There are many colleges and universities support multiple software and hardware platforms. Taking in mind the increasing offerings in online distance education, students will not only be calling with questions related to course content; they will also require technical assistance. What is required for a good service to students is a single contact point for both technical and content related questions.
Helpdesk Meets Call Center
First, the helpdesk emerged to help customers and staff of organizations deal with technical problems associated with computer use. A well known IT consultant in Great Britain, Noel Bruton, notes that the IT helpdesk took on its current form in the mid-1980s. The concept of a call center used today came later, in the nineties, to deal with issues and queries that are not related to technology (Bruton, 2002). As to Bruton, a key difference between a helpdesk and a call center lies in how the two functions deal with knowledge management. Helpdesks, while they do impart prepared or premanufactured information, also require diagnostic skills from their staff.
Because of the experience of the authors that call center services to students engaged in e-learning require that call center staff have diagnostic skills that enable them to work with students to determine the nature of and solutions to their course content queries (tutoring), and to work through program issues (advising). If one wishes to deliver a one-stop shop for students engaged in e-learning, it is important that the diagnostic skills offered by a helpdesk are combined with the directive and prepared services of a typical call center.
If a call center and a helpdesk are consolidated, the use of a knowledge base is important for both functions; however, with diagnostic situations, the bigger problem is usually trying to deduce the actual problem. Knowledge base built up for many course related, program related, and technical questions can be very straightforward and can comprise simple questions and answers. Knowledge base for diagnostic questions must also include a step-by-step guide for asking questions to determine the nature of the problem, followed by steps for solving the problem. One would agree that learning to deduce the actual problem is a unique skill set and takes time to learn.