Your help desk faces enough challenges at the best of times. Whether it’s too many calls from too many channels, long resolution times, lost issues, or repetitive, time-consuming tasks, it’s never easy to deliver an excellent customer experience profitably. And if you don’t have enough staff, it can seem downright impossible.
If the last two years have taught us nothing else, it’s that the future can be unpredictable. How can you accurately plan your help desk staffing structures without knowing what may lie ahead? While there are no guarantees in this world, there are steps you can take to make better, more informed decisions to plan for and hire the IT staff you’ll need.
Here are three tips on how to do it.
Tip #1: Use Current Data to Determine Your IT Service Desk Staffing Ratio
A lot has changed about how people work, and those changes will only continue. In just a couple years, employees have gone from working full-time inside an office to working fully remote and then on to new hybrid models. All these disruptions have brought technical challenges that are increasing the need for support, inflating call volume, and lengthening the duration of talk times.
With that in mind, here’s a question worth asking: When was the last time you checked in with your data? If you’re basing your service desk structures on outdated assumptions, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
As an example, consider your talk times. Assuming they ran 7 minutes long pre-COVID, that amounts to about 8calls per hour per agent. But if your talk times are now 9 minutes long, then your average calls per hour per agent have decreased to 6. That change makes a big impact on your staffing ratios, but you won’t catch it unless you look at your data.
Similarly, it’s always a good idea to check in with your agents to get a sense of the challenges they’re facing. Do they need more training on a new software rollout? Are there business changes that might be affecting the way they should work? Are the effects of the Great Resignation leading to a surge in new hires that need extra support? All of these factors should play a role in the way that you plan.
Other Factors that Affect Help Desk Capacity Planning
You may be feeling effects from the Great Resignation, too. Whether you’ve lost someone on your team or hired in people who resigned from some other place, this affects your ability to plan for and staff your help desk.
While there are signs that this reshuffling is beginning to slow, your plan should include consideration for how you’ll onboard and train new hires. You might also consider ways to accommodate those in transition. (For example, if you can offer off-hours training, you can start onboarding new hires before they’ve left their old jobs).
Accounting for factors like these can help you create a more resilient staffing structure that’s prepared for whatever may come.
Tip #2:Plan How You’ll Offer Different Levels of IT Support
Your next consideration when planning your help desk staffing structures should be the support channels you offer. What contact channel do you want to drive volume to? Is it phone, chat, text, or email?
The choices you make can greatly affect the number of people you need, but each has its own special considerations. Let’s take a closer lookat these options.
Phone Support Requires More People, But Could Mean Quicker Resolution
Phone support is resource-intensive but has a higher potential of resolution at first contact. Some customers also prefer phone support for its human touch — the sense that problems are being addressed by a real person, rather than disappearing into a ticketing system.
But if phone support is your only channel, it could require a much larger help desk support staff. What you gain in efficiency from quicker resolution may be lost by the need for more people.
Email and Other Support Channels Allow Agents to Multitask Between Messages
While email support might require multiple back and forth messages to resolve an issue, it does allow agents the freedom to multitask between messages. Updating self-service tickets that may go to email also takes quite a few interactions, but they're typically quick to resolve. Plus, you can use canned responses and templates to lighten workloads.
To determine the right mix of channels, look at historical trends in channel usage and place them alongside your current situation. Look for changes in channel usage, workload, and workflow.
Additionally, consider that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If you’re eager to drive most of your traffic to self-service for example, or chat, plan out how you’re going to make that option as appealing and satisfying as possible to the end user. Before making your plan, consider doing a survey, so you can find out what people like and dislike about the different channels. That way, you can more easily gauge what you need to do to drive traffic the way you wish.
Tip #3: Consider How IT Help Desk Levels Affect Managing Workloads
How you plan your help desk staffing structures also depends on the size of your IT shop. If you operate a small IT team, your staff may have multiple IT roles besides just fielding support requests. They have likely been assigned project work that they must complete to keep the lights on. Or they devote time each shift to a new rollout, or other priorities.
To get an accurate picture of your staffing levels, you must calculate the percentage of their day that staff can devote to taking inbound calls. To do this exercise, understand what a typical shift looks like for your help desk staff. For example, they probably receive some calls that can't be fixed over the phone. They must leave their desks and visit the customer to resolve the issue. Naturally, this means they are no longer available to answer incoming support calls. This is an important factor to consider – and something many companies forget.
Let’s work through a scenario. Suppose your team receives 500 tickets a month, spends two hours working each ticket, and takes six days to resolve a ticket … but they can only spend 75% of their day on support. If you don’t take that number into account, your theoretical max throughput per agent will be wildly inflated – and you’ll be understaffed.
Staffing and Planning: Help Desk Tools
Want to get a quick snapshot of what your help-desk staffing might look like for the remainder of the year and future years? Visit our Help Desk Cost Calculator Lite to plug in your numbers and see how staffing levels could end up affecting your costs. If your support systems include email, chat, or other channels, you might also want to try this Multi-Channel Calculator to see your results.
IT Help Desk Tips
As you work to plan your help desk staffing structure, keep these three tips in mind for better results:
- Use up-to-date data to make sure your plans are based on the most current call ticket information available.
- Factor in the different levels and help channels you’ll offer to your customers, as these can affect your staffing levels.
- Calculate your workload by the percentage of each day that your staff can actually devote to taking inbound calls.
Following these guidelines will help you get an accurate picture of the staff levels you need to keep your customers happy.
Are Outsourced Help Desk Services Right for You?
Take a look at these top 10 help desk challenges. How many of them sound familiar to you? If this is what your team is up against, it might not be a question of staffing — you may be better served by outsourcing your help desk services.