The payoff is not just in the staff’s technical ability but also in their engagement, which I think is pretty important in terms of quality staff.
Frank Simkins, Munson Healthcare
The IT helpdesk at Munson Healthcare in Traverse City, Mich., needed to improve its performance and efficiency. The help desk workload was growing in volume and complexity as new hospitals, physicians’ offices and other medical facilities became clients of IT as a service options offered by this regional, non-profit, healthcare network.
A professional development program that required CompTIA certifications for specific help desk roles improved the help desk team’s skill set, call center performance metrics and employee job satisfaction.
Doing More with Less
The workload for Munson’s IT customer support services has increased dramatically in recent years due to healthcare’s shift to electronic medical records (EMR) and to Munson Healthcare’s growth as an IT services provider in northwestern Michigan.
Using a cloud computing solution from EMC Corp., Munson Healthcare in 2008 began creating a Health Information Exchange to improve its own infrastructure and offer IT services to other healthcare organizations. It now provides cloud-based IT infrastructure and services to 100 different facilities in the region, including Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, eight other hospitals, plus physicians’ practices and other medical facilities.
Munson’s IT services offerings include multiple EMR solutions, electronic medical practice management, hospital information systems and more than 500 applications.
Despite this growth in IT services clients, cuts in Medicare reimbursement means that Munson Healthcare (including its IT help desk) must do more with less.
“It’s very complex,” said Mary Klein, Munson Healthcare’s Information Systems Customer Support Manager. “That’s why we need such a high level of expertise and be able to quickly understand what callers’ technical issues are.”
Seeing the Value of CompTIA A+ Skills
Roughly a decade ago, Munson staffed its IT help desk teams with people from customer service departments in other industries, such as banking. Furthermore, employees received relatively little technical training as part of their orientation.
By 2008, demands on the help desk had intensified, and Munson hired Frank Simkins, an adjunct CompTIA A+ instructor at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), to be its Help Desk Team Lead.
“We quickly saw the value of the knowledge that he had and its impact on improving service delivery,” Klein said.
Munson’s IT department revised job descriptions in an effort to enhance career paths and employee engagement. At the same time the IT department began a program with NMC to intern students in IT courses. Klein said, “We started to see the value of these kinds of employees—how quickly they could get up to speed and contribute.”
Munson’s new job descriptions outlined each help desk role in terms of its responsibilities, and also its required IT skills and certifications. Under this new plan, Level 1 Help Desk Specialists earned the CompTIA A+ certification within their first year of employment; Level II Help Desk Analysts earned CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ certifications, and Level III Help Desk Analysts added another certification related to their career path (the CompTIA Security+ credential is one option). Munson reimburses employees for exam costs when they pass the tests.
Klein and Munson management have worked hard to strengthen the help desk and make it the organization’s single point of contact for all IT issues. To support help desk employees, Munson also created a comprehensive professional development plan that includes a four-week orientation/training for new hires and career path planning/preparation for advancement within Munson Healthcare’s IT departments.
“We have a career path now where, if you as an employee exceed the team metrics in First Call Resolution, provide excellence in customer service measured by survey feedback and are one of our top employees, we will start investing in your career with the organization,” said Klein.
The Pay Off
Requiring help desk staff to hold CompTIA certifications has strengthened the team’s skills and improved the call center’s performance metrics, including:
- Significant increases in the help desk team’s average “First Call Resolution” rates — from roughly 50 percent of an average 3,000 calls per month in 2008 to 73% of an average 8,000 calls per month during the first five months of 2013.
- Significant reductions in per-call talk time — from 6 to 10 minutes per call in 2009, to an average of 3.22 minutes for the first five months of 2013.
For Christen Sattler, an Associate Help Desk Specialist, earning her CompTIA A+ credential in May, roughly a year after she was hired at Munson, helped her career in multiple ways. “I’m someone who came from a non-technical background,” explained Sattler, who holds a master’s degree in healthcare management and was hired for her self-taught computer skills. “Completing my A+ definitely helped me troubleshoot, explain myself and document calls better. I have more insight into callers’ problems.”
Earning the CompTIA A+ credential also boosted her standing among employee peers on the help desk, she believes. “It really did make me more reputable.”
Like Sattler, Russell Gauthier, Senior Help Desk Analyst and the new Help Desk Team lead, found that studying for and earning certifications helped him learn the theory behind his troubleshooting. “It helped me, as an employee, tremendously, and it’s helped the performance of the team.”
Gauthier earned a total of seven certifications since September 2007, including CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician (CompTIA retired this certification in 2017), when he began working full-time as a Help Desk Specialist at Munson Healthcare. “I have taken the time to get my certifications because I know that my management team is willing to invest in my future development and help me accomplish my career goals here at Munson,” he said.
Setting goals for employees and rewarding them for achieving those goals is very important, contends Simkins, who this January became a Systems Analyst within Munson Healthcare’s Application Services department. Simkins still teaches at the college and holds CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, ITIL and HDI certifications.
“The payoff is not just in the staff’s technical ability but also in their engagement, which I think is pretty important in terms of quality staff,” he said.