10 min read
Oct 8, 2020
IT Help Desk

How To Find the Right Service Desk Staffing Model for Your Business

Understand the basics of service desk staffing, and use our calculator to estimate the number of service desk agents you need for query or incident management.

Gitanjali MariaSr. Content Analyst

With a majority of employees now working from home, calls and emails to IT support teams are increasing by the day. Forgotten passwords, restricted file access, system malfunctions, webcam issues during video calls, unregistered mobile devices—the list of employee IT issues goes on. 

If you’re an IT manager or someone who looks after IT services at a midsize or large company, you must be handling large volumes of requests every single day. But there are only so many calls or emails you can juggle. And what if you accidentally miss one of them? You’ll have an unresolved incident that can affect workplace productivity. Setting up a service desk can help in such situations. 

In this article, we’ve answered common questions related to starting an IT help desk and discussed the key variables affecting the staffing process. We’ve also provided a calculator to help estimate the number of IT support agents you should have for query and incident management.

What is an IT service desk?

An IT service desk is a help desk that assists clients—typically employees within an organization—in fixing tech or tech-related problems they may face while working. Service desk agents have to resolve employee issues within a set time frame to ensure business productivity isn’t hampered. 

Password reset requests, software update issues, system malfunctions, corrupted data, and data recovery requests are some common queries addressed by service desk staff.

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Service desk staffing models: Your FAQs answered

Here are answers to some common queries businesses like yours have when contemplating the idea of investing in an IT help desk.

1. When should you invest in a service desk?

You may not have felt the need for a dedicated service desk when your business was small. IT issues back then would have been handled by more knowledgeable or tech-savvy colleagues or by a single IT executive. But as your business grows and you invest in tech infrastructure, the number of related IT challenges faced by employees will also increase. A single support agent may no longer be able to answer all the requests on time. It’s also around this same time you may feel the need to have a ticketing system for tracking and monitoring the status of all requests.

2. Should you have an in-house service team, or should you consider outsourcing?

Once you’ve decided to set up a service desk, the next big question is whether to have an in-house team or outsource to a third party. While outsourcing can help avoid the hassle of hiring support agents and managing their daily workflows, it’ll leave you with less control over how IT issues are handled.

Below we’ve compared the two models, so you can decide which better suits your budget, productivity requirements, and ticket volume, among other deciding factors.

In-house service desk Outsourced service desk
Costs are often unpredictable and high, as you’ll need to take care of staff salaries, training, hardware and software requirements, etc. Charged on a subscription basis, so you pay a fixed amount. Costs are lower than in-house desks, as all requirements are handled by a third-party service provider.
It’ll take you longer to set up an in-house help desk. You can get started as soon as you finalize a vendor.
You can keep changing or updating service parameters, such as average response time, based on requirements. You have to abide by the agreement signed with the third-party provider, and it’s difficult to change terms mid-contract.
An in-house support team is likely to understand your requirements better and have a more thorough knowledge of the internal IT infrastructure and architecture. Third-party agents may not be as familiar with your IT infrastructure and requirements. Also, they may be reluctant to change ticket priorities to adjust any dynamic needs.

3. How should you organize or model your service desk team?

Most businesses adopt either of the following service desk staffing models.

  • Tiered generalist model: In this structure, tickets or calls are answered by a group of “generalist” agents who attend to clients’ most urgent issues. If they’re unable to resolve a query, they escalate it to the level two team. Studies suggest most generalist analysts should be able to resolve 45% to 65% of the cases assigned to them.

  • Tiered specialist model: In this service desk staffing model, tickets or calls are routed to “specialist” agents trained on specific IT challenges. Thus, they have fewer level-two escalations. Hiring specialists is costlier than hiring generalists. Also, due to specialization in a particular IT function, these agents may be unable to help clients facing multiple IT issues.

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Getting service desk staffing right: How large a team do you need?

If your service desk is understaffed, you’ll have a pileup of tickets that are past their due dates. And if you have too many agents, you’ll risk overstepping your budget. So there’s no right answer to this question! 

Your optimum staffing level will depend on many variables, such as the number of requests, urgency, and expected turnaround time. In this section, we’ve defined the key variables affecting service desk call volumes. We’ve also provided an Erlang calculator to help rightsize your service team.

1. Estimated number of calls

This parameter refers to the number of calls your desk staff members receive in a given time period. Caller requests may be as simple as password resets or as complex as system malfunctions. 

Gartner’s How to Determine Your IT Service Desk Staffing Numbers report (full content available to clients only) estimates that an employee, on average, contacts the service desk around 0.8 to 1.5 times per month, whereas a service desk agent handles an average of 570 requests every month.

Pro Tip

Base your service desk team size on the number of calls you receive rather than the number of employees in your firm. This will help build an estimate that’s more closely tied to your work volume. 

2. Average handling time (AHT)

AHT, also known as average query handling time, is the average duration of a customer call. It includes the total talk time, hold time during the call, and wrap-up time (i.e., time spent by an agent on after-call work such as documenting call details). 

AHT = (Total talk time + Total hold time + Total wrap-up time) / Total number of calls handled

Pro Tip

Don’t calculate AHT per agent. Calculate it for your entire team to get a better estimate of how many agents you’ll need to manage the complete workload.

3. Service level 

Service level refers to the percentage of estimated incoming calls you expect your team to answer within a target time frame. For instance, you may want to answer 70% of all calls within 30 seconds. 

Pro Tip

The industry standard is to answer 80% of all calls within 20 seconds. That said, have a reasonable service level expectation, so your agents can answer as many calls in the target time without experiencing any burnout. 

4. Occupancy rate

Occupancy rate is the percentage of time your agents will be on calls answering employee queries compared to total their logged-in time. 

Pro Tip

Limit the expected occupancy rate to 85% to 90%. Anything above this can lead to burnout or even agents trying to end calls before queries are satisfactorily resolved.

5. Shrinkage

Shrinkage is the percentage of time your service agents would be unavailable to answer calls. It includes lunch hours, break time, leaves, and the time spent on training or attending meetings. Higher the shrinkage, higher the number of agents required to answer customer calls. 

Pro Tip

Maintain shrinkage at 30% to 35% to reduce agent burnout as well as prevent understaffing.

6. Traffic intensity

Also known as call hours, this value represents the time it would take your team to handle all the estimated number of calls if they arrived one after another. GetApp’s Erlang calculator autocalculates this value based on your inputs to the above parameters. 

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How to use GetApp’s service desk staffing calculator

GetApp’s staffing calculator, available as a downloadable template, is based on the Erlang C formula and uses the variables explained above to provide an estimate of the number of support agents you’ll need, irrespective of whether you’re planning to develop an in-house team or outsource the process.

Make a copy of the template. Enter values for variables 1 through 4. Traffic intensity will be autocalculated per your inputs. Move to the “minimum no. of required agents” column. The value you enter here should be at least one more than the traffic intensity value. This column provides an estimate of the minimum number of agents you’ll need without factoring in shrinkage (e.g., lunch hours). The calculator will display an alert (marked in red) if you’ve entered a low value. Adjust it until you can no longer see the alert. 

Next, enter your expected shrinkage level. The calculator will then provide an estimate of the number of service agents you’ll need after factoring in your team’s break time, leaves, time spent on training or attending meetings, etc.

GetApp's Erlang Calculator to find IT help desk size

Erlang C formula-based calculators are widely used, but you should also be aware of their limitations. The formula assumes there are no abandoned or lost calls and doesn’t factor in queries answered via chat, email, or social media. Also, the suggested team size is based on assumptions you make about the number of calls, AHT, and target time. For instance, a 10-second increase in AHT for 1,000 calls can result in a drastic increase in your number of required agents. 

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Conclusion: Use software to make the most of your service desk

Invest in help desk software to improve the efficiency of your support staff. The software will help your team track service requests and close them on time. If you’re not willing to purchase a paid tool, here are some free options to try.

Alternatively, you can check out the top products in the helpdesk and ticketing software category. These software solutions are ranked on various parameters, including functionality, value for money, and customer support.

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