Interview with Phil Gerbyshak

A while back, you’ll recall that Phil did an interview with me about working at the help desk. Since he’s a help desk manager, I thought it would be interesting to get some input from him about the management side of things. He was kind enough to take the time and respond to my questions, which I am posting below.

BTW, you can learn more about Phil at his blog, Make it Great, where you can also find links to purchase his book, 10 Ways to Make it Great. He also wanted me to let folks know that he will be speaking at the upcoming Help Desk Institute’s Annual Conference, so if you’re attending, be sure to look him up and say hi!

Q: Tell me a little bit about how you became a help desk manager, how
you got started in IT, how you developed into a manager, and anything
else about Phil that relates.

A: I started out as a tech support guy in the Navy, way back in 1992. When I got out of the Navy in 1996, I wanted nothing to do with computers, so I went to school to be a teacher. While at college, I started designing websites and teaching people how to use the programs on their computer. I dropped out of college and went to work at a local ISP as a tech support specialist, taking many calls from people using our dial up ISP, so I learned fast how to troubleshoot things, how to say the same things 50 ways, and how to think on my feet. Eventually I moved to a help desk, offering internal tech support assistance. When my manager decided he loved the Marine Corps more than he loved his job, I was promoted to manager.

Q. Tell us a little something about the help desk you manage, how many people you manage, what kind of support they’re giving.

A: We are an internal and external support team, supporting 2200+ internal associates, and all of our external clients (77000 are signed up for online access, with more signing up every day). We have 7 people plus me on the help desk, and we answer all sorts of questions, from hardware problems, to how to use the Microsoft Office suite to how to use a financial planning system, and everywhere in between. We close between 80 and 85 percent of all calls into the IT department, and we use the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) model for IT, so all calls and e-mails come through us.

Q. How do you measure success? How do you identify your top
performers, and how do you reward them?

A: Success is a measure of quality, and how satisfied our clients are with the service we provide. We focus on fixing the customer just as much as we focus on fixing the person. We measure this by the amount of positive e-mail responses we get back, how many “blue chips” (we’re a financial services company, so these are our internal gratitude notes) one receives, how the rest of the team perceives your value with an associate of the month program, and also with the Big FISH! program, where others in IT can nominate someone to receive an award for displaying the FISH! philosophy traits.

We reward folks monthly with an associate of the month award, which is nominated by others on the Desk, monthly with a big FISH! award, nominated by others in IT, quarterly with a quarterly associate of the month award as determined by overall quality, and annually with a merit raise and merit bonus. These are our team measures of success.

From external clients, we get blue chips awarded monthly, and annually the top 2% of blue chip winners get recognized firm-wide with a trophy and a nice gift.

Q. What kind of qualities do you look for in new hires? In potential managers/supervisors?

A: In new hires, I look first for attitude. Is this person willing and able to work with people who may be less tech savvy than they are, and are they willing to do so without talking down to them.

Next, I look for demonstrated excellence. Has someone been associate of the month/quarter/year somewhere else. Have they made the Dean’s list at college. Do they have e-mails from clients that state what a great job they’ve done.

I also look for communication skills. Can you communicate verbally and written, with me, and with customers. I ask folks to demonstrate their communication skills by walking me through something complex, and I evaluate their step by step communication abilities, as well as their temperament, because they need to be patient on the phone.

Technical aptitude is important too, but this is really a given. If someone gets past our recruiters, they have some experience on a Help Desk or in customer serivce. We can gauge this by certifications, degrees, and past experiences. I’ll dig on this a bit, but the first 3 are FAR more important than the last one.

I don’t hire managers or supervisors, so it’s tough to answer this question. I think the answer to your next question will help you with finding out the qualities I think are necessary for management.

Q. What’s the one biggest difference between working in IT, and being a manager?

A: Working in IT is a lot of troubleshooting, a lot of break/fix, and a lot of the same types of problems, every day. Basically, you get password resets, how-to questions, break/fix, and a few where you need to do a deep dive to find the answer. Granted, the how-to questions are not the same, and the people are different and respond differently every day, so there’s plenty of opportunity for new learning.

As a manager, it’s almost all deep dive into items, working with people to help them find fulfillment in solving problems. As a manager, I am responsible for many of the processes we use to solve things, or at least to find one way of doing things. I don’t dictate anything, I suggest things as a possible solution, with the rare exception of policies that must be followed for the good of the team and the good of the firm. That’s the management part.

I’m also a coach, working with my team to develop them as people, and to help them leverage their unique strengths the best way possible. Some folks are much more process driven, so I put them on documentation projects. Some like to see a finished product, so I put them on reporting projects. Some are people folks, so I have them do the tougher client call backs. Knowing and utilizing these strengths is a big part of what I do every day. I also take time to help my team write out their goals, what’s important to them, where they want to be at the end of this year, 3 years, 5 years, or however far out they want to look, and help them find the intermediate steps necessary to get there. I often need to look at projects and how I can plug them into projects in meaningful ways.

The last part of my job as a manager is sales and PR. In projects, I am constantly selling the value of our team, and in how important it is that folks get us the documentation early so we can start testing an application before it goes firm-wide. I stress how important it is that we get all the documentation, that we get our Fact Sheet filled out so when people call about things, we can at least answer the basic questions. And the PR part is done when I handle escalatations, or I go to events, or I sit in projects, and people ask us what we do and how we do it, and I explain it in a way that helps them know why we’re a key part of the entire process.

Q. Anything else that I’m missing? Any parting words of advice for those of us working the help desk in furthering our careers?

A: Don’t be afraid to fail. Wayne Gretsky said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and on the Help Desk, you get the chance to take a LOT of shots. Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you, and learn from your mistakes.

Never stop learning, about yourself, about the business, about your customers, about yourself. Ask what’s needed, and do it, and MORE. Technology changes, people changes, you change. Focus on learning as much about everything as you can, and you’ll be invaluable to your firm. Many folks remember the technology side, but knowing the business is just as, and in many cases MORE important, than the tech side. As a Help Desk professional, if you’re not an integral part of the business, you could get outsourced.

Don’t take anything personally. People get frustrated with the technology because they don’t understand it, and they take it out on you. Don’t take it personally, because 99% of the time, they aren’t mad at you.

Lastly, smile. All the time. Because there is no better feeling than knowing you helped someone get what they needed done, just in in the nick of time. You are more valuable than you’ll ever know, so smile and know that.

Thanks Phil. I appreciate the insight you’ve provided in these answers. I’ll have some more to say about them in future posts this week, but for now, let’s hear your thoughts? What do you think about help desk management?

Tags: HelpDesk, PhilGerbyshak, Interview, HeldeskManagement
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