A quick read with a big impact.

How to Scale Your IT Help Desk Services to Meet Unpredictable Demand

Woman working in it help desk services

If you wait until you’re going through a major transition to figure out how to scale your IT help desk services up or down, you’re setting yourself up for massive headaches.

During times of growth or change, the more smoothly your IT help desk can adapt, the easier it is for everybody to keep getting their job done. On the other hand, without that preparation, your IT help desk could quickly find themselves overwhelmed (or grossly underutilized).

So, even if you aren’t currently anticipating a period of upheaval, follow these best practices to ensure that when things do inevitably change, your IT help desk team won’t miss a beat.

Best Practices for Scaling Your IT Help Desk

  1. Anticipate the external costs of scaling up
  2. Anticipate the internal costs of scaling up
  3. Use slow periods to boost performance instead of scaling down
  4. Know your numbers so you can soften the impact of scaling
  5. Consider outsourcing part – or all – of your IT help desk

1.    Anticipate the External Costs of Scaling Up

If you are anticipating a time of growth at your organization, think of how much time and budget you’ll need to bring on new staff to handle the increase in call volumes and types of support requests.

Bringing on new people to meet demand can cost a lot of money, depending on your hiring practices. If you retain the services of a headhunter or staffing firm, then you’re looking at paying a placement fee of between 10% and 50% of first-year salary.

On the other hand, if you plan on meeting increased demand by using a staffing agency to supply contractors for set periods of time, those contractors will also cut into your budget. Contractors tend to come with a significant premium on top of their rate. Expect to pay upwards of 50% of first-year salary also.

2.    Anticipate the Internal Costs of Scaling Up

Bringing in new resources from the outside also puts pressure on your internal resources. You must factor in the time it takes to place job ads, go through resumes, conduct interviews, check references and plenty more. This requires multiple levels of management and human resources.

Then consider that you're potentially still down a body if you're doing staff replacement. Once the recruiting phase is over and you are onboarding a new agent, you must invest the time it takes to train them and get them up to speed. Even though you're now plus one in headcount, you're tying up an existing resource to onboard them for a period of time.

During this transition period, you will be lucky if you get only 50% productivity out of the team member that's getting the new agent up to speed. On paper, you are up one employee. But in reality, for a period of time at least, you're actually minus 50% of an employee.

3.    Use Slow Periods to Boost Performance Instead of Scaling Down

Scaling down to accommodate reductions in demand brings its own unique challenges. So ideally, don’t do it.

Instead, assuming that your slowdown is temporary, the first thing to do is look for other tasks you can assign to your help desk agents. Look for work that these agents can do to maintain their level of productivity.

This is a great time for staff to help out with those strategic projects that always get put on the back burner. For example, a group consisting of junior and senior staff could analyze your processes and see if there are any ways to improve efficiency and performance – your people know what roadblocks they encounter and may have innovative ideas on how to improve matters. Use this time to bring your documentation, call scripts, protocols, and training materials up to date to reflect best practices.

Also consider using slow periods for knowledge reviews. Training often falls by the wayside during busy times, so use lulls in volume to get agents up to speed on the latest information, best practices, and emerging trends.

The result? When call volumes increase again, your team will be even better prepared than before. For example, if you use slow periods to document your top-20 most common issues, and train your agents to master these top issues, you will be able to handle those calls more quickly and more effectively.

4.    Know Your Numbers So You Can Soften the Impact of Scaling

The key to scaling your IT help desk services to meet demand is to know your numbers. After all, the past and the present often predict the future.

  • Start by examining historical trends in your most important metrics, including arrival patterns, call volumes, types of tickets and outages. Look for highs and lows. Then anticipate what these trends indicate and how you must prepare for the future.
  • The next place to look is your organization’s calendar. Stay in the loop about when new software rollouts are planned, when upcoming initiatives are launching, and when mergers or acquisitions are anticipated. All of these events will play havoc with your help desk. So, get them onto your calendar so you are prepared for them when they arrive.
  • Your staffing schedule tool is also a mine of information. Use it to understand weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual staffing needs based on historical call volumes.

Finally, build relationships with other internal teams, such as field service, and resolver teams on different business units. The more you share, the more you collaborate on common initiatives, the better prepared your help desk will be to scale your services to accommodate changes in demand.

5.    Consider Outsourcing Your Help Desk

One way to accommodate the challenges that come with wild swings in help desk call volumes is to give them to someone else to worry about. A growing number of enterprises are outsourcing part – or all – of their help desk functions to third-party firms.

The main advantage of outsourcing your help desk is that you gain immediate access to a larger potential pool of staff that is on hand whenever you need them, without the time-consuming hiring and training processes. Outsourcing increases your operational efficiency and eliminates agent recruiting (and layoff) headaches at the same time.

One way to scale your IT help desk services is to outsource only nights and weekends, or to outsource only lower-level support. This way, you allocate your experienced internal staff to more complex tasks such as higher-level tickets.

You can also outsource parts of your help desk services during one-off events (a merger, for example) and seasonal spikes in call volumes, such as the start of the school year.

Scaling Your IT Help Desk Seamlessly

Scaling your IT help desk services to meet demand is essentially a forecasting exercise. Don’t wait for spikes and drops in call volumes to catch you by surprise. Instead, examine your numbers, follow your trends, anticipate your internal and external costs, and prepare your organization for changes in demand.

By the way, scaling help desk services to meet demand is just one of the challenges you’ll face when operating an IT help desk today. Learn more about the other challenges by reading our Top 10 Help Desk Challenges—and How to Overcome Them.

Top 10 Help Desk Challenges - and How to Overcome Them