May 19 2008

Help-Desk Quick Fixes

Five ways to sharpen your tech-support operation.

    Fix 1: Dig deep to recover lost files.

    Start by knowing your temp directories. Compile a list of your company’s productivity software and the location of its temp directories and disseminate the lists to support personnel. In many cases, auto-saves or earlier drafts can be restored so that all is not lost.

    If a user simply misplaced the file, ask him when it was modified or which part of the file’s name was changed. Then search the computer using the information you have and wildcards for what you do not. In some situations, users may have forgotten that they recently sent or originally received the lost file through their e-mail client.

    Benefit: Gets people back to work in short order.

    Fix 2: Make password resets painless.

    Look at your existing password policies and consider striking a more realistic balance between security and convenience. Weigh the risks of reducing mandated high-strength passwords or reset intervals against the benefits of resetting fewer lost passwords and receiving fewer calls after a mandatory password reset. If you have a small business, you can usually get away with a little more leniency than if you were securing a military network.

    Also, consider granting your front-line help-desk personnel authority to reset user passwords. Ten years ago, it was not unheard of for an IT department to dispatch administrators to perform administrative tasks. But given the flexibility of granting administrative rights and the real-time needs of today’s users, many companies see the benefit of delegating specific administrative tasks to the technicians who are requesting them most often.

    Benefit: Puts users in control; they’ll feel less embarrassed about losing a password.

    Fix 3: Diagnose wireless issues in seconds.

    If a mobile user calls in and claims that he cannot connect at a hotel, airport or other public access point, start troubleshooting by asking if he has tried launching his browser. In many cases, the only task preventing users from finalizing a connection and obtaining access is simply loading the default provider home page and checking the acceptable use agreement that many hot spots present before allowing users out to the Internet.

    Another quick fix is to have the user simply pull up his wireless utility and relay the available status information to you over the phone. Almost every wireless utility features a status screen, which in many cases can provide a short summary (for example, “Hardware Radio Off” or “Software Radio Off”). By gleaning these phrases, many times the user will hand you the solution to his problem and, better yet, pick up on how to troubleshoot it for himself the next time.

    Benefit: Saves support personnel from potentially long calls.

  • Fix 4: Keep printer repairs quick.

    If a user is unable to print, have him check to see if there are any indicator lights denoting a physical problem with the printer, such as being out of paper or low on ink. If communication appears to be the problem, simply unplugging the USB cable and plugging it back in can force a renegotiation with the computer. Finally, if the first round of troubleshooting doesn’t work and rebooting has not fixed the issue, uninstall and reinstall the printer driver. While not always a quick process, it eliminates just about every other variable.

    Benefit: Lets the help desk focus on more important problems.

  • Fix 5: Stay ahead of home-network issues.

    There are some easy ways to keep remote users online. First, automate IP address refreshes. If users commonly return to their home network and can’t get on because they still have the IP address from the hotel they stayed at, write a simple batch file to release IP addresses on all adapters and then renew only one specific adapter. Then, create a desktop shortcut to it and require users to run it before calling the help desk.

    Next, if users have trouble with their VPN clients picking the wrong adapter to tunnel through, consider manually assigning the outbound interface. It’s possible to force a VPN client to use a specific adapter when it gets “confused” by opening a “properties” dialogue and making the change there. Document this and train your users.

    Benefit: Offers more consistent connectivity for remote users.

What are the top three issues that your help desk receives the most calls about?

1 Printing issues

2 Password recoveries/resets

3 Lost/deleted file recovery

Source: CDW poll of 290 BizTech readers

Jason Holbert is a Tier II desktop support technician at Harcros Chemicals, a chemical distributor in Kansas City, Kan.