Efficiency Matters: Turn Your Service Desk into a Business Asset

| By: Peter Kujawa

As many managed service providers (MSPs) struggle to achieve profitability, and extreme wage inflation drives up staffing costs, improving efficiency of the service desk has never been more important. The service desk is typically the most resource-intensive part of every MSP’s operation. Often, overqualified techs often have to respond to basic service tickets because there are not enough lower-level techs. In addition, layers of escalation designed to smooth processes often end up making things worse.

So what do you need to do to run an efficient service desk?

Prerequisites for a profitable service desk

Before looking at specific service desk recommendations, we need to consider some foundational rules for a best-in-class service desk:

  • The MSP’s value creation strategy should be well understood. In other words, there needs to be a business plan to deliver value to customers and ensure adequate profitability.
  • The MSP should have a clearly defined target customer profile (TCP) and should be disciplined in following it. In this way, MSPs can build a narrow enough product tech stack for the managed services they offer, and by extension, the training, knowledge, and staff needed to support those products.
  • The MSP should be using standardized processes, procedures, and service levels.
  • Thorough and ongoing training should be provided to service desk staff, particularly on updates to the tech stack.
  • The service desk staff should have documentation that’s updated continuously on all customers and supported technologies.
  • Service metrics should be tracked, analyzed, and incentivized for all levels of employees.

Keeping bigger goals in mind

It might seem counterintuitive but achieving resolution on a first call 100% of the time should not be your only goal. Why? Because, while achievable, the costs of maintaining this level of service would be astronomical. The service desk is resource-intensive, yes. But with profitability in mind, the real goal should be to resolve customer issues as quickly and effectively as possible, while balancing the need to use the lowest cost resources possible.

Staffing is your biggest service desk cost

Some lower Operational Maturity Level™ (OML™) MSPs assign each customer to a specific engineer, and this is sold as an advantage to the customer. However, the advantage for the customer will ultimately be illusory. What happens if all that engineer’s customers are calling at the same time? And what happens when that engineer is sick or leaves? The results are chaos, missed service goals, and the involvement of multiple extra staff members who have minimal familiarity with these customers. The customer needs to rebuild the knowledge base every time they are assigned to a new engineer.

Another option would be to use a “gatekeeper,” a dispatcher with minimal ability to solve issues who fields all the calls and assigns them to staff. But this tends to be frustrating for customers, and no more efficient for the MSP.

Using a high percentage of upper-level, more experienced and skilled, techs for service requests impresses customers and results in an increase in first call resolution and lower resolution times per ticket. But doing service calls is generally not what these techs are hired to do, much less what they want to do, so their job satisfaction, and ultimately retention, is likely to be a problem. What’s more, these techs are expensive, and they already have other important duties, so they need to be saved for when more-complex service calls require their attention.

As we’ll see below, the right training, tools, and processes, combined with the prerequisites in the first section, will enable MSPs to staff the service desk with a higher percentage of lower cost, easier-to-find entry-level techs. Over time, with data gleaned from the service desk, MSPs can staff the service desk based on the types of calls that come in. If 70% are minor issues and 30% complex, staff accordingly.

Before all else comes tracking and metrics

Metrics are essential for measuring service levels and tech performance. If you’re not tracking service requests, you need to start right away. This is because many of the optimizations we’re discussing should be based on service data, whether it’s staffing, training, or even fine-tuning the tech stack.

Service desk data to be collected includes, at a minimum, time to respond, labor (cost) to resolve, total elapsed time, escalation rate, and details about the issues themselves, including root causes. Use this data to set service performance benchmarks and goals, for the department as well as for individual staff members and customers. Establish feedback loops with appropriate stakeholders who use it to define training priorities and build the knowledge base, adjust staffing, update processes and install automations, or make changes to the tech stack and add or delete products. And, as mentioned earlier, tying individual and team performance to incentives in critical to building a performance-driven culture. 

An ounce of training and knowledge development is worth a pound of customer satisfaction

As we all know, effective and retained training is a continuous, ongoing process. Those entry-level techs that you’re putting on the service desk need all the knowledge and support possible in order to perform at a high level for your customers.

Training is ongoing not just because technology is constantly evolving, but also because each new customer requires new documentation and new training. Customer documentation should be initially developed during onboarding, and should be continuously updated, in part with data from the service desk. To increase fluency with customer documentation and other parts of the knowledge base, formalize who will own this content, including contributing new content or corrections.

Setting up the service desk for success

We’ve already discussed training and documentation for the service desk staff. They should be given all other available tools to help them succeed— and at the top of the list is a robust ticketing system that automates as much work as possible and tracks service metrics. Your well-equipped service staff will also need remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to help them solve issues themselves such as diagnostic scripts, integrated support tools, and configuration management tools. 

We all know first-hand how annoying it is to have to start over again and again with different layers of support. Be sure your ticketing system supports warm escalations, meaning the ticket details are always escalated along with the customer. And train your team so that 100% of client interactions are ticketed, even the “quick calls” that are easy to skip documentation of. Even the “quick calls” add up over time. 

An underestimated asset

By getting a few of the basics right—for example, collecting and analyzing metrics and building a rich knowledge base— you can start to make it run more efficiently and focus on what’s really important. The service desk should bolster customer relationships and be able to provide valuable feedback about how well your products and tech stack are performing.