Unique 6-Method Approach: Is Your Help Desk Properly Staffed?

Unique 6-Method Approach: Is Your Help Desk Properly Staffed?

How to discover and quantify for management the need for more help desk resources:

What metrics best reveal resource issues and how to analyze
What roles executives can play


It can be a difficult task at times to discover and quantify for management the need for more help desk resources. The following is a unique approach to obtaining tangible metrics and enhancing help desk processes to improve staff productivity.

Discussion of the 6 Methods

Method 1

Review hours worked in tickets by agents over a certain timespan and compare this to how many hours your organization actually paid agents (i.e. standard work week of a given set of hours plus overtime). In theory, if agents are booking all their time to tickets while engaged on phone calls/emails and performing projects, then all their time will be accounted for. If there is a variance, you can examine the magnitude and identify the reasons for any variance. With this approach, you can measure how much time is not getting directly allocated to phone calls/emails or projects. If variances are significant, the usual explanation is that agents are not booking a significant numbers of hours of their work week into tracking tickets.
Sometimes when agents are working on projects, there is no time to track in tickets, which can play a part. It might be appropriate to consolidate project work to another small team outside the help desk (internal department or outsourced) so the help desk team will have better focus. Regardless though, team members should be encouraged to book time to tickets both while on calls and working on projects.
Further, if agents can spend the majority of their time engaged with customers, they will become more skilled at creating and reusing knowledge, learning all the nuances of applications and devices, etc. In short, agents become better trained and more valuable and focused resources. Often, one of the major complaints by agents is that they are not allowed enough of time to learn about new applications, upgrades or devices before they must provide support to employees. Constant "time slicing" between projects and phone calls/emails inhibits skills acquisition.

Method 2

This method focuses on reviewing call volume, wait times, and abandon rates. Any call center can be staffed to minimize a set of metric goals with the appropriate number of resources. Management should review historical monthly data and determine at what maximum average time callers sit in queue until calls are answered will cause abandon rates (voicemail left or called abandoned) to be minimized and reasonable. Upcoming events of the forthcoming month should be considered before the next month's staffing plan is executed.
If there are a significant number of calls going into voicemail, especially on the high volume call days, it is recommended that a new strategy and approach to the recorded messages that are played to employees while they are waiting in the queue be implemented. The message could discuss the top issue(s) of the day affecting employees and refer customers to informational internal web pages or a self-help portal with a list of just a few relevant tips for the events of the day.
Recorded voice messages by the CIO can also help employees feel better about waiting and also will remind field employees that their fellow employees are hard at work trying to help them.
Here is a sample message:
"Hello… my name is Bob Jones and I am the Chief Information Officer at Your Company and responsible for all the technology that runs our organization. I apologize that you're on hold right now, but our help desk team in your location is very busy. I want to take this moment to thank you for your hard work and dedication in all you do for our company. We all appreciate you so very much…so a heartfelt thanks from all of us! The help desk will be with you shortly, but while you're waiting you may want to obtain some immediate assistance with our online self-help portal at xyz.com. Also, we are very interested in your feedback so please complete the customer satisfaction survey that you receive after your case is closed so we know how we are doing. Thank you!"
This message should be updated by the CIO and other executives at least one time per month with new information, updates, a season greeting, good wishes for a forthcoming national holiday, etc. The idea is to keep it fresh and authentic sounding. The 12 updates can be used over and over again. If appropriate, after this recorded message, you could follow with a tip or tips on how to resolve a problem that many people may be having on any particular day. These tips could be prerecorded and saved and used when needed on-the-fly. They should be recorded with an enthusiastic and positive voice.
It is recommended that other executives record messages thanking employees for their hard work and dedication in their jobs and making your company successful. When people are listening to a series of positive messages, especially when they are being thanked by senior executives, they are much more likely to stay on the line and hold for an agent. Be creative with these messages! If there was an important national event or sporting event (that would appeal to employee demographics) occurring, you could stream the audio in real-time. Again, anything you can do to entertain and motivate employees to stay on the line and perhaps try to self- help while waiting will decrease the abandon rate and increase customer satisfaction.
Perhaps around the time of year when an internal event occurs which requires an action by employees and is a known time of increased calls, you could proactively send a series of emails to employees encouraging them not to wait until the last minute by having some kind of raffle/incentive program.

Method 3

Review customer satisfaction surveys. If ratings are high, then it is possible to infer that staffing is probably adequate from the customer's perspective, although do pay attention to response rate and surveys-sent vs. ticket count percentage, as it is important to have a large enough sample for truer results. And be sure to read all the written comments by customers.
The surveys and the written comment sections are excellent tools to measure the individual performance of agents, and establish targets and incentives/rewards for outstanding performance. This can really help raise the bar on customer satisfaction along with agent job satisfaction, if they know that management is closely looking at customer satisfaction ratings and comments.

Method 4

Another important measurement to incorporate into determining if staffing levels are appropriate is to determine if an organization is meeting the SLA standards established. As before, it can be recommended to move projects to another group or outsourcing to free up some additional help desk resources.

Method 5

Examine how many tickets are reopened. An organization might be meeting or exceeding SLAs, but tickets might be closed prematurely in a "rush" to meet to SLAs. In theory, if a lot of this activity is occurring, it will show up in customer satisfaction survey ratings and also in the comments section.

Method 6

Interview agents. The following are some areas to examine:
  • Are they happy in their jobs?
  • Do they feel overworked or that more help desk resources are needed?
  • Do they feel compensated fairly?
  • Do they believe they have a career path?
  • Get a sense of morale and how well agents feel they work together and if there is a good sense of teamwork, cooperation and information sharing. How do they feel other service groups (operations, facilities, etc.) respond to tickets when the help desk assigns them to those other groups?
  • Do they feel their initial training was comprehensive and long enough? If not, in what areas would they have like to have been better or longer trained? If these areas can be addressed, then this would go a long way in building more job satisfaction with the agents.
  • How do they feel about their supervisor? If that person will not see the specific names tied to specific comments, insure them of this so they will perhaps answer more honestly. Encourage agents to provide constructive feedback in addition to numerical ratings for their supervisor so that person can grow and further develop.
    An example interview question regarding the agent's manager might be the following: Please rate your Help Desk Supervisor on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 as the best, in following areas: technical competence, leadership strength and interpersonal skills.

Closing Summary

Management should simply ask, "Are we happy with the metrics in Method 2 (wait time/abandon statistics), Method 3 (customer satisfaction surveys), Method 4 (SLA compliance) and Method 5 (reopened tickets)?" If so, then all things remaining unchanged, if more resources are applied, these metrics could probably be improved and vice versa. What are the reasons that management would want to see the metrics improve?
If there is no workforce staffing tool that is used by the help desk department, it is recommended that such as tool be acquired which may assist in optimizing and planning staffing based upon historical data and known future events such as upgrades, etc. This tool would help with advance planning so that help desk resource demand could be better anticipated and reduce the reactive nature of having to obtain resources in a hurry and with little time for training.

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