Service desk is a one-stop resource for tech help
It’s 7 a.m., and after an eight-hour shift answering middle-of-the-night technology support calls and emails at Penn State’s IT Service Desk, Jessica Henry is about to head home. Before she leaves her post, she touches base with Chris Hirsh who has just arrived for the day about the goings-on of the night: A printing issue in Pollock Lab was resolved around 5 a.m. and the queue of pending help requests has been whittled down to about 30.
Hirsh, who has worked at the IT Service Desk in Information Technology Services (ITS) for five years, starts his morning by mixing himself a bright pink glass of caffeinated Crystal Light.
“I do community theater in my spare time, and like many theater people, I don’t consider myself to be a morning person, so this extra jolt of caffeine helps get me going on these early mornings,” joked Hirsh, a learning management system (LMS) support lead at the IT Service Desk. “No two shifts are ever alike, but in between meetings and training I’ll respond to help requests and focus on any priority issues that arise with Canvas and ANGEL.”
Hirsh is just one of the 20 students and full-time staff members who spend their days (and nights) helping Penn State community members from every campus location who call, email or drop by the service desk with technology-related questions. With two University Park locations — a sun-filled call center in Wagner Building and a walk-up help desk in the Knowledge Commons in Pattee Library — the service desk responds to up to 600 requests per day on their busiest days.
“We’re here to help 24/7, every day, except for University holidays,” said Ryan Wellar, operations manager for the IT Service Desk. “In addition to providing assistance to about 100,000 students, faculty, staff members and retirees who have questions about technology and IT tools, we’re also on the frontlines helping to support Penn Staters as they transition to using new IT services.”
Wellar says the majority of questions his team fielded this spring were related to the University-wide rollouts of Canvas, LionPATH and two-factor authentication (2FA).
“For the most part, people reach out to us when they’re having an issue, and our main goal is to help them quickly resolve the problem without it affecting their work — whether it’s enrolling in or using 2FA for the first time or resetting their Access Account password,” Hirsh said. “I love translating technical information into everyday language, so if I can also turn a quick fix into a learning opportunity, then that’s a plus.”
While Hirsh enjoys the personal connections that come with helping customers over the phone and in person (sometimes people even recognize him from his roles in local theater productions), he says it’s not the only way to get in touch with the service desk. By logging in to the University’s new help request portal, students, faculty, staff and other Penn State community members can submit help requests, explore a list of IT services offered by Penn State and check the status of their questions all in one place.
“We’re working on enhancing our processes to make customers’ experiences getting help more streamlined and efficient, and the online form — which is the fastest way to get help — is part of these efforts,” Wellar said. “In the future, we’re also going to be offering an expanded library of self-help information and resources for people to work through common tech issues on their own. Of course this won’t work for every problem or question, so we’ll always be a phone call or email away.”
To manage the hundreds of incoming help requests the team receives each day, the service desk relies on an automatic call distribution software and a tool called ServiceNow. When a customer makes a request, ServiceNow turns it into a ticket that is automatically filtered into a dozen or so online service queues.
Service desk staff monitor these queues — and respond to customers — based on their areas of expertise and the online systems in which they have special access. For example, as an LMS pro, Hirsh typically sticks to offering support for Canvas, ANGEL and the Pollock Testing Center. However, during high-priority incidents (such as helping to reset Access Account passwords after cyberattacks on the College of Engineering and Liberal Arts) all hands are on deck.
In addition to full-timers, a team of student workers also plays a big role at the service desk.
“Since our full-time staff have responsibilities beyond customer service (such as creating educational materials), students have become the public face of the IT Service Desk and are often the first people you’ll come in contact with if you call or drop by,” Wellar said. “They’re a valuable asset, and the experience gives them the chance to pursue higher education while working and developing problem-solving and people skills they can take with them into future careers.”
Karan Kalaria, a senior who worked as an ITS lab consultant and lab supervisor before joining the service desk, answers calls and tickets about LionPATH, 2FA and various IT services on Tuesdays and Thursdays from his post in Wagner Building. Kalaria says the IT knowledge he’s amassed will be invaluable for his future career in accounting, but that it’s the people who have made his part-time job so rewarding.
“We’re a 24-hour help desk and the people here work day in, day out,” Kalaria said. “I want to be challenged every single day when I come into work and the colleagues and customers I’ve met have helped me grow on every level — not only as a team member and leader, but as a person.”
Whether he’s dedicating an hour on the phone to one person or responding to 40 tickets a day, Kalaria strives to turn often stressful situations into positive experiences for his customers.
“The advice I share most often is ‘change is the only permanent thing,’ and that’s especially true when it comes to technology.” he said. “Most people are usually so happy and appreciative when I fix an issue or talk them through a problem. And that makes me feel really good to know I helped someone.”