Does your IT help desk have a hat problem?
We’re talking about the multiple hats that your agents wear during a typical shift. In addition to fielding support requests, they may have a laundry list of other duties that pull them in every direction. Not only might this affect service levels, it might also affect your help desk’s performance, engagement and even its retention rates.
The smaller your IT shop is, the more likely your help desk staff has multiple IT roles besides just fielding support requests. On any given day (and at any given time of the day), they get pulled away from their help desk duties to do any of the following:
- Attend a meeting with their supervisor
- Attend a team meeting
- Conduct research
- Call customers back, following up in person or via chat
- Generate reports
- Conduct quality assurance
Your challenge, of course, is that agents who are working on any of these tasks are not fielding calls and resolving tickets. Sometimes, when your agents have multiple roles, the non-support roles take precedent over the support role. If this is happening in your organization, you may start to spot warning signs of a workload imbalance.
IT Help Desk Workloads: 6 Red Flags
To be fair, your challenge isn’t in the variety of duties – it’s in how those duties are prioritized and balanced.
If your IT help desk staff are suffering from a poorly balanced workload, you may spot one (or more) of these symptoms:
- Wait Times Increase: “Your call is important to us, please hold,” is standard boilerplate, but if wait times are increasing to the point where callers start to wonder if their call really is important to you, that’s a huge, neon-lit sign that something has gone awry.
- Abandonment Rates Increase: When agents are busy with non-support-related tasks, callers grow impatient waiting, and they hang up. This drives up your Call Abandonment Rates, which is never a good thing.
- Customer Satisfaction Drops: If you are experiencing an unexpected drop in call volumes, beware. The drop might not be due to a lack of IT problems, but a lack of faith in your support. Some customers and users, when they are forced to wait on hold for excruciating lengths of time, do more than just hang up. They stop calling your help desk altogether. Their customer satisfaction drops.
- Productivity Declines: Employees contact your help desk when they have a technical problem that’s hurting their productivity. The longer they have to wait, the less work they’re able to accomplish.
- Underground Support Climbs: When users can’t get the answers they need from the help desk (because help desk staff is spread too thin), they’ll turn elsewhere for their answers – and the source of those answers may not always be reliable. Employees who request help desk support by circumventing your help desk create a problem with “underground support,” that is, help desk support that is not tracked, measured or reported upon.
- Perception Fails: When you don’t enforce your help desk processes, you fail to get an accurate picture of the health of your help desk. You lose sight of your workload balance.
Workload imbalance due to multi-roles is one of the most common challenges facing IT help desks. So, how can you get the most productivity from your help desk agents when they have multiple roles and large workloads on top of their regular help desk duties?
How to Balance Help Desk Agent Workloads
The key to balancing agent workloads and planning your help desk staffing levels is scheduling, trends, flexibility and dedicated roles.
In a multi-role scenario, your success at balancing agent workloads is all about scheduling—and sticking to that schedule. You must understand when your peaks are … and when your valleys are. And this includes the peaks and valleys for all the tasks that your agents perform.
We’re not just talking call volumes here. You must allocate the appropriate staff to manage the workloads you know they will face, whether call related, service related or field support related.
The next key to balancing workloads is to know your numbers. You don't want to pull your agents off the phones for ancillary work during your peak times. You don't want them doing follow-up calls at 9:00, for instance, when your trend analysis tells you that 9:00 is your peak. That’s when you want your agents stuck on the phones.
During your peak windows, you need to be a bit more active in your management, monitoring what your staff are doing in real time and making sure they know exactly where they need to be and what they need to be doing.
Sometimes the quickest way to balance workloads is to set expectations by giving agents an allotted time each hour or each shift for “other” tasks. Allow your agents to spend 30 minutes out of every non-peak hour off the phones, for example, working on other tasks, so that they stay fresh and productive during their “on” times.
The final key to balancing agent workloads is to segregate duties by assigning agents dedicated roles. In other words, reduce the number of hats everyone wears so they’re not responsible for every type of support. Instead, separate your agents into three major support teams:
- Help desk team
- Service team
- Field service team
Then, when you face an outage or a major problem, all three teams take an all-hands-on-deck approach to handle the issue. Segregating into major teams works well when you create clearly dedicated roles, and when you establish clear expectations of duties. This approach costs more, of course, and is most suitable for larger enterprises, but it works much more efficiently and delivers a better customer experience.
A Balanced IT Help Desk Workload Is Possible
If your help desk manages to balance agent workloads every shift of the year, we take our (many) hats off to you.
On the other hand, if you need help balancing workloads in a setting where your agents have multiple roles, you’ll find it much easier to get a handle on your situation through scheduling, understanding your trends, allowing for flexibility, and segregating your agents into teams.
If you’d like to address any other IT help desk challenges you might be experiencing, read our special guide to the Top 10 Help Desk Challenges—and How to Avoid Them.