How Expensive is a Cheap Help Desk Outsourcing Solution?

Though the above question can easily be construed as rhetorical, any organization that has ever leaned heavily towards the lowest cost provider when evaluating help desk vendors has likely lived with the consequences of buying low. It’s no question that the quoted monthly price looks attractive, but what many companies fail to consider are the internal costs of picking up the slack for a subpar solution until it’s too late. In many cases, the client IT staff find themselves resolving more incidents that have been unnecessarily escalated or managing help desk agents in lieu of vendor management or doing their own reporting and trend analysis. Those “soft costs” often go overlooked, because they aren’t tracked as well as vendor activity and therefore don’t figure into the bottom line of running the solution. The reality is that organizations that compete primarily on price are forced to cut corners to enable those savings.  Below are some common areas (i.e. frequent offenders) where low price providers cut back and pass those costs on to their clients.

Staff Compensation and Location

Are they offshore or underpaid US-based personnel? While language comprehension difficulty is the often-touted drawback, the more common problem is high turnover as more talented or seasoned agents rotate into more financially rewarding opportunities. Subsequently, interaction with novice agents is more frequent and answering service scripting or log and route solutions take the place of technical resolution. Turnover also applies to a low-cost on-shore help desk outsourcing solution that staffs with inadequately compensated employees. The end result of a lower resolution rate, absent of myriad of caveats defining what the vendor considers resolvable, is that the troubleshooting burden and related costs are shifted back towards client staff.

Follow up on open tickets and queue management

Clients rely on the help desk to maintain ownership of all incidents pending resolution and to follow up with the end user, providing status updates as they arise. If oversight on aging tickets is left to client IT management or prompted by irate staff after a prolonged wait, the client’s internal costs experience a double whammy: end-user downtime or project delays and time spent by internal IT to locate, resolve, and close those aging tickets.

Misroute and reroutes

As with escalations ordinarily resolved by a technically competent agent, any time the help desk inadvertently misroutes tickets to the wrong department the burden of recovery rests with client IT management which can be equally costly. Unless the help desk QA specialist catches the error and correctly reassign the ticket it’s generally up to the client’s IT department to resolve the issue. That means expending additional interactions with the help desk before those people can resume more proactive and strategic tasks.

Quality Assurance

Does the help desk offer agent supervision including drilling down on tickets, review call quality? Assuming all calls are recorded and stored for quality and training purposes, a diligent help desk will listen to those calls and evaluate the individual agents for communication or “soft skills,” a bare bones call center leaves the onus on the client to provide feedback on customer service quality. How is agent remediation communicated? As with any service improvement tactics, if the only input is left to the client’s IT supervision, there is literally nothing managed by the Managed Services Provider. And if quality monitoring is solely the responsibility of the client, they should expect to invest in additional internal resources to manage their vendor on a full-time basis.

Infrastructure, redundant systems

Even if the people and the process follow industry best practices, the help desk that champions a low-cost solution may be shortchanging their technology investments. A fully functioning helpdesk achieves 99.9999% “up-time” by investing in a robust and scalable infrastructure including redundant power, servers, and telephony systems. A good question to ask is when they last upgraded their ACD or ticketing system, what are their DR processes, and where crucial data is stored. The goal is to keep the lines of communication open and ticket data flowing in a secure IT environment.

Continual Service Improvement Recommendations and Reporting Analysis

Does the help desk measure and address performance quality on an ongoing basis? Does the help desk conduct regular operational review meetings or do they send an automated data dump via email? If there’s no insight into help desk activity there’s no opportunity to improve the service and all strategic input defaults to the client’s IT leadership. A true Managed Services Provider focuses on expanding technical capabilities as well as improving SLAs such as resolution rates, average speed to answer, and customer satisfaction. Upon review of tickets that were escalated to the client’s internal IT departments, the help desk CRM proposes methods to resolve those incidents at Level 1 either through additional access, training, or documentation. A valuable CRM interprets rather than recites the data, looking for root causes and trends and recommends creative solutions that minimize escalations or permanent fixes of recurring incidents.

Leadership Availability

Moving up the org chart from team lead or client relationship manager, is there any access to the MSP’s management team? Do they conduct quarterly executive reviews on site and serve as a strategic partner when evaluating new technology? No client wants to feel too small or far removed from the key stakeholders or those whose organizational decisions directly impact the service. A fairly priced help desk expects to make time for face time and take a seat at the client’s table.

Underbid and overbill

Sometimes the higher costs are not a result of operational shortcomings, but simply a case of bait and switch or unanticipated “service upgrades.” Organizations evaluating help desk outsourcing vendors should read the fine print in how Level 1 support is defined in the scope of services and what’s included in the monthly recurring price. If resolution involves additional billable incidents with Level 1 merely performing dispatch or answering service duties, the gap between the winning bid numbers and the final invoice will widen.

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