5 tips for when one IT service desk agent outperforms the rest

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The IT service desk agent role can be seen as a tough job. Not only must agents deal with user issues and complaints on a daily basis, they also have to tackle large-ticket volumes and in the process: answer a busy phone line, manage an email inbox, monitor a self-service queue, and deal with queries over live chat.

There’s no denying that it can be a difficult role, but thankfully most who choose to enter the IT support industry will flourish if given enough guidance and training and the right working environment. Occasionally, though, you’ll find a true IT service desk gem, an agent that just gets it from the get go. They handle every challenge with ease, they’re constantly positive (despite the work context), and consistently exceed your expectations. These are the high achievers, the crème de la crème, and, when you find one, you sure won’t want to let them go (but, of course, you’ll cheerfully bid them a fond farewell when their career advances).

But, as good as these people are, they can be difficult to manage – because this type of service desk agent tends to get bored quickly, continually pushing for new tasks which, while admirable, isn’t always feasible on a busy IT service desk. 

They can, unfortunately, even damage team morale, because other agents can feel they aren’t good enough in comparison. Plus, there will always be employees who are happy to continue doing what they currently do and – as long as they meet your expectations – there’s no reason to push them further (and potentially stretch them further than they wish to be stretched).

So, what do you do when you have one IT service desk agent who continually outperforms the rest of the team? Here are five tips to help you out:

1. Set Your Performance Targets Wisely 

As an IT service desk manager, it’s likely that you’ll be setting targets both for your team and each individual service desk agent.

These targets should be designed to challenge each of your team members. And thus, getting this right can be tricky – set them too low and your agents might not need to put in much effort (and potentially coast along), too high and you run the risk of demotivating your team (because the targets are unrealistic).

So, use your top service desk agent’s performance scores to help set the standard, in that these are levels that can be achieved. But don’t make the targets unreachable for everyone else, with the middle ground being targets that everyone needs to work hard for.

Performance assessment/management doesn’t have to be boring for your agents either. Inject some fun into the role by encouraging some healthy team competition and potentially rewards. You can even use gamification tactics, based on improvement, to motivate your staff that give others the chance at hitting “the top spot.”

2. Provide Flexibility of Tasks 

To ensure that your service desk high achiever doesn’t get too bored, you can give them different tasks to deal with and also try giving them more responsibility. Perhaps you have escalations they could help out with or knowledge documentation that needs updating. So, find out what your agent enjoys doing and give them more work in that area whenever you can.

Not only does this keep your top performer engaged in their work, it will act as a motivator to other team members too when they see that exceptional work offers the potential for further career development.

3. Develop a Personal Improvement and Progress Planning Mechanism 

Having a formal skills matrix is a great idea for an IT service desk team. During your individual feedback sessions with your agents, you can discuss where they currently sit on the skills matrix and develop both short- and long-term plans to help them advance to the next level for each skill listed. This can, particularly for top performers, also include extended skills sets related to future IT support, IT, or wider-business roles.

Importantly, while your high achiever is probably going to be sitting at the top of the skills matrix across the board, it doesn’t mean that their development can’t continue. If anything, they will expect the opposite – a focus on how to make them even better than they currently are. So, spend time with them to find out more about their desired career path and what they need to progress with it.

The matrix should be a living document that changes with each individual, adding additional skills as experience grows and your agent seeks further development.

Finally, having a “bigger purpose” at work can be one of the biggest motivators for people in their current role (high achiever or not). So, use the skills matrix to set challenges and provide enhancement-based goals for all your staff. This will help to give them individual focus and is great to use if you find your staff wanting to formally compare themselves to each other.

4. Appreciate Them (and Regularly Demonstrate That Appreciation)

It might sound obvious, but this commonly doesn’t happen enough in the workplace. Or at least in a way that meets the desired outcomes. 

Managers can be too busy and simply forget to formally say “thank you” to their staff. But a little appreciation can go a long way. It shows your service desk agents that you recognize and appreciate the effort they go to at work.

As with the first tip around effective performance measurement, public praise can be helpful, whether it’s a thank you during a team meeting or a heads up to senior IT management highlighting the effort your high achiever (or “big improver”) puts in.

Show them that you care if you want them to stick around!

5. Use Constructive Criticism 

In my experience, the “high flyers” on the team want to be pushed. While praise is necessary, they also need to know which relevant areas they are weakest in and where they need to develop.

This type of feedback will help to push them (so that they don’t get bored), help to give them something to aim for (so that they continue to have a purpose in their role), and it will also help to keep them grounded (because it can be easy to get big headed when you’re constantly smashing targets and being praised by everyone around you).

Keeping your best agents happy while ensuring that team morale remains intact and daily tasks are managed and completed effectively is no easy task. With the right attitude and the right processes in place, though, you have the ability to form a stellar IT service desk team that will be set up to exceed customer expectations and happily meets its key performance indicators (KPIs) consistently.

Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid

Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pexels