How Does Your Help Desk Measure Up? - A Help Desk can cut costs and enhance productivity. Is yours meeting the mark?

Benchmarks for Root Cause, SLA Compliance, Call Abandonment, First Call Resolution
Benchmarks for Root Cause, SLA Compliance, Call Abandonment, First Call Resolution.
Reprinted from CIO Magazine, Author: Jeff Rumburg, VP Meta Group Consulting
What kind of help desk does your organization have?
Is your help desk Reactive, Transition or Strategic?
What improvements can you make to move to the next level?
In 1992, according to the Help Desk Institute, help desk budgets averaged 1.25 percent of corporate IT spending. Today, that figure is nearly 3 percent. With costs going up 10 to 20 percent every two years, it is easy to see that there has been a shift in customer support. The Help Desk Institute further states that there are approximately 300 million help desk calls per year and with the average cost of a call being $20, a conservative estimate of $6 billion is spent per year on internal customer support! Also, there has been a doubling of the percentage of employees dedicated to customer support in the last six years. Here are just some of the reasons for this growth:
  • The increasing complexity of new applications including the shift to client server computing.
  • Shorter life cycles of hardware and software challenge the deployment and learning practices.
  • As help desks have matured, they have gotten better. As they get better, employees opt to calling rather than reading instructions or trying to fix it themselves.
  • IT organizations are realizing that significant efficiencies can be gained by solving customer calls the first time.
With these pressures have come changes in the way help desks do business. This is a shift from the 911-break/fix position to one of becoming proactive about meeting customer's needs. Rather than simply respond to user problems, the strategic help desk minimizes incoming calls by anticipating and addressing user problems before they occur and when the call does occur, using tools and processes to optimize agent time.
Help Desks: Reactive, Transition, Strategic
Help desks typically evolve through three stages, as they become more strategic.
  • REACTIVE. High abandonment rates, low customer satisfaction and rampant employee turnover because of agent burnout characterize the first stage. In addition, help desks are often referred to a "Helpless Desks." Because of a low status, cooperation with other IT departments is a major problem for the help desk.
  • TRANSITION. In the second stage, typically the help desk practices various call prevention techniques, providing users with self-help tools such as automated password resets and effective user training, and working with development groups to ensure better design and testing of new applications.
  • STRATEGIC. In the third and final stage the help desk realizes its full potential as part of the IT value chain. Customer satisfaction is high, call cycle time is low, turnover is low, and the help desk is looked upon as the "conductor" who manages the IT orchestra.
To gauge how well your help desk is operating and where it stands in the three stages of development, answer these questions:
  1. Have help desk managers created and distributed a supported product list (SPL) so that callers and agents can share an identical understanding of the help desk's boundaries of responsibility? READ MY LIPS: STANDARD HARDWARE, STANDARD SOFTWARE, CDOE (COMMON DESKTOP OPERATING ENVIRONMENT)
  2. Has help desk management established a SLA (Service Level Agreement) with customers and is all of the IT organization measured by it?
  3. Does the help desk play an active advisory role in critical IT functions such as change management, product development and purchasing?
  4. Do help desk agents log ALL calls, track the number of incidents that are escalated outside of the help desk department and calculate the percentage of calls that result in a technician being dispatched?
  5. Do help desk agents capture problem solutions in a reusable knowledge base?
  6. Does the help desk use continuous, event-driven surveys to measure customer satisfaction?
  7. Does the help desk post key performance indicators such as customer satisfaction, first-call resolution and call cycle time?
  8. Do help desk agents have performance goals in these areas?
  9. Do help desk agents practice continuous planning in order to reduce costly call volumes?
  10. Do help desk personnel meet with key customer groups at least annually to explain important help desk services and offerings?
If you answered yes to eight or more questions, congratulations. You have a strategically mature help desk. Less than 20 percent of all desks fall into this category. If you answered yes to least five but fewer than eight questions, you likely have a transitional desk. Most fall into this category, which helps explain the recent increase in help desk budgets.
Finally, if you answered yes to fewer than five questions, you are probably operating under the reactive model. Some help desks operate in this mode because of sheer resource constraints.
Help desks that have successfully journeyed from being reactive to being strategic generally follow a similar path. Often the steps include the following:
  • Develop a call reduction strategy. The most common approach to call reduction is root-cause analysis; a process designed to eliminate the source of key problems. Root-cause analysis, which ought to be undertaken monthly, categorizes calls by type and technology and then discovers common causes for those calls. Next it acts to diminish the number of future calls by refining user training or the development of new online help screens. For example, one help desk found that new employees called the help desk an average of four times per month, while those who had worked at the company for a year or more averaged only one call per month. By providing a half-hour IT orientation to all new employees, the help desk reduced call volume from new users by 60 percent. But don't overlook the obvious. Another help desk reduced incoming calls by nearly 5 percent just by informing callers how their problems had been solved. The next time users encountered the same problem, they were able to solve it without the help desk.
  • Free agents to work on call abatement projects. Since abatement projects are the heavy-lifting task of call desk centers, they need to be undertaken well out of earshot of ringing phones. The most common excuse for agents being unavailable for planning is they are trapped in 911 mode. To release agents for call abatement, try to assign additional resources to staffing on the phones or else be prepared for a short-term increase in the call volume can be reduced. Contractors can be particularly useful as a stopgap resource for answering telephones while regular agents focus on call reduction efforts.
  • Establish performance goals. Goal setting is a necessity in any project undertaken to improve help desk performance. At the very lease, the help desk should have performance goals for customer satisfaction, cost per call, call abandonment rate, service-level compliance, first-call resolution rate and cycle time.
  • Focus on customer communication. Failure to manage customer expectations may be the most common problem in the industry. Over communicate with users-before, during and after each call-to ensure that their expectations are properly set. Every user should have a copy of the help desk SPL. During any call, make sure users are advised where they stand in prioritization. First-come, first-served queuing can work when there is no backlog of callers, but all users throughout the enterprise should be appraised that the company's business needs are key to any incident severity ranking system and projected resolution time. Finally, when closing an incident, agents should ask callers for some quick feedback on help desk performance.
  • Demand accountability and measure individual agent performance. Every help desk must operate with a sense of urgency. Individual agents must be measured against a set of performance goals such as calls per month, customer satisfaction and first-call resolution rate. By establishing individual goals in each area, a manager can ensure that agents are both efficient and effective in delivering service.
Meet with users. Close the cycle. Internal marketing improves customer satisfaction-even without any improvement in the variables typically associated with happy customers: average speed of answer, call abandonment rate and first-call resolution rate.
Becoming strategic doesn't happen overnight. In most cases, the process takes one to two years. Additionally, the cost of support often increases during the transition phase. If you are prepared for this and are willing to stick with it, the rewards of being world class will more than justify any short-term increase in cost.

Help Desk Barometer

The impact of the help desk varies at each stage of its evolution


Reactive StageTransitional StageStrategic Stage
Cost per call$15-$20$20-$25$25-$30
Customer satisfactionLow to ModerateModerate to HighHigh
Call abandonmentMore than 20%10% - 20%Less than 10%
Calls per customer per month2 or more1 to 2Less than 1
First call resolution rateLess than 50%50% to 70%More than 70%
Reprinted from CIO Magazine, May 15, 1998
Author: Jeff Rumburg, VP Meta Group Consulting

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