I've worked at a helpdesk some years back so let me give you the perspective from there.
People run into trouble at all times of day, but of course there are peak hours. Also, people have times they prefer to make calls. The helpdesk would be manned from about 7:30 but we'd start to get a lot of calls between 9:00 and 10:00 when people arrive at the office:
- I can't log into my computer.
- I got this weird email last night and I need help with it.
- A colleague mailed me to put in a request for X.
Some problems are more urgent than others. Not so urgent:
- I'd like to request some information about what kind of blog software is available to departments.
- I'd like to trade in my company laptop for a newer model.
Others are more urgent:
- A new student has trouble logging in for the first time. (The web page where they need to enter credentials is confusing. This happens multiple times per day. Usually it's their mother calling.)
- The printer at our department isn't working.
- None of the printers in the entire building are working.
- It's 15:00 on Friday and we just noticed a software licence has expired that 400 people will need for a class on Monday morning.
- Internet access to our building was accidentally cut off.
- The university president was forced to move to a different office due to student protests and needs the phone line rerouted.
- A professor lost a piece of critical research data and needs a backup restored immediately or the project may fail.
All of these have happened to us in the space of a few months. A helpdesk needs to *triage** incoming requests. They usually do this with a simple formula: number of people affected X how blocking it is. A tech problem that mildly inconveniences everyone at the company may outrank one that totally blocks one low-level employee from working. Both of them go to the backburner for something that stops an entire department (like when Accounting can't print during tax reporting season).
A helpdesk in a serious company typically has a Service Level Agreement, stating how fast action must be taken on an issue of a particular urgency. For example:
- All emails sent to the helpdesk must be at least acknowledged within 4 business hours.
- All phonecalls must be picked up within 1 minute.
- Any issue with priority one (nobody can work) must be resolved in 2 hours. (Any hours, not just business hours.)
- Any issue with lowest priority (one person is mildly inconvenienced) must be solved within 30 business days.
That's quite a scale. In theory it treats all employees equally; in practice VIPs get a priority bump of course.
You'll also notice that phone calls have to be picked up pretty fast, while email handling takes longer. And the helpdesk always tells you to send an email or make a ticket. This allows them to control the timetable so that they can work on the most urgent thing.
General techniques for getting fast service:
- Have all information that they'll need. Screenshots, ticket numbers, precise wording of error messages.
- Make it clear how urgent your problem is. If it stops you from doing any work, say so.
- Make it clear how many people are affected. If 30 people in your department can't go on until the helpdesk does the thing, that makes it a lot more urgent.
- Start by sending an email with all the information they'll need. Then after a reasonable amount of time (a few minutes for anything that's really on fire, otherwise about 30 minutes) call them to politely inquire.
EDIT: as Peter mentioned, I didn't explain why it's escalation.
The helpdesk prioritizes tasks, to ensure the most urgent ones are handled first. They have a Service Level Agreement with the rest of the company that lays down how this should be done. As a consequence, your request may not be on the top of the pile.
By CCing the manager, you're essentially trying to jump the queue.
It's sometimes appropriate to put extra pressure on the helpdesk, for example if your request seems to be ignored or is taking "too long". Sometimes things fall through the cracks, and sometimes the helpdesk makes a mistake triaging the urgency of your request ("affects only this user" vs. "whole department waiting on this person to get something done").
What's bad is if you start pressuring them unreasonably soon. If the SLA says they must acknowledge an email in 4 business hours, then contacting the manager in half an hour is not okay.
I don't think you're entirely in the wrong here though: you mentioned that you phoned them and they didn't answer. Generally the SLA for picking up the phone is pretty strict, a minute or so at the most. If you don't get anyone on the phone in ten minutes there's either a massive emergency or they did something wrong (monday morning staff meeting and forgot to tell people the helpdesk would be back at 11AM). The smart thing for them to do then is to put on a tape telling callers when the helpdesk will be back.