he calls you with a support request that hasn't come through the proper channels, transfer him to the helpdesk. If he sends you an email, forward it to the helpdesk, CC'ing him in so he knows that all he's achieved is a delay in his mail being picked up.

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    "... CC'ing him in so he knows that all he's achieved is a delay in his mail being picked up." - And if he doesn't pick up on that, increase the delay; only forward after an hour. Or several hours. Or the next day ;) – marcelm Apr 5 '18 at 15:58
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    @marcelm To add to your point, Thunderbird has an extention to send emails x time later, or at a certain date and time. Answering to the email right away and setting the delay is a good idea if you are a forgetful person (like me) – Ismael Miguel Apr 5 '18 at 17:25
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    @Sentinel Such as? – jpmc26 Apr 5 '18 at 21:59
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    The comment as reported is "he doesn't know or can't help and he is over bearing to talk too" - that's a complaint, but it's pretty vague. A good manager shouldn't be taking this up with the employee without a lot more detail - hence the point of "if there's a specific issue, let's discuss that." One employee not wanting to interact with another is not in itself a reason for either employee to be disciplined, or for a manager to take over an employees role for that interaction. – timbstoke Apr 6 '18 at 11:38
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    @Sentinel - it's too vague to allow anybody to fix the problem. It gives just enough information to be able to say "Hey Rick, Joel says you're useless." while not allowing anybody to figure out how to fix it or measure that it's been fixed. If there's an actual problem with Rick that needs fixing, his manager needs to know specifics. "Last time I spoke with Rick I had a problem with X. He didn't know how to fix it and he was constantly talking over me when I tried to explain what was happening" That gives details of an actual issue which can be referenced as a problem, investigated, and fixed. – timbstoke Apr 6 '18 at 12:38
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How I answered the question

I took Joel's complaint seriously. I called Joel to discuss the problem and requested additional details. Joel was very professional throughout the conversation.

I asked him to tell me more, and he started out with praise for Rick's positive attitude. He let me know that in his opinion Rick is just too friendly and chatty. When Joel calls, he just wants to get the problem solved so that he can get back to work. But he suggested that perhaps it was actually his own fault, as being cheerful and friendly is "maybe a good thing."

I thanked him for his feedback and asked him to tell me more about the other half of his complaint, "he doesn't know or can't help." Evidently Joel called in with a problem and Rick wasn't able to solve the issue. Rick was supposed to call Joel back with a solution, but that call back never came.

I thanked Joel for his candor, and promised that I would follow up with Rick. I took the opportunity to talk with Joel about the importance of following the Help Desk procedure. We briefly went over all of the benefits that a shared Help Desk affords the company and Joel.

I asked that he please continue to call or email the help desk with problems going forward, but I promised to always be available if he needed to escalate an issue or if he had any issues with anyone on the team in the future.

I let him know that his feedback was valued. I talked with him about how Rick is the most junior member of our team, and that his feedback would be a useful tool in helping Rick to become a better resource for the company.

At the conclusion of the call Joel promised to continue calling the help desk. I have scheduled a one on one meeting with Rick for this afternoon to discuss the issue. I will give Rick a chance to tell his side of the story and provide additional details around his reported failure to follow through with Joel.

Ultimately it is unacceptable to leave an user hanging like that. We have procedures in place that dictate how to escalate an issue if you are struggling with the solution. We have a ticketing system in place that is meant to ensure that nothing ever gets lost in the mix. Something doesn't add up here, and I will need Rick's help sorting out where things went off the rails.

It might be a mistake, but I don't intend to chastise Rick for being too chatty or friendly. He has received positive feedback dozens of times from senior staff for his great attitude, whereas Joel has a reputation as a bit of a grump. I will however talk to Rick about Joel and suggest that when they interact moving forward, Rick strive to be as brief and professional as possible.

I'm thinking I will follow up with Joel in a couple weeks to see how things have been going. This will show Joel that his feedback is valuable and that we took his concerns seriously, while also giving me an opportunity to hear about any problems that may have occurred in the meantime.

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    Sounds like you handled things great. My first thought on reading your original post was that Rick being " the friendliest and most outgoing member of our team" might be part of the problem. As a quiet soul, I don't want an IT person to be my friend, I just want them to get on with fixing my problem so I can stop talking & get back to my computer. So you are probably dead on track suggesting Rick strive to be brief and professional with Joel (and maybe others if he picks up they are not responding to his chit-chat) – Dragonel Apr 6 '18 at 16:12
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    Honestly, this is top notch. This is really an example of excellent management, congratulations. – WoJ Apr 6 '18 at 20:00
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    @Lumberjack A heartfelt 'well done' from me too. Great management of what could have dissolved into something quite ugly but thanks to you turned into a beautiful little workplace story. Excellent job! – Sentinel Apr 6 '18 at 22:57
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    +1 and not having read every word of every answer, I haven't yet seen anyone comment re: support people need to be trained to deal with different personalities. I used to work for Apple, they have faults but generally great support and training. They started (around 2015-6?) to train their tech support advisors about four different personalities. I forget the details, basically one type of customer was the people who want to chat, another type wants to be in control. Another wants the support person in control of the interaction. Sounds like Rick needs to be aware of this. – JimLohse Apr 7 '18 at 19:47
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    @user568458 the meeting with Rick went very well. I learned that Rick has a bad habit of entering his tickets after he is finished with the call. We talked about how this case was a perfect example of why you need to enter your tickets at the start of the call. We also talked about about Rick's future interactions with Joel, and set a follow-up date to meet again. – Lumberjack Apr 8 '18 at 11:19
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This is about Rick. Sit down in person with Joel, in a private space, and get him to share, objectively, his experiences with Rick. Rick may be cordial and open with you and his teammates, but presenting differently to callers. Joel may be the one person to mention it to you, out of many who are also affected.

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    This. If a senior admin openly tells you that Rick is essentially clueless and obstructionist (overbearing to talk to) then your main aim as a helpdesk supervisor is to remove Joel's obstacle with Rick. For example, rotate Rick out to Joel's team on a part time basis, to clue him up, or have the pex route incoming Joel calls to anyone else but Rick on helpdesk etc etc – Sentinel Apr 5 '18 at 20:41
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    Thank you CCTO. I agree that it is important to focus on the Rick side of the equation. – Lumberjack Apr 6 '18 at 13:35
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    @Lumberjack I may be jumping to conclusions here but the combination of "overbearing" and "friendliest" make me think that Rick is someone who likes to chit-chat and Joel is someone who simply wants to get down to business. Is it possible that Joel is calling for a 2 minute issue but Rick wants a 10+ minute "How's everything going?" conversation? These complaints are hard to make because making them directly just makes you look like a jerk which may be why Rick is being vague as to his complaint about Joel. – Dean MacGregor Apr 6 '18 at 14:42
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    Spot on @DeanMacGregor. That was exactly what Joel meant when he called Rick "overbearing." – Lumberjack Apr 6 '18 at 14:46
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    @Lumberjack yeah, I'm definitely a "Joel" so the story was all too familiar. – Dean MacGregor Apr 6 '18 at 14:59
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There might be one meta-point raised by Joel's complaint - the same helpdesk system is helping users of wildly different skillsets, and as you mention, with very different classes of issues. This might not be the best of things. The helpdesk handlers need to adjust their interaction to the technical level of the person they're talking to, and that might be hard to do for some of them. It might be worthwhile to have several levels of helpdesk support. So somebody calling about a strange pop-up can go to one place and somebody calling about the VPN not working from their FreeBSD machine can go to another.

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    Oh I made my comment above on this answer before reading your answer, good point! In addition I would add in the personality differences on top of technical differences, people at the same technical level still maintain different personalities: controlling vs. willing to be led. My favorites are those who are PhD or some other highly technical skill who assume that specialization extends to areas where they are ignorant. That's the hardest one to deal with (I am probably one of those LOL) – JimLohse Apr 7 '18 at 19:50
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Remind him of the procedure. If word got out that Joel had a more direct line of help than the usual 'Helpdesk', everyone may start asking why they don't have that too, and the situation just gets worse for everyone involved.

If Joel calls or asks for you again, before even hearing his problem, simply reiterate that we have a helpdesk line for his issues. Without mentioning Rick, explain that you have this procedure in place so that there are no personal dependencies (what if you called in sick, is Joel then twiddling his thumbs until you recover?) and that it allows for helpdesk issues to be more effectively logged and prioritised. This would be the fair and professional way to handle it.

If Joel brings it up again, you will have to remind him that you cannot prevent one of your team members from taking calls without a more substantial reason. If Joel has a problem with Rick, he must file a formal complaint. In the meantime, you cannot violate your own team's rules because of a personal issue ('nothing personal' doesn't mean much here!). By doing this you have held to your team's practices and you are not singling Rick out. From how you have described Rick, it is possible Rick does not know about the dislike placed on him.

If Joel continues to persist then it's best not to let Joel's habits continue, definitely bring it to your manager's attention. Maybe Joel is unofficially treated as a special case. Chances are he too will be displeased for the same reasons.

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I would handle it this way. First I would do something similar to other answers and work with Joel to help Rick do his job better. It is not a slight to say someone is good but can get better, even if it means 'how to deal with difficult helpees'.

Most importantly and what I dont see in other answers is that if you cannot quickly resolve the Joel / Rick issue then talk to your 'boss'. Let him know your policies and that with the way you run the department, Joel is an edge case and is causing you to be less productive. Ask your boss if you should do things differently and most likely your boss will say that you are doing what you should and that he will speak with Joel or his boss to get Joel to follow company policies and procedures.

  • I think this is in the right direction, but the talk to your boss bit will likely backfire. Joel is being pretty straight with Lumberjack and is basically saying "I am making this your problem" . He knows full well that if this escalates lumberjack looks like a sucker for not addressing a customer satisfaction issue without running to daddie – Sentinel Apr 5 '18 at 20:49
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I would suggest you should try to accomplish several goals:

  • Remind Joel of policy and procedure
  • Give Joel the reasons why the system works this way (continuous improvement, proper records management, etc)
  • Suggest that you'd rather resolve any problems with the process or people than gloss over or hide them
  • Make sure everyone is receiving the same level of service and care

By combining these together you should be able to convince Joel that it's in the company's best interest to use the proper channels.

I understand you are happier with my assistance, but due to my workload I can only assist my direct reports, I cannot handle their work for them. Further, by having them handle everything we keep more accurate records, we obtain process improvements as repeated issues are reported, and we ensure everyone is receiving the same high level of assistance by providing knowledge continuity.

Therefore please address further service requests to -assignee or ticket system or email box-.

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I’ve faced the exact same situation. The way I solved it was to say, if you call the help desk we will track your issue to completion — I will guarantee you a response within X hours and a resolution in X hours or days (as per our published SLA) — I guarantee your request won’t get lost, and if the person who’s working on it goes out sick or on vacation, I guarantee you someone else will carry the case forward until it’s resolved. But if you don’t call the help desk, I don’t guarantee anything. If you don’t call the help desk and then you want to complain that your case wasn’t handled correctly or quickly enough, I’m not going to listen. The help desk is how we do support. If you don’t use it, you won’t get professional-grade support.

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Be soft on the person, but hard on the issue. It's always a good idea to treat him as kindly as you would treat somebody you don't know at all. And it seems you are not so familiar with him to call him a friend, so there seems no place for complete honesty.

So confirming to him that you trust in your team that his concern will not get swept under the rug seems like a good idea. Avoid any impression that you will take care of the matter personally, beyond checking that his ticket will be scheduled correctly. If you offer any priviledges, you might raise in him the suspicion that other people get elevated privileges too, which eventually could escalate the situation.

After all, let's not forget that this is all well on the way towards a corrupt transaction. Maybe he's trying to trade personal relations or even coercion in exchange with privileges.

People may try that because they don't understand that resources are limited. However they will usually understand pretty quickly when their own effort is futile and costs them more than they expect as a return.

By staying friendly and professional you can also avoid any sign of you having figured out their unfair game, and keeps them from scheming intrigues, which people of that kind will sometimes do in response to disappointment.

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    This assumes Joel is the issue. What it looks to me like is that Joel is both sharp and experienced and is in the process of managing Lumberjack to fix his broken helpdesk – Sentinel Apr 5 '18 at 20:46
  • @Sentinel: that may be the case. As well as the fact that Lumberjack and Joel may learn. As well as the fact that pecking order may change over time. The good thing is that there are some recipes that work irrespective of wether you're an idiot or you're smart (because normally you don't know for sure which is true). I have experienced that this is often connected with letting people with too much energy exhaust themselves. – oliver Apr 6 '18 at 15:19
  • Interesting.......... – Sentinel Apr 6 '18 at 21:59
  • As I said before: ...work irrespective of whether you're an idiot or you're smart... ;-) – oliver Apr 7 '18 at 5:03
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Have a internal web page /portal where users can enter an ticket. yes the mouse is broken , your team can quickly provide it. The program don't do xyz , then then you delegate who it goes to does it need level 2 help desk or level 3 vendor ticket. You don't have others manager , delegate or marginalize your staff. If you don't have them follow a protocol then when someone is PTO, they are out of luck getting help because they LEFT a message on their preferred person or sent an email only to that person and goes unlooked at for week or so. Stick to guidlines, don't jump thru hoops for others then ignore others , this will confuse your staff.

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If possible, make it clear that you delegated authority on the subjects that Joel's calls are typically about.

"I have left subsystem XYZ, which you are asking about, in the hands of subordinates ABC and DEF because I trust them to run it right. I do not regularly keep tabs on HOW they are running it, and if I answer your question on it, I might very well give you outdated information, which could be downright wrong, will not solve your problem, and might go against decisions ABC and DEF made. I am their superior, but I do not NEED to know these details about XYZ because I am NOT using it, YOU are, and THEY maintain it."

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I had this problem from the other direction - all support I was responsible for was requested and delivered personally.

However, I was asked to use the help desk system, even if I would still be providing the same support, as it allowed for proper accounting for the cost of support, as well as tracking of issue resolution.

By bypassing the help desk, that accountability is lost. My instructions were to direct any requests for support made to me personally to the help desk system, since unless a request was made that way, I was not permitted to work on it.

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It's important that Joel's requests start at the Helpdesk, obviously. But you can't afford to be unhelpful with Joel. I've dealt with this problem many times before, and I find the simplest way is essentially this.

Hi Joel,

Thanks for your request. I've forwarded it to the Helpdesk, so that they can log it, prioritise it, and find the appropriate person to work on it.

You might find that your requests will get handled more quickly if you contact the Helpdesk directly. Their phone number is ------ and their email address is ------.

Best wishes,

Lumberjack

Do this as many times as it takes. If he gets upset about it, point out to him that

  • this is what your job requires you to do,
  • all requests to your department have to be logged and prioritised,
  • to ensure fairness to other clients, you are not permitted to work on anything that has not been through these steps.

Remain polite throughout. But do not budge. No matter what you do, do not fulfil his request until the Helpdesk assign it to you. Sooner or later, he'll start using the Helpdesk himself.

Oh, and ignore all the nonsense about Rick. It doesn't deserve your time, unless Joel makes a formal complaint about Rick.

protected by mcknz Aug 24 at 3:42

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