Is Your Service Desk an Answering Service?

In the ever-expanding IT support industry, there is no shortage of inexpensive service desk solutions. The problem is when organizations consider outsourcing service desk operations, they often view the solution as an additional expense instead of an opportunity to reduce internal IT costs. So it is understandable that those with limited budgets tend to favor the lowest cost solution; however, over time many of them come to the conclusion that, as with any attractive price tag, they’re getting exactly what they pay for.

One way “cost-effective” service desks manage to reduce costs is to escalate even basic Level 1 troubleshooting responsibilities back to the client’s internal IT staff. If the elected vendor is just passing along messages, they’re also passing the buck in terms of resolution ownership. So even though they may look better on paper than a true service desk from an invoicing standpoint, the client’s internal costs to pick up the slack can skyrocket. Though the lack of service end users experience from this solution may be painfully obvious to them, internal IT may not be tracking those superfluous contacts separately from those that should be handled at Levels 2 or 3. So the operational and financial burden that a log and route solution shifts back to the client may not be distinguished from a pricier, albeit more resolution-focused service desk.

Unskilled call center employees who, outside of a few scripted procedures, frequently default to taking messages for another team are not really adding value. The true value is in the swift resolution of the technical issue, not passing the buck literally and figuratively to another team. The first point of contact’s key role is to filter out all of the support items remotely resolvable at Level 1 and be available for the next inbound contact. Like an incident resolution assembly line, the service desk should only be escalating issues down the line that demand a complex or time-consuming troubleshooting process or an onsite presence. So if they’re using Level 2 and beyond as crutch for a log and route approach, those incidents are going to pile up. The financial implications are that higher compensated internal IT employees often become bogged down by low-level issues and end users experience extended downtime while waiting their turn in the support queue.

While minimal resolution at Level 1 is the most pervasive defining characteristic of an answering service or log and route support model, below are some other tell-tale signs that you’re getting less than you bargained for:

Little to no client specific training

When it comes to agent training on supported accounts, a log and route solution will offer little in the way of pre-implementation training apart from how to use the ticketing system and which groups receive the escalated tickets. During the discovery and implementation process, CRMs and Team Leads and review documentation and create client-specific training materials, collaborating with the client’s IT staff to capture any additional knowledge needed.  Depending on the complexity of the environment and applications supported, a managed service desk can spend two to four weeks instructing agents on the unique aspects of the account they will be supporting. And as clients introduce new applications, tools, and operating systems into their ever-evolving IT environment, a managed service desk absorbs those costs as it’s in their best interest to adapt to the client’s expanding support requirements.

No follow-up, queue management, or ticket aging analysis

In a log and route or answering service model, the tendency is for the service desk to triage, escalate, and abdicate ownership of the resolution with minimal effort applied. So once that ticket is routed back to the client’s IT staff it’s off the service desk’s radar even when the Level 2 or 3 teams update the ticket stating the incident was within scope for resolution at Level 1. In a log and route model, even tickets that remain open at the service desk for an inordinately long time either because the agent is still researching the issue or they’ve logged off for their shift, there tends to be little to no follow up with the end user on the resolution status. A truly managed service desk solution has dedicated staff reviewing the service desk queue for tickets remaining open for specified internals, prompts agents to take action or reassign the ticket, and run aging reports to identify bottlenecks in the resolution workflow.

No knowledge management

A common saying at the service desk is “if it’s not in the ticket it never happened.” Every time a field tech thoroughly documents a unique resolution procedure it’s an opportunity to share that knowledge with all service desk agents. So any frequently escalated ticket that would have been remotely resolvable with the proper documentation should be incorporated in the service desk team’s resolution repertoire by making those troubleshooting procedures accessible in the knowledge base. It all starts with ticket detail with the agent thoroughly entering every step taken so it can be reviewed as a knowledge article candidate. A diligent and proactive service desk regularly performs root cause analysis of recurring issues and problem management in order to eliminate if not minimize those issues in the future.

No account management

Leadership and accountability matter in any successful relationship. If your service desk is merely providing the bodies and leave all guidance to the end client’s IT department, it’s not a managed service. It’s a staffing solution on autopilot. With the absence of leadership at the service desk helm, it falls to the client’s IT management team to provide guidance and remediation instruction directly to the agents. The primary reason clients opt for an outsourced solution at Level 1 is they can focus on more strategic company-wide issues and not get lost in the costly churn of micromanaging how their vendor’s staff delivers end-user support.

No operational reviews

A service desk conducts monthly operational reviews with a focus on continuous improvement. The Team Lead or Client Relationship Manager reviews service levels such as Average Speed of Answer, abandon rates, customer satisfaction rates, and First Contact Resolution rates.  Meeting or beating those numbers on a monthly basis is important; however, the real value add is in adding context to the numbers, what story the trending data tells about activities within the client’s IT environment. The Team Lead or CRM also reviews routing and escalation summaries for what Configuration Items (CIs) the service desk could not resolve and proposes ways to increase Level 1 resolutions through additional documentation (knowledgebase articles), training, or access. A more passive service desk provider will simply auto-generate and email the reports to the client, offering no meaning behind the metrics.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to where clients want to spend their IT dollars. For those who have experienced a laissez-faire service desk, it is completely understandable why they would revert back to an in-house model, especially if they’re already incurring the internal costs for all of the management and best practices guidance or other areas where the previous vendor remained hands off. Ideally, a thorough vendor evaluation process should focus on what prospective clients are getting for the money versus the price alone. A fully managed service desk solution includes a comprehensive Level 1 scope of services as well as management of the people, processes, and technology that keep operations running smoothly and efficiently. Organizations that don’t get this message may end up working with an answering service that will.

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