Support roles are dynamic. No two days are the same. Your day-to-day tasks on an internal support team are entirely contingent on what everyone else is doing—and struggling to do.

Your fellow employees rely on you to get their own jobs done. The problems on the plates of your coworkers are your problems, too. You field questions that can’t wait for answers, handle problems that only you have the tools to resolve.

It’s a lot of pressure, so it takes a very particular set of qualities and skills to succeed in a support role. When hiring support staff—or working to improve the service you provide—use these 15 help desk skills to define stellar support in the workplace.

1. Empathy for coworkers and their concerns

One coworker is dealing with a tech issue that’s preventing him from finishing an important project. Another is struggling with newly implemented software, and a third doesn’t understand the specifics of a new IT policy.

To you, these issues may seem like minor annoyances. But what seems like a minor annoyance to one person may be a huge burden for someone else.

An empathetic support employee is reassuring. She doesn’t belittle coworkers or make them feel embarrassed for needing help. She expresses an understanding for coworkers’ problems, provides support and guidance, and leaves people feeling happy that they asked for help.

2. An approachable personality

It pays to be a people person in an internal support role. That doesn’t mean you have to sit at your desk and smile all week, but it does mean coworkers should feel comfortable coming to you with concerns.

The more approachable a company’s help desk staff, the more likely employees will come forward with problems before they snowball out of control.

3. Patience for problems, questions, and the unexpected

Patience isn’t just helpful for support staff; it’s crucial. You’re constantly being bombarded with questions—questions you’ve probably answered a million times before. And you’re dealing with people who are stressed and frustrated, so it’s important not to let their heightened emotional states impact your calm and collected approach to finding a resolution.

4. Active listening skills

Being a good listener is another crucial help desk skill. First, you need to fully understand the problem before you can solve it. Doing so requires that you take in and understand exactly what issue is being reported, what problems it’s causing, and how to help.

But it’s not enough for support personnel to be good listeners. They need to be active listeners.

There are two ways that people listen to others. The first is passively. When we listen to people passively, we’re already formulating a response in our heads. We’re not really focused on the substance of their messages.

On the flip side, active listening involves taking in every word, reflecting on what you’ve been told, and relaying it back to someone. This sort of listening results in meaningful dialogue and a complete understanding.

Whether it’s a call, face-to-face conversation, or service ticket, coworkers deserve the undivided attention of the help desk employees they’re working with.

5. Willingness to work as part of a team

Help desks are integral to the success of all departments. A willingness to work across teams not only makes your job easier, it also ensures that every department reaches its goals.

Team players thrive in help desk roles because they embrace collaboration, which results in more closed tickets and resolved issues.

6. Respect for coworkers’ time

According to Gallup, most employees don’t feel that their coworkers value their time. But valuing other people’s time is crucial for help desk employees because timing is everything.

Phenomenal support employees strive to be efficient not only for their own sake, but also because they value their coworkers’ time. Responding to a ticket in a timely manner signals respect and is a sign of proactive worker.

Being a help desk speedster isn’t a surefire sign of a great support, though.

“There is definitely a connection between quality and speed, in that quality service cannot be slow or inefficient,” notes HelpScout’s Gregory Ciotti. “However, correlation does not equal causation—just because service is fast doesn’t mean it is good, as it overlooks customers’ feelings on how well they were cared for.”

While timing matters, so does empathy.

7. A positive attitude

Some of your colleagues might feel embarrassed at the idea of approaching a help desk. They might even be afraid that their concerns will be met with apathy or annoyance.

Reassure your coworkers that it’s okay to bother you by responding to them positively. Just because something’s wrong with their equipment doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them.

8. Grace under pressure

The degree to which today’s workers are bogged down is staggering. According to the American Institute of Stress, 40% of workers cite their jobs as “extremely” stressful and 26% are on the verge of burnout.

And since help desks essentially absorb the problems of their coworkers, stress becomes a two-way street. Not are only are you worried about your own responsibilities, but also the stress of anyone who comes to you with an issue.

That’s why grace under pressure is among the most important help desk skills. A well-staffed help desk essentially works behind the scenes to make sure problems don’t spiral out of control.

9. The ability to juggle multiple tasks

Rarely do complaints, concerns, or tickets come one-at-a-time. And supporting other employees may not be your only responsibility. Many IT personnel not only provide support, they also perform evaluation, implementation, maintenance, and repair of technology infrastructure to keep their companies running smoothly.

Juggling your own responsibilities with your coworkers’ needs can be daunting, but it comes with the territory. The ability for support personnel to find a reasonable balance is essential.

10. Knowing how to prioritize

Not all workplace requests are created equal. From the number of people impacted by a problem to the severity of the issue itself, support employees must practice proper judgement when it comes to deciding which issues are critical and which can wait.

Prioritize tickets based on urgency and business impact.

11. Flawless communication

As part of a help desk, you’re expected to be accessible. How you respond to coworkers should not only reaffirm that you’ve heard their concerns, but also that you’ll also keep them in the loop regarding what happens next.

Help desk employees need to articulate the solution, provide expectations on how the problem will be handled, and let people know when to expect follow-up communications.

Clear communication skills make providing support easier and assure coworkers that they’re being taken care of.

12. Keen critical thinking and problem-solving

Sometimes, coworkers’ problems can be solved by following a script. You’ve seen the issue before. You know exactly how to fix it.

Other times, problems will be new, bizarre, or difficult to recreate. There may not be a pre-existing solution. In these situations, it’s crucial for support staff to be able to lean on their natural critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to provide the support coworkers need.

13. Attention to detail

As noted by Kent Blake, many IT help desks are plagued by an “obsession with zero.” Blake asserts that placing excessive emphasis on the metric of closed tickets, businesses put too much pressure on their IT staff. This results in tickets being prematurely closed and issues ultimately going unresolved.

“Don’t obsess over zero,” Blake notes. “Generally speaking, better productivity results from focusing on authentic, realistic metrics and recognizing your technicians for their achievements.”

Help desks should take a “quality over quantity” approach to addressing coworkers’ concerns. Give those concerns the attention they deserve rather than risk rushing them.

14. Decisiveness

Between support requests, meetings, and other responsibilities, time can be scarce. While support staff shouldn’t sacrifice the quality of their work for the sake of time, they should also strive for efficiency.

This means making decisions and sticking to them. Achieving this level of confidence might take some time, but it’s the sign of a true leader in the office.

15. Persistence to see a task through

A good support employee always sees their tasks through to the end.

This means not closing tickets until every aspect of a request is completed. This means not only resolving a problem, but also following up later to make sure the problem stayed resolved.

As part of a help desk, your role has a direct impact on how well others can do their jobs. The more invested you are in providing the best support possible, the more your company will benefit.

Building the skills that define exceptional support staff

Help desks are critical to making sure a company runs like a well-oiled machine. When your support roles are filled with people who have the skills outlined above, the entire company is set up for success.

And bear in mind that each of these skills can be learned and refined over time, too. Even if you haven’t mastered all of these skills already, it’s never too late to learn, grow, and improve.

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