User documentation Service DeskMathew and I now offer technical authoring services, but we both have a history of working in IT support.

Mathew worked for BT and the NIHR before becoming a technical author. I worked at Mazars and StepChange before getting a great service desk job at the NIHR, part of the NHS.

Our service desk experience has helped us to understand the benefits of a good user guide. Great documentation is crucial for end users, and it also really helps the service desk team to give consistent, correct answers.

Mathew and I often rely on our own service desk experience when designing system documentation; we know what users are looking for and can predict the questions they will ask.

Service Desks and Technical Authors: What’s the Connection?

When you understand the importance of the service desk and its role in an organisation, you can document a system more efficiently and effectively.

The end results are:

  • Happier end users
  • Happier service desk staff
  • Quicker resolutions to incidents and requests
  • Consistent knowledge between team members
  • Fewer support calls and emails
  • Improved resolution times
  • Documented workarounds


On LinkedIn, I spotted a link to a new white paper from a service desk solutions company in Leeds. Cranford Solutions polled 50 businesses to find out how their service desk affects their business as a whole. With brands like Network Rail, O2 and Callcredit contributing to the paper, it’s an important document that spells out precisely how important good documentation is.

You can download the white paper from the Cranford Solutions website.

But What’s a Service Desk?

At my interview for my service desk position at NIHR, I was asked a killer question: what’s the difference between a service desk and a help desk?

My manager Carl stumped me with that one – although I apparently almost got it right!

According to Carl, the help desk would deal with IT issues, but the service desk should be set up to handle any question about anything. You’d never turn anyone away, even if they just wanted to know how the coffee machine works.

The difference between help desk and service desk sounds relatively minor until you think about the personal traits you need to work on a service desk. To be a model service desk employee, you need a good grasp of IT systems, an understanding of business processes and a commitment to customer service (with a smile, on a good day).

The Cranford Solutions paper reinforces my manager Carl’s idea of what the service desk should be. Here are a couple of quotes that stood out for me:

  • “We are looking for people that can wow.” (Robin Goldsbro, DLA Piper)
  • “…the people on the desk need to know about the organisation they are working for and the people they are supporting.” (Russell Noblett, O2 Telefonica)
  • “Our vision is to provide excellent customer service as well as the technical first line resolutions.” (Sally Comley, Arqiva)
  • “Each member of the service desk team agreed to… gain an NVQ Level 2 qualification in customer service.” (Basim Zaidi, Vaultex)

As technical authors, our main aim is to create documentation that people find useful and genuinely want to refer to. We want to bring the system user manual off the dusty shelf and onto the desk.

That way, your user help becomes an extension of the service desk: a continuum of that great service you’re striving for.

Predicting Support Questions With Documentation

The Cranford Solutions white paper also raises the issue of staff churn. Employee turnover is an interesting challenge, and I think documentation can go some way to easing it (or slowing it down).

In IT support, team members are generally expected to move on or move up within a couple of years. Processing tickets, answering calls and working flat out during outages – it’s all pretty draining. After a while, you can’t help but roll your eyes when you’re asked the same question you’ve already tackled sixteen times that day, even if you’re the most tolerant, customer-focused service desk analyst in the company.

But good documentation helps. If you engage a technical author, you can sometimes tackle the problem at the source and take the strain off your staff before churn takes hold.

For example, if your team member is repeatedly dealing with a frequently asked question, or a recurring issue, you might not be able to fix it right away. But you probably have a workaround in place. That can be published, incorporated into your documentation, or placed into context sensitive help files.

Your technical author can even publish SEO web help that’s designed to be found easily in search, or place a screencast help video on the page where the error occurs.

The white paper also touches on training, and this is part of the same issue. The technical author is the person who can tie in your training material with your system manuals. By single sourcing that content and reproducing it in various formats, you can often streamline inductions and cut training resources, and people know where to get help in future.

We sometimes produce screencasts, e-learning videos and other training content that ties in nicely with the user guides companies distribute.

Completing the Support Cycle With a User Guide

The Cranford Solutions white paper is a great reminder of the importance of IT support in business, and the various ways a technical author can support a service desk team. We believe quality documentation can dovetail with flawless customer service to ensure users feel confident in the systems they use every day.

To discuss your next user guide, contact our trained, experienced technical authors now. You can also read more about our technical authoring services and our affordable technical content production services.

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Claire Broadley

Technical writer, blogger, and editor at Red Robot Media
Claire Broadley has been a technical author and web content writer at Red Robot since 2010. She contributes to dozens of websites, focusing on consumer technology, online privacy, digital marketing, and small business topics.
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