For several years now, industry futurists have been predicting the death of technical support as we know it. However, recent research by HDI shows that, to paraphrase author Mark Twain, reports of support’s death have been grossly exaggerated.
According to the 2015 HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report, demand for support—gauged by the number of tickets (cases) handled—is up in nearly two-thirds of support centers. This is the continuation of a trend we’ve seen for at least seven years: Each year, the number of tickets goes up. Some have speculated that this is due to the increase in automation, but only 16 percent of the tickets were generated without human intervention.
Hiring in the industry is healthy, with 28 percent of organizations (companies, universities, hospitals, etc.) creating and filling new positions, and another 51 percent filling positions as they become open. Only four percent of organizations are cutting staff.
Sought-after technical support skills
The top five skills support centers want are:
- Customer service skills
- Communication skills
- Ability to learn quickly
- Troubleshooting and problem-solving skills
- Ability to work under pressure
Frontline support analysts must be able to listen to and empathize with customers who have suffered an interruption or need a service as fast as possible; they must also be able to speak and write clearly, learn on-the-fly, solve problems, and do it all quickly, under pressure, in accordance with rules and guidance, and in conjunction with their teammates.
Customer service skills are more important now across the board—in part because consumer expectations are higher. Thanks to Google, Apple, and other companies that have mastered the user interface, customers—internal and external alike—think like consumers and expect simplicity, immediacy and ease of use. Internal support is no exception, because there is now competition where none existed before. Cloud technologies have made shadow IT (applications and services installed and used without the knowledge or approval of IT) more widespread, and the ability to put a cloud application or system to use immediately by entering a credit card number changes the role and mandate of service and support.
Almost two-thirds of those who work in technical support centers say they’re satisfied with their work, and an additional 15-20 percent say they’re very satisfied.
Among the factors contributing to a satisfied staff, relationships within the team was the most selected (72 percent), and management was the second most selected (65 percent). Compensation scored far lower, at 52 percent, and barely ahead of organizational culture (51 percent).
In previous research performed jointly with Robert Half Technology, we found that the most important elements of an organization’s culture—from a staff perspective—included opportunities to learn, access to training and development, work/life balance, attainable performance goals, and opportunities for advancement.
If you want to work in the field of technical support, you should concentrate not only on understanding the technical side, but on customer service and communication skills. If you do get to work in this field, chances are you’ll be a satisfied employee with a busy and challenging career ahead.
In a forthcoming Focus Paper, HDI Senior Writer/Analyst Roy Atkinson discusses results of recent research as it relates to the people in support. This post highlights a few of the topics in the paper.
Roy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for blogs, articles and white papers and is a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee. Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and local chapters. He has a background in service desk and desktop support, as well as small-business consulting. He studied Advanced Management Strategy at Tulane University’s Freeman Graduate School of Business, and holds HDI certifications as a Support Center Manager (HDI-SCM) and Knowledge-Centered Support Foundation (KCSF). Roy is on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.