Help Desk Metrics: KPIs for How to Measure Effectiveness and Training Opportunities

Help Desk Metrics

Photo Attribution: Jemastock/

The ITIL Guru sat at his desk, looking over the latest monthly help desk performance summary. Since he was the Continuous Improvement Practice advisor, he tried to make sense of it. The phone rang.

"ITIL Guru. How may I help you today?"

"Hi Guru, this is Kevin from the help desk. I wonder if you had some time to discuss my help desk monthly performances reporting?"

"Your timing is perfect, Kevin. Can you come to my office now? I have free time this afternoon."

"I am on my way."

"Hi, Kevin. How is everything at the help desk?"

"I feel scattered. Senior IT management keeps requesting new metrics of help desk performance. I am sure management read some article about a help desk metric, and they want me to report it. As a result, I am losing my focus with so many metrics."

How Many Help Desk KPIs Are There for Best Practices?

"You are not the first help desk manager swamped by metrics. The average help desk tracks more than 25 metrics, and it is impossible to manage that many measurements. Best-practice help desks recognize that less is better for performance support metrics! KPIs have more significant management potential when using them holistically, not just for performance. Managing help desk metrics requires holistic thinking because all the metrics are related--when one measurement goes up, another metric goes down.

"Before we discuss which metrics you should track, let's look at why we do want meaningful help desk metrics. Here are the main reasons for having performance metrics:

  • First, it is helpful feedback to track and trend performance over time. It helps you to see the relationship between each metric.
  • Tracking may help identify strengths and weaknesses in the help desk. I choose the word may because senior management decisions influence help desk performance. For example, management can limit the number of help desk agents, pay, training, level 2 and 3 support, and tools. But, when they do this because they think they are saving money, we know who suffers—the users. And, user costs in lost productivity are the highest cost that IT has but, regrettably, they do not track user costs.
  • Metrics give you a starting place for diagnoses and understanding the underlying root cause of performance gaps.
  • Metrics allow you to take prescribed actions to improve performance and validate changes with subsequent metrics.
  • Because metrics should be unbiased, you can establish performance goals for both individuals and the overall help desk.
  • Metrics help you benchmark performance against industry peers. I will come back to this in a moment.

Why You Should Not Compare Help Desk Benchmarks to Others Unless They Are Similar

"Why the warning on self-benchmarking? Because you are probably only comparing averages against all other help desks in the Service Desk Institute's latest annual survey.1 What you don't know from that are:

  • Scope: Scope refers to the number of services other help desks support. The broader the scope, the broader the required skill sets.
  • Scale: Scale refers to the number of contacts handled by the help desk. The scale influences everything the help desk does.
  • Complexity: The complexity of help desk calls significantly influences the call handle time.
  • Geography: Geography has the most influence on cost. Specifically, labor cost which could be as much as 65% of operating expenses.2 Help desk location makes a big difference.

"Only when you have the same metrics as your peers can you trust the comparison. I am not at all suggesting you should not benchmark. I still think it is the fastest way to improve. The benchmark results show you exactly where you are doing well and where you could improve. It takes the guesswork out of it and may result in an ROI over 1,000 percent! However, there can be more to it behind the scenes.

If You Want to Be a World-Class Help Desk, Focus on These Best-Practice Metrics

"MetricNet, the world leader in help desk peer-to-peer benchmarking, identifies the following quality metrics:3

  • Cost per Contact (Cost) is your most significant cost savings.
  • Customer Satisfaction (Quality) and greater user productivity.
  • Agent Utilization: The correct number of agents for the workload.
  • First Contact Resolution Rate: Resolved while still on the phone.
  • First Level Resolution Rate: Resolved at the help desk without escalation.
  • Agent Satisfaction: Happy to show up for work, no burnout, no churn.
  • Aggregate Service Desk Performance: Combining all the above is 80% of the total measurement.

"The single biggest driver of customer satisfaction—by far—is FCR!

"Kevin, are these metrics what you are looking for?"

"Yes! I want it simple so that I can focus on what is important. But, how are all these metrics related? I know there must be a logical connection."

Only Two Metrics Matter: Cost Per Ticket and Customer Satisfaction

MetricNet KPI Cause and Effect Diagram

Image courtesy of MetricNet4

"Earlier, I said that the best help desks focus on a few simple metrics and holistic thinking. MetricNet's diagram above shows the relationship of significant metrics and points to the only metrics that matter, Cost per ticket and customer satisfaction. Just follow the arrows!

"All businesses have a singular goal: highest quality at the lowest cost. The best effective cost metric for the help desk is the cost per contact. The best quality metric is customer satisfaction.

"The above diagram helps you to diagnose problems. For example, if you want to increase customer satisfaction, identify the performance variables that most affect customer satisfaction, such as Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Call Quality, and Handel Time. Of course, the most significant influence on customer satisfaction is First Contact Resolution (FCR).

"Kevin, I am sure you have thought about this. What do you need to increase your FCR?"

"That is easy!

  • Training: Skills training by the other functional teams to reduce the number of escalations.
  • A knowledge tool and articles: Second and third-level support has more knowledge than the help desk. If they provided those information articles, the help desk would use them to resolve more and faster.
  • Tools: Second and third-level support use tools to diagnose and resolve escalated tickets. I am sure we could do that too. Give us those tools and teach us to use them.
  • Operational Level Agreements (OLA): If we could create OLAs between the help desk and the other support teams, we could all find a more effective way to increase FCR.
  • Upper management commitment: Upper management must make FCR a priority for all of IT. FCR is not just a help desk metric: FCR is an IT-wide metric."

"I could not have said it better. Whenever we look at help desk metrics, we always come to the same conclusion. Help desk metrics are the IT department's metrics. Help desk effectiveness always comes down to training and support by the rest of IT.

Want to Optimize Help Desk Performance? Use Bundled Metrics

"Kevin, as a manager, I am sure you are aware of the danger of setting single, targeted goals."

"What manager has not made that mistake! I remember my first help desk job. My manager said we were not closing enough tickets. Within a week, the team increased closures. We did it by ineffective ticket documentation, and some did it by creating bogus closed tickets."

"I have heard of that before. That is the danger of such a focused metric. Use a bundled metrics approach if you want to encourage better help desk performance. For instance, if you measured each of your help desk agents by a combination of their First Contact Resolution (FCR) and Customer Satisfaction, you would encourage agents to find the best solution in the shortest time to make happy customers."

"As I look over this great diagram you shared, I can immediately see many opportunities for balanced metrics. I would love to show upper management the advantages of help desk training and the resultant increased speed for resolution and decreased escalations."

"You are a fast learner Kevin. You are well on your way to a more focused, balanced, and successful help desk."

"Thank you for your time and your straightforward explanations!"

1. Service Desk Benchmarking Report v.9, 2021
2. MetricNet,"Service Desk Peer Group Sample Benchmark v2-1", p.11
3. "The Seven Most Imortant Performance Indicators for the Service Desk", MetricNet,Jeff Rumburg and Eric Zbikowski
4. MetricNet, "Metrics that Matter Series Shift-Left," 2021