6 Steps to Implement a Virtual Help Desk During a Crisis
During a time of crisis, rallying your employees around a central communication source like a Virtual Help Desk will help your employees stay informed, reassured, and free to ask questions. Even when information is pushed through other channels like email, the Help Desk is where employees can find, review, and engage with official communications at any time and from any location.
A Virtual Help Desk creates visibility for your leadership to gauge how their employees are feeling and what questions are top of mind. At the same time, creating a transparent, searchable platform will deliver cost savings through the reduction of duplicate questions that consume valuable time and resources of your support team.
Setting up an environment to act as the gateway to communication is only one step of the process. Making sure you have the structure and governance in place will help your organization respond swiftly and with the best information available.
Steps for structuring your Help Desk community include:
- Establish a virtual environment or digital workplace
- Identify ownership
- Build a network of subject matter experts
- Implement an internal SLA and escalation process
- Track answered and unanswered questions
- Create an editorial calendar for proactive communications
1. Set up a virtual environment to reach employee
In a crisis, setting up a Virtual Help Desk will allow employees to ask questions, share information, and receive critical updates. It is important to choose one source to control the flow of information from the company to employees, and from employees to the company, to ensure accurate information and reduce the risk of missed communication.
To set up a Virtual Help Desk, you will need to have access to a platform that supports official communications, allows employees to post and browse questions, and has a mobile app for access on-the-go. If you have an existing intranet like LumApps, a Virtual Help Desk can be set up within minutes to rally your globally dispersed employees around one central location.
2. Identify ownership for your Virtual Help Desk
To ensure smooth operations, you need to assign an owner or a small group of individuals to monitor activity, respond to questions, and alert the right subject matter expert (SME) to specific questions.
The owner(s) do not have to be subject matter experts but must be able to triage with SMEs to obtain answers quickly and efficiently. This is why a responsibility matrix, discussed below in Step 3, helps the owner provide the best online crisis support.
There are situations where finding an owner can be difficult, and some organizations choose to implement a help desk without assigning ownership. However, just like you would staff a physical information desk to help direct visitors, answer questions, and provide customized solutions, we strongly recommend that your virtual desk also have a point of contact or small team assigned.
Moving forward without an owner exposes your company to a number of issues, including misinformation (by employees who respond to questions without authority), and growing an environment of mistrust (a Online Help Desk has been set up, but no one is answering questions).
3. Build a network of experts for the Help Desk
Supporting and responding to questions is complex when there are many types of questions impacting your employees, depending on their geographical location, job function, personal concerns, and work environment.
To build a responsibility matrix, create a list of contacts within the company and types of questions they will be able to answer to help speed up responses and the retrieval of accurate information. Instead of creating a bottleneck with a single owner, the responsibility matrix allows you to tap into the entire network of your company and build out a support team.
The key for building a responsibility matrix is ensuring that you identify a specific person to be the point of contact for a specific list of questions. If you simply put “HR”, you may have trouble finding someone willing to respond. By identifying a specific person, you can better assign and follow up on unanswered questions. If your SME doesn’t have the answer, they should know the person within their department who has the answer. Make sure to document who will be responsible for responding to the question, whether it be the SME or the Online Help Desk owner answering on behalf of the subject matter expert.
Some example contacts and types of questions you might find in a responsibility matrix include:
- A contact from HR to answer questions about sick leave and work from home policies
- A contact from Communications for how our organization is responding to customers
- A contact from Leadership for how our organization is impacted
- A contact from Finance to address questions about work-travel cancellations
- A contact from each line of business for their respective business-specific questions
Throughout the crisis, your responsibility matrix may grow, or contacts may change, but it is important to start with a responsibility matrix to answer questions as quickly and accurately as possible.
4. Implement an internal Service Level Agreement (SLA) and escalation process
During a crisis, day-to-day life can become hectic and to-do items get pushed further down the list with every new urgent task. Creating deadlines and holding your SMEs accountable for getting questions answered in your Help Desk will go a long way to foster trust and openness with your employees. On the other hand, the risk of letting questions from employees sit unanswered for days, weeks, or indefinitely can lead to employees fearing the worst or feeling unheard.
Another benefit of getting questions answered quickly – whether to let the employee know you are looking into it, or you do not have a response at this time – is reducing duplicate questions. In the long-run, your virtual Help Desk owner and SMEs will find themselves spending less time answering questions as employees are able to search and find the answers to their questions directly at the Online Help Desk.
To create an internal SLA, set a target response time for each question (24 hours, 2 business days, etc.). You may even want to set a response time for acknowledging the question, and a second deadline for getting the answer responded.
An escalation process will help build accountability and enforce your internal SLA. Approach stakeholders and managers for each of your subject matter experts to explain the internal SLA process and set expectations. You may end up with a few levels of escalation, all the way to leadership.
5. Create a process to track unanswered questions
Once you have set up your virtual Help Desk, established a response network, and committed to response times, you need to make sure questions don’t get buried or forgotten, which provides a poor experience for your employe
There are a number of different ways to track questions, but the key components to include are when the question was asked, who is responsible for answering the question and whether the question has been answered.
Here are a few options for tracking questions:
- (Medium effort) In a private community on your intranet for your subject matter experts where you can @mention owners and mark answers as correct.
- (High effort) A spreadsheet to assign ownership and track whether the question has been answered
- (Low effort) Filtering answered and unanswered questions in your Online Help Desk to see what questions are still pending responses.
Regardless of which option you choose, it’s important to keep track of all questions and use your responsibility matrix and internal SLA process to make sure all questions get answered in a timely manner.
6. Be proactive with an editorial calendar
Your Online Help Desk should be fully integrated and act as an extension of your communications team throughout the crisis. While setting up a virtual Help Desk is the first step towards better support and crisis management, being strategic about communications is what builds value for your employees to get the most out of your platform. Building an editorial calendar will help turn your crisis communications from reactive to proactive.
Brainstorming topics that you anticipate will be asked can help you prepare and get in front of questions from employees. Communications including “How does this impact me as an employee?” “How does this impact my office?” “How does this impact my work travel?” will reassure employees and provide them a place to ask follow up questions in your Virtual Help Desk.
Using an Online Help Desk to streamline information, communication, and questions can provide long term benefits and cost savings to your entire organization. It becomes a valuable knowledge base that not only helps you manage a crisis, but allows a reflective view in the future to see what went well and what could have been better in order to prepare for any crisis moving forward. Going through each step to build, organize and set up processes to handle communication and questions for your employees during a crisis will go a long way in unifying your organization through any big change.