How to Get the Most From Your Help Desk
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Ahhhh, the help desk.  Commoditized, under-recognized, often underappreciated – 
until there’s a crisis.  Then, they’re “first responders” – and your best hope – 
providing that you and your staff have prepared properly.

As someone who has operated a transaction processing help desk for two decades, 
my first suggestion is to keep readily available the manuals and quick reference guides 
you were provided.   Second,  fully train each new employee.  And re-train  when there’s 
an addition or change to processing procedures.  The core premise – the one that’s 
easiest to forget – is that credit card receipts are a cash equivalent.  Transactions in 
your PC or ECR are cash, and they need the same level of protection.  Actually, 
they need more.

The manager or store owner needs to understand the contract, and its operating 
procedures, which cover various kinds of mail orders,  phone orders, charge-backs 
and more.  Complete operating rules are in the contract, or in the manual.

Operating instructions and Quick Reference Guides (“QRGs”) are specific to your 
POS terminal and the applications it runs.  They’re written for the front line people, 
who need to know how to handle all transactions of telephone orders, returns, etc.   
Ignorance of the rules is no excuse, so do notpitch your manual!  The contract and 
operating manuals aren’t great reading, yet they are where legal responsibilities reside.  
Help desks are a rich source of how-to operational information, but can’t advise when 
the issue involves the fine points and legalities of your contract.

Once merchants have trained staff and kept them trained, the next priority is to 
have QRGs available for reference – segmented in logical order:  transaction, sale, 
credit, balance and settlement.  Then, the exceptions – mail order, returns, and debits 
with cash back, etc, followed by the “how to” reports.  Everything, keystroke by 
keystroke, is in that QRG.

We monitor the number of calls per customer on various subjects and regularly 
recommend when someone needs training on a particular issue   Training is 
Call CardWare.”  Although we are not contracted or compensated to do it, we 
often train.  This, despite the fact that training is always the salesperson’s 
responsibility.  The problem, of course, is that these folks often don’t know the 
systems well enough to train!  Only a tiny percent have any operational expertise 
beyond the first two steps.  Where this rubber hits this road, what you hear is a 
dull thud.  A credit or void is a no-brainer; the test is what does the merchant do when 
a terminal goes down, or otherwise stops functioning?   (Hint: “hello, help desk?”)

When you call a help desk, you’ll always be asked who you are and what equipment 
and software you’re calling about.  Some callers will have that information, yet many 
callers don’t, and cannot recite how they’re listed by the bank or ISO.  This prompts 
guessing games that waste everyone’s time.  Another critical prerequisite to start a 
help desk process is the merchant number.  Always have your current merchant 
number available before you pick up the phone.  20% of our call time is spent playing 
“guess who” so we can begin to assist – or refer you -  properly.

If help desks had one wish (they do) it’s this:  understand that you are the one who 
called for assistance.   So, please don’t argue, or jump ahead because you think you 
know what you’re doing.  We’ll repeat if we get ahead, but please let the proven 
protocols work.  Our process is time-proven and highly evolved to save you time 
and trouble.  Knowing if you’ve completed a particular step is critical to a successful 
outcome.   Correcting problems is a process that must be done in a specific sequence, 
or you’ll have to stop and go back to step 1 .

People call, and we’ll walk them through a troubleshooting protocol and a step-by-step 
corrective action.  Too often, people get to step 7 and become impatient, and get lost.  
Arrogance on top of impatience is a bad concoction.  Remember our expertise is highly 
specific to your issue.  Use it to your best advantage.

In the same vein, a plea.  Please don’t yell.  We didn’t cause your difficulty (honest.).  
There are certain things we’re responsible for, and many that are outside our scope 
of work. A transaction is a process comprised of components.  We are responsible for 
a specific set of them – others are responsible for different components.  We are not, 
for example, the party who put the dollars in the account and if there’s an incorrect 
linking between the merchant account and checking account,  we can’t correct 
this issue, no matter what.

There are, of course, various iterations of help desks, and understanding which to call 
saves time, too.  If it is a money issue, call the bank’s help desk.  Call the ISO only as 
a last resort;  a better bet is to call the company for whom they work.   We will always 
refer you to the bank or ISO when warranted.  We may send you to a processor if, 
for instance, we need to see where the money is going.

As the term suggests, we’re here to  . . . help.  We’re a knowledge tree.  We’ll ask you 
the right questions for resolution of your issue, and your responses help us fully 
comprehend the situation, so correct solutions can be rendered the first time.

Incidentally, If you call your help desk and hear, after just a few minutes, the phrase 
“try this and call us back
,” this is red flag.  It suggests, in the strongest terms, that 
your help desk is mostly helping itself, by bumping up its call volume.  Over time you 
will waste a great deal of time on repeat calls, and more listening to bad music.  
Find an ethical, knowledgeable help desk that can solve your issues promptly.

Clearly, the biggest factor in maximizing the value of your help desk is understanding 
the credit card part of your business.  Do what you can internally to train, and be 
prepared when you call.  Follow instructions and don’t short-circuit the process.  
We know you’re frustrated. No one ever called a help desk because they were 
delighted a transaction had gone so well. Work with us.

Similarly, if you encounter a situation not covered in the QRG or manual and we 
provide a solution, document it – and share it.  Try to avoid calling repeatedly over 
the same issue, and keep in mind that the single biggest cause of help desk calls is 
human error.  Someone has unplugged the unit.  The cleaning folks have bumped 
the connection.  There are times a processor is down and equipment fails,  but our 
statistics indicate that human issues are the cause 98% of the time,  1% is the 
processor, and 1% is hardware related.

Has someone pressed a key in a sequence and changed the hardware / software 
configuration?  It’s often something that straightforward – or more so.  Transactions 
not progressing?  (Do you have a dial tone?)  One caller claimed the terminal display 
kept reading “out of balance” despite the fact that he “had a book under one corner, 
and a matchbook under the other.” (I’m not sure there was a good answer here.)

Finally, understand that your terminal is a computer and needs essentially the same
environment you do - dust-free, cool, and free of spilled coffee and cockroaches.

Help desk personnel have a thankless job, with abundant stress, because they’re 
continuously dealing with angry people.  Get a reputation for being a bad boy caller 
and your results may not be as positive as you would like.

If you’re searching for a new help desk, keep in mind that the tools and personality 
traits of a customer service person on the issuing side are vastly different than on 
the acquiring side, where problems are inevitably more complex and involve higher 
dollar amounts.   You don’t rely on a general practitioner for heart surgery or heart 
surgeon for a head cold.  The principle is the same.

Of course, always interview references.  Ask for two - a former customer that quit 
them, or that they quit.  Was this a service problem or a difference in opinion?  
You, as a buyer of help desk services, will get a sense of their experience level based 
on call quality and call volume.  As a person looking for help, listen to incoming calls.  
Get beyond the “industry standards” to see how real calls are handled.   Spend a day 
monitoring the calls of a help desk you’re considering hiring.  If they’re credible, they 
won’t object.  You wouldn’t buy a $250K house without a thorough walk-through, 
yet companies buy help desk services at that level with sometimes only 
superficial examinations.

Our philosophy is: deliver a level of service you’d want yourself.  Understand that for 
that level, there’s a price. And it’s not the price of the “try this and call me back” crowd.  
The complexity of help desk calls has evolved with terminal capacity and sophistication:  
it’s no longer a single application terminal.  Today’s help desk calls involve more time 
and expertise, and the price matrix reflects this.   Getting the best value takes homework 
and evaluation, and ongoing communication with employees, but the reward is 
substantial savings in time, and hard dollars.

Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc, the parent company of 
CardWare International.  He is one of 12 founding members of the ETA, 
serving on its board, advisory board and committees.  (740) 522-2150.