It's come to my attention that there aren't actually any nodes that explain the mechanics and working conditions of manning a helldesk.

Here goes. I work for a call centre that does outsourced tech support for companies that don't want to keep it in-house. My employer is Stream International, and I support a major PDA (I can't say which, because of a Non-Disclosure Agreement).

Okay so here's what happens behind the scenes when you call a help desk.
You wait in a queue, listening to some bad music for a while. As soon as you're at the head of the line, one of us agents gets a "boom" on our headsets. It's basically just a beep to tell us we got a call. Occasionally, if you've gone through billing because of an out of warranty product or for various other reasons (I can't find any consistancy. It seems pretty arbitrary), we get a "whisper" as well, which is a voice that tells us some information (you warranty status, etcetera). Then we answer with a script that welcomes the customer, tells him where he called, and tells him our name. It's different for each agent, but it's pretty consistant per agent. I usually answer with "Hello and thank you for calling company name. You've reached my name in product name support". Notice how I answer with the company who makes the products name, not my employer? It's important to let the customer think that they're talking to the actual company, not a third party.

After that, we collect your name and phone number, and input it into our logging program (the name of it is WWWCCS. Colliqially it's called Vantive.) The program is written in java, so it's disgustingly slow. While we run a search on that information we ask if you've called before, and if you haven't we stop the search and create a new customer record, and collect some more customer information (address, email, etc.) If you have called before we pull up your customer record, and add a new case. Then we collect some product information such as the serial number. Then we try to help you, logging every troubleshooting step as we go along. If the agent is a good one, he'll calm the customer down if they're stressing out about it. If the customer is being confrontational (yelling about never working with this company again, telling the agent that he doesn't know what he's doing, whatever.) we're still required to offer the same level of support that we would give anyone, but in actuality we don't.

Most call centres work with a 3-tier system where the least experienced agents transfer customers up the line untill the problem is solved. Ours works a bit differently. We have 2 sets of people. The first are the agents. We're the ones that man the phones and talk to the customer. If we don't know something, the customer goes on hold, and we ask the second group of people (the mentors) for help. The customer never knows we talked to anyone else about the problem, just that we were "checking our resources". The mentor almost never talks to the customer. Only if the customer insists to talk to a supervisor will they ever take customer calls, and when that happens the mentors pretend not to know anything about the technical aspects of the product. The mentors hate taking customer calls, and it's rather obvious by how they treat the customer.

At the end of the call, we thank the customer for calling, and leave the call on a good note ("have a good day" or something). Then we hang up, enter a product code into our phone, and then go back to "Ready".