virtual helpdesk

The idea of outsourcing or virtualizing non-core competencies is not a new phenomenon — but in many ways it is just starting to find its stride in the small business world. From virtual assistants to outsourced business processes, small business owners are finally sinking their teeth into what enterprise-level businesses have known for a while — virtual workers expand and improve their capabilities and productivity.

Determining which processes to outsource can be a bit daunting but many choose to start with already established virtual processes — one of which is the virtual help desk. With a strong presence in the virtual work environment, understanding the rise of the virtual help desk can help small business owners take advantage of these opportunities.

What is a virtual help desk anyway?

Virtual help desks can come in all shapes and sizes. One type can be an internal, company-owned help desk hosted through cloud-based call center software used by work-from-home call center agents with professional IT experience and knowledge. Another can be an entirely outsourced help desk owned by a third party provider with virtual agents worldwide in varied time zones and with expansive knowledge or language skill sets. Or it can be as simple as home-sourcing or rural-sourcing a few key IT representatives to function as virtual call center agents as needed.

Using call center software to help streamline and control the flow of virtual help desk inquiries, businesses can reduce the burden on their internal teams to manage incoming customer issues and lean on professional IT resources to take on most of the work. There are quite a few benefits to be gleaned from the virtual help desk — and a couple potential downsides to manage as well. But the rise of the virtual help desk is a clear indication that this particular virtualization is not only here to stay, it is growing in popularity every day.

How do I find virtual IT support?

One of the chief challenges in virtualizing IT help desk support for small businesses is finding and curating the right talent. In a virtual environment, this can seem a bit overwhelming as most SMBs don’t have any experience with interviewing and training virtual employees. But the cost savings from employing virtual call center agents alone is significant enough to encourage SMBs to learn to hire virtual help desk support.

Sites such as oDesk, Elance and Guru can help SMBs find individuals looking for work — and provide portfolios of previous work — but don’t always lead to a full-time, long-term hire. They may be good resource if you’re just starting out or looking to fill small gaps in your workforce.

Conversely, as IT professionals are becoming more accustomed to working in virtual environments, classic job hiring boards such as CareerBuilder and LinkedIn can be great sources for recruiting the best IT talent for your help desk. Make sure to include which call center software you’ll be using as part of the preferred knowledge skill set. Even if your perfect hire isn’t 100% familiar with it, they will have an opportunity to review it in advance for similarities with systems they are proficient in.

The benefits (and downsides) of the virtual help desk

Using a virtual help desk environment can help your small business in a lot of ways, not least of which is cost and overhead management. Even if you only need a small amount of support, a virtual help desk may provide big benefits.

  • Lowered overhead costs by reducing or eliminating the need for office space, utilities and on site resources
  • Easily scalable as needs change — no physical limitations on hardware or office space
  • IT professionals can not only form a great virtual help desk, they can assist with choosing and implementing the call center software needed to make it work
  • 24/7 support opportunities from being able to hire professionals in different time zones or with different work structures
  • Greater access to talented professionals spread across the globe — no commutes to affect anything
  • A natural fit for employees whose chief functions do not require being on site — helping customers via the phone can always be done anywhere
  • Increased productivity from reducing office distractions

There are a few downsides you should keep in mind however. While they can be managed fairly easily, SMBs should be aware of them in order to protect their best interests.

  • Training and onboarding requires additional structure and review to make sure quality and service is provided. Call center software can assist by allowing SMBs to listen in on call recordings and address issues.
  • Hiring virtual employees can be intimidating if SMBs have never interviewed virtually. Ask for recommendations and previous work history to help qualify candidates.
  • Creating and inspiring company culture can be difficult with a fragmented workforce. Consider creating online forums for employees to “hang out” and try to host as many meetings and exchanges as possible via GoToMeeting, Skype conversations or Google Hangouts to help reduce the loneliness factor.

Determining need

This part is pretty easy — if your business requires you to provide a help desk for customers, you should at least be considering whether a virtual help desk would provide a competitive advantage for your business. And with the right call center software, you can actually try it out pretty quickly with little time spent on setup and administration.