Creating the Most Helpful Service Desk Possible

Keyboard with Service on Key

If there is a bread and butter aspect to a successful MSP, it has to be the service desk. Here is where the rubber meets the road, client IT problems addressed, and is the focal point for how clients interact with your company.

A mediocre or substandard service desk is a death knell. In contrast, a superb service desk creates customer loyalty, SLA compliance and great word of mouth. At the same time, such a desk is efficient, creating more revenue and profit opportunity.

Building an optimum service desk takes thought, planning and careful execution. Here are critical areas to focus on, starting with staffing:

Rightsizing the Service Desk

The goal for staffing is to have the exact right amount of workers to keep customers happy without overspending on manpower.

Just as a MSP’s overall business is driven by metrics, so is service desk staffing. How fast are problems being resolved; what percent of service desk workers time is spent on customer issues; are calls and tickets increasing or decreasing?

How to Hire Staff

Your service desk staff doesn’t just man the technical front lines: they are the face of your business. You need to choose techs with personality and knowledge.

Larger service desks have defined hierarchies which can be many levels deep.

Some MSPs have service desk analysts that interact the most with customers. These analysts give clients the news that there is a problem such as an outage, then log the incident and see it through till it is resolved, whether they do the work or have it handled by a problem manager.

With this high-level view, analysts can make sure that SLAs are held to, and to work with customers if the SLA is in danger of being violated or there is a service problem where compensation is required.

Many times, there are Team Leaders in the service desk, a high-level position that helps set a path for service desk improvement and development, and oversees customer service. These leaders are responsible for providing a steady stream of current fixes, and making sure they are implemented.

Here, obviously, the ability to manage a technical staff, as well as being technical themselves, is critical.

Above the team leaders might be a Service Desk Manager. The buck stops with the Service Desk Manager, who is responsible for hiring and managing overall operations.

How to Keep Staff

Many successful MSPs like to promote from within. As a result, they hire new employees for the lowest level positions such as a Problem Technician, train them, and then help them rise through the ranks. This is great for morale, and your future service desk managers will be steeped in your technology and company culture.

The conclusion here is that training is a key way to retain and development staff. Keep in mind, though, that the training has to have a purpose. It should be aimed at the services you have and the ones you intend to develop. At the same time, staff should be rewarded for their learning through new opportunities, promotions, raises and bonuses.

This should all be the basis of defined career paths for service desk staffers – and likely includes moving beyond the service desk one day

Setting Staff Hours

The longer your tech staff is available, the better. Try to set up a schedule that makes maximum use of what you have. There is no sense in having 10 problem technicians on duty at the same time when some are barely working, and having no one for the rest of the day. Setting shifts solves this problem.

At the same time, you know that some times are busier that others, so during times of heavy demand make sure you have enough staff working. Part of this is having a backup staffing plan for when some of your techs are unexpectedly absent.

Why You Should Push Self-Service

There is something special about the personal touch that exists between a client and service desk staffers. But not every problem requires that one-on-one interaction.

Many issues can be handled on a self-service basis where the client logs into your ticketing system (through a subset of what your own techs use), logs their issue and, in some cases, can have it resolved all through the self-service portal. Sometimes this can be a simple set of instructions such as how to install a printer or deal with a hung browser. These issues can be dealt with by building a knowledge base and keeping it updated as new issues arise.

Empower users with the ability to conduct authorized changes on their machines so busy MSP administrators don’t have to. Create a series of automated procedures that installs approved applications, updates software and installs patches, and add self-help articles and documentation to a publically accessible knowledge base. Not only does this reduce ticket volume, free up time for the MSP staff and speed up resolution, it makes users feel like they have a stake in the health of their PCs— which goes a long way toward preventing careless user error.

Another advantage is the customer doesn’t have to wait for a call or email back, but can get the ball rolling right away – giving them a sense of control.

This approach is also cheaper, meaning an MSP can charge less for service desk help if they need to remain competitive.

Use Standard Tools and Processes

There is often a balancing act between MSPs and their clients where clients want the service provider to support the tools already in-house. That can be a big mistake. Not only would the MSP have to support myriad systems, they wouldn’t get to use the systems they have carefully vetted and mastered.

When it comes to tickets, MSPs should push back if the client wants to use a tool they already have in place. Once the client sees tickets handled smoothly and quickly they will thank you for sticking to your guns.

This also makes your service desk agents far more productive, increases your profits and gives you more flexibility in how you price out your service desk activities.

Six More Best Practices

Best Practice #1: Streamlining the Service Desk Leads to a Lower Operational Budget:  Corporate America long ago learned that creating operational efficiencies is the way to “do more with less.” MSPs chant the same mantra. That is why service providers drive to support a growing volume of systems with fewer technicians. Much of this is due to IT automation. But more efficient service/help desks also help.

Here’s how an inefficient service desk works. Tickets are manually created, tracked and resolved— and touched by multiple technicians. These inefficiencies slow time to resolution, decrease user productivity, and bloated management overhead makes the MSP’s lives miserable.

A better approach is where the MSP service desk acts as a hub of knowledge and predefined IT processes automatically flow through a central repository.

Formerly tedious and mundane tasks that used to get bogged down in the bureaucracy—such as requesting new software, or upgrading hardware –- are streamlined,

Best Practice #2: Centralize Ticket Processing: Email, the phone and Post-It notes do not make a good help desk system—yet many MSPs use a variety of media to track help desk tickets. Centralizing the process in a service desk allows MSPs to analyze, track and never lose a ticket while getting the most out of their staff and reducing time to resolution. Some MSPs assign any ticket to whoever was closest—the same process seven year olds decide whose turn it is to wash the dishes. A more worthy approach is that when a ticket comes in, a pre-determined process makes sure it is assigned to the technician with the most appropriate skill set—regardless of location. Users should also be able to create, track and update their tickets from a user portal, ensuring they are continually updated on their status.

Best Practice #3: Define Ticket Flow and Escalation Process: Top MSPs create ticket flows that ensure the most efficient and effective way of dealing with tickets. Upon creation, users could tick a few categories for better routing and escalation, and tickets then sent to a team of people who can deal with the issue quickly and appropriately.

This way the MSP team doesn’t have to analyze each ticket as it comes in—a bottleneck that can slow the resolution process.

Best Practice #4: Automate Ticket Creation: In a modern service desk, users don’t have to be the sole creators of tickets. Monitoring technology can automatically create tickets when certain thresholds are met—such as bandwidth, memory or capacity. The tickets can then be routed to service desk technicians who can head off potential problems before users are aware. Being proactive instead of reactive can save days or weeks of resolution time.

Best Practice #5: Review Top 10 Ticket Generators:  The majority of ticket volume is generated by a small group of users, systems or tasks. Make sure your staff reviews and analyzes ticketing information weekly or monthly to see how the team can alleviate these problem areas through proactive maintenance, training or upgrades. Having all this information in a central service desk allows you to turn anecdotes into data-driven reports that can supplement planning and budget requests.

Best Practice #6: Integrate with Systems Management: Serving as the central repository for support history makes the service desk a perfect hub for conducting other maintenance across the client IT environment. This way patch updates, backups, security scans, monitoring, power management and remote control are no long done by a hodgepodge of tools. Instead they are centralized under a single management umbrella for a more holistic and complete IT systems management strategy.

Learn More

For more in-depth advice on MSP best practices, check out our three eBooks.

A Winning Hand: 21 Cards to Play for Total MSP Success – Part I

This includes:

  • Lessons on Achieving Managed Services Growth
  • The Dynamic and Influential Role of the MSP
  • Formulating the Right High-Level Strategy
  • MSP Business Planning for Business Growth
  • Vertical Strategies and Top Vertical Markets
  • Creating and Building a Strong MSP Brand
  • MSP Marketing Strategies and Tactics
  • Choosing the Right Technologies For Your MSP

A Winning Hand: 21 Cards to Play for Total MSP Success – Part 2

This includes:

  • MSPs: Making Sure the Price is Right
  • Building Effective Service Bundles
  • 22 Critical Metrics and KPIs for MSPs
  • Finding and Keeping the Best Employees Chapter 12 Contracts, SLAs and Master Services Agreements for MSPs
  • Making Statements of Work, Work For You
  • Mastering the Complexities of Successful Customer Onboarding

A Winning Hand: 21 Cards to Play for Total MSP Success – Part 3

This includes:

  • Building and Tuning a High-powered Sales Engine
  • Creating the Most Helpful Service Desk Possible
  • What You Need to Know About Offering NOC Services
  • What is a vCIO? It’s More Than What You Think It Is
  • Security is an MSP’s Job One
  • Customer Management
  • How to Have the Conversation on Cross Sell New Services
Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.

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