Transform the trivial: reasons to cut basic tech support from your ‘to do’ list

Jennifer Chance, Web Team Manager, University of Texas at Austin
Mark Foster, Technology Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin

Jennifer and Mark offer a vision of a better future for higher ed web teams. HighEdWeb13 has given the audience plenty of ideas for new initiatives, this twelfth and final track session promises to help us find the time to commit to this new work.

“Our jobs sucked”

Jennifer begins by painting a bleak picture of the their web team three years ago. Demotivated, overworked, missing deadlines: their work was chaotic and unproductive. Unproductive for the institution and unrewarding for the team members themselves.

The team’s work was reactive, and even their physical location – the basement – created a barrier to users.

“Smooth jazz helps”

Flash forward to now, and a highly motivated team is presenting to an international audience of their peers, experiencing renewed enthusiasm, working on strategic improvements and feeling valued (with the thank-you notes from campus users to prove it).

How did they make that change?

“Don’t complain. Makes things better”

Ideally, they would have loved to start from scratch, but it’s never that simple. They had to start from where they were. And they started with streamlined communication

Ticketing system

They implemented a ticketing system for all problems. Members of the team no longer respond to individual emailed requests for help, everything has to go through the system. The system – Footprint – is transparent to their user community.

An autoresponse email promises that they will respond to all queries within 12 hours. When they do respond quickly they exceed expectations, when it takes the full 12 hours the user is pre-warned.

“Establish open office hours”

They hold out-of-the-office hours at an open, central location twice weekly. It gets the team out of the basement and allows them to show departmental users how to solve problems for themselves. Departments now have a clearly defined time when they can meet face to face with the web team. The team reports that they now feel like respected consultants and professionals.

“Video support gives me 18 hours a week back”

Mark feels that one of their most productive improvements has been the introduction of video tutorials. Narrowly focused and short (between 1-4 minutes), these videos show users how to carry out basic support requests themselves. The investment in time in producing the videos at the front end is easily justified by the saved time from repetitive requests.

“Hire excellent student workers”

Jennifer stresses the need to hire high quality student support and in providing them with important roles within the team. Don’t just take the first option, she said. Their hiring process is hard and is targeted at filling gaps in the team’s skills. An English Ph.D student was hired to work on content approval; an electrical engineering student has created news feeds, a calendar and photo submission system.

“These people used to hate us but they trust us now”

They have created an educated community of users. Alongside the open office hours and video tutorials, they run small training classes where for those issues that can’t be tackled in a four-minute video.

The headline improvement of their talk is that they freed themselves from basic tech support. As they outline the steps they’ve taken it’s clear the support their users are getting is better than ever.