As long as there are IT users, the need for help desk support will never go away. No matter how advanced and intuitive the technology becomes, users at one time or another need someone to explain how something works. Excellent help desk support leads to customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to customer loyalty and more business.
Tom O’Brien of Washington Square Associates
Unfortunately for providers, help desk support is expensive. It requires office space, equipment, software applications and staff.
Compensation is the biggest expense in running a help desk, with salaries ranging from $35,000 for less-experienced support professionals to about $60,000 for veterans. While those aren’t smashing numbers by industry standards, they are burdensome enough for service providers with tight budgets whose small and midsize customers often run on even tighter budgets.
To avoid these costs, IT service providers should consider outsourcing. It’s an approach that requires a leap of faith because outsourcing over the years has spurred controversy, especially when it involves offshoring. While some concerns regarding outsourcing are valid, service providers nonetheless should exercise this option by selecting a reliable help desk partner that understands the provider’s business goals. Help desk outsourcing costs a fraction of an in-house help desk and frees providers to focus on core business functions.
Let’s face it, you can offer customers the best technology in the world and some end users still will need help. The question is how well you respond when the customer calls for help.
Are you equipped to deliver a well-rounded experience that produces high customer satisfaction levels? When clients call service providers for support, they expect excellent service. They have no patience for long hold times and inexperienced or rude technicians who can’t solve their problems.
The help desk is a service provider’s front line, and as such, it has an enormous impact on the customer relationship. Service carries more weight with most customers than the technology itself. In fact, end users typically list help desk support at or near the top of their priorities when asked which managed services matter most to them.
Help desk support is considered a managed service when delivered as part of a package that generates recurring revenues. An August 2011 blog on MSPMentor posited that help desk support is the most critical service that managed service providers (MSP) can offer.
Help desk staff handle some of the most critical interactions between providers and customers. Therefore, to ensure a successful, long-term relationship, providers must employ skilled support techs with business acumen to deal with callers who at times are very stressed. They need the proper skills to handle calls that are resolved quickly as well as callbacks and even the scheduling of the occasional on-site remediation visit.
How efficiently, professionally and courteously a customer’s problem is solved affects customer satisfaction. The more satisfied the customer, the more likely the relationship is to continue. But clients will leave if they can’t get the help they need, are treated rudely or have to explain their problem multiple times to different people.
Over the years, the IT industry has been at the center of enough help desk horror stories to create a veritable online community of critics, skeptics and malcontents eager to share their horrifying experiences with the world. Conversely, support techs enjoy sharing with each other bizarre exchanges they’ve had with customers. But help desk support is no joke—just ask companies that have stumbled because of support issues.
In the mid 2000s, plenty of stories about poor tech support were making the rounds, and there were numerous complaints about offshoring by companies such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Customers would call the help desk to find they were talking to someone in a different country. Regardless of the support tech’s proficiency or courteousness, communication issues led to resentments and frustrations.
Misunderstandings in language and technical jargon also created issues between help desk contractors and their clients, who found that having a help desk halfway around the world, as opposed to in the same building or even the same country, can get in the way of making decisions. It’s hard to escalate issues when necessary, and communication with development and other technical teams suffers. For a company wanting to maintain a reputation of good service, these are serious drawbacks.
Naturally, outsourcing took on negative connotations in some quarters, with customers venting their frustrations and companies reconsidering the practice. Some companies brought their outsourced help desks back in-house, with all the added staffing and overhead costs that entails. These missteps mostly affected vendors, but solution providers took cues from the experience.
Having seen some vendors stumble with help desk services, successful solution providers take great pains to understand their clients’ IT needs. They are aware that since IT is integral to business, a technology failure can seriously hurt a client. This makes the help desk at least as important as the technology itself, and makes it incumbent on providers to make sure customers get help quickly.
To deliver effective help desk services, providers must have a good handle on their clients’ needs. Providers must draw on experience, knowledge of the technology and the proficiency of their clients’ end users to set up their help desks. Doing so calls for implementing repeatable processes, documenting procedures, and hiring, training and motivating a staff with the requisite skills.
In short, reliable and effective help desk services require three primary elements—people, processes and technology—all of which require significant investment. For a budget-strapped solution provider, such costs can siphon resources away from sales activities and strategic planning, which can stunt growth.
A help desk is much more than a person sitting at a desk with a phone and PC. These days customers want options, which means setting up systems to process support cases submitted by phone, email or web portal. Data systems must be reliable, well-designed, intuitive and compatible with other computing resources used by service providers to run their businesses.
As for phone systems, an effective help desk cannot rely on a regular phone line, unless it is a very small shop. An operation with multiple technicians requires a programmable phone system with automatic routing. It must have features such as inbound and outbound messages and voice commands, and integrate with computing resources such as client and case databases.
Support technicians must be proficient with the technology they use so that it enhances their ability to perform their duties rather than become an encumbrance. Obviously, they also must be proficient on the technologies their customers need help with. This requires significant investment in training because technicians, especially less-experienced ones, have to learn about past and current versions of products in use.
Not all techs need to have the same specializations or know every single product, so it’s important to organize a help desk accordingly. If a tech doesn’t know the answer to the customer’s problem, he or she needs to know who does and route the customer’ call to that person. Efficient help desks rely on the implementation of repeatable processes, including case escalation. This means having a hierarchy in place to move cases up the chain of command when necessary.
Help desk calls can cost providers anywhere from $12 to $40 per incident. Multiply that by the number of users a provider serves, and it’s easy to see a help desk is a major investment, especially when you take into account the typical user calls the help desk 1.25 times per month. Providers can ease the burden of help desk expenses by including some of the costs in managed services fee schedules. This requires a delicate balance because long-term clients who invest in managed services expect to get technical support without extra charges.
Help desk costs break down into technology, overhead, staff and hidden costs. Technology costs include support applications, databases, web portals, computer hardware and phone equipment. Overhead costs cover office space leases and furnishings, electric power and cooling. Hidden costs, which are difficult to calculate, include support from departments such as human resources and administrative services.
Ultimately, however, a help desk’s biggest cost is staffing, which typically sucks up 85 percent of the budget. A Tier 1 support rep is paid an average of $3,350 a month, or $42,000 yearly, though salaries range from $35,000 to about $60,000. A modestly staffed help desk, with five to 10 techs, easily runs up a budget of several hundred thousand to $1 million, once you calculate employee benefits and other previously discussed costs.
Solution providers need to understand these expenses. Without doing a cost assessment, it’s easy to lose sight of a help desk’s drain on the business. However, a service provider who has calculated help desk costs is likely to reach the conclusion that outsourcing to a carefully chosen partner makes a lot of sense. With the right partner, outsourcing costs a fraction of an in-house help desk.
Keeping in mind the importance of the help desk to the customer relationship, outsourcing it can be a difficult decision. Finding a partner that understands the provider’s business model, especially in the case of MSPs, is critical. Just as the provider must have an intimate understanding of its client needs, the outsourcing partner must understand the provider’s requirements and, by extension, those of the end clients.
The outsourcing partner’s services must correspond to the technologies the solution provider or MSP delivers. Due diligence in selecting a partner is anything but trivial, so the solution provider must verify the help desk partner’s credentials and that the partner employs a knowledgeable, reliable, friendly staff with the requisite technology certifications. Clear rules of engagement must be established and the help desk provider must understand customer SLAs and agree to abide by them. Only then can the solution provider confidently promote its outsourced help desk services to its customer base.
A cottage industry of help desk providers has cropped up over the years as in-house costs have risen. Among these providers, only a few can claim a full understanding of the solution provider and MSP models. Zenith Infotech stands out in the crowd with its Virtual Help Desk service. The service is affordable; for most partners it costs only about 10 percent of an in-house help desk.
The Virtual Help Desk is staffed by a U.S.-based technical support team that handles software and hardware issues on behalf Zenith Infotech’s partners. The team is tightly integrated with the Zenith Infotech’s Back Office NOC staff and, as such, has well-rounded knowledge of the requirements and business goals of MSPs. The Virtual Help Desk team leverages the Back Office staff when necessary for Level 3 desktop and server issues, and supports Microsoft operating systems, Office suites, email clients, third-party and proprietary software, as well as the Internet Explorer, Mozilla and Firefox browsers.
The Virtual Help Desk works transparently to handle client calls and emails under the MSP partner’s label and to deliver the following services:
As would be the case with any service provider’s in-house help desk, the Virtual Help Desk team makes every effort to resolve issues during the initial call and follows a well-established protocol for case escalation. Whether a case is opened through email or by phone, support techs are trained to address all customer issues in a timely and courteous manner.
Zenith Infotech’s channel-only business model is supported by a track record of true partnership with service providers. Communication with partners is ongoing, and feedback often leads to action by the vendor. Through Virtual Help Desk, Zenith Infotech provides a valuable tool to free partners from a time-consuming, day-to-day activity so they can better focus on planning and executing strategic business plans. Running a help desk, however, is expensive and well beyond the reach of many budget-strapped solution providers and MSPs that serve SMB customers. For them, the advisable option is to outsource the help desk to a reliable, trusted partner. Zenith Infotech’s Virtual Help Desk offers an affordable, reliable service.
Outsourcing your help desk
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The Virtual Help Desk David Strom 10/20/2011 firstname.lastname@example.org 2
Agenda• How help desk service is critical• The troubled track record of help desks• Understanding your users’ needs• Preventing a resource drain• Budgeting• Picking the right partner• Your virtual help desk 4
Our guestTom O’BrienWashington Square Associates, Stafford Virginia 5