A quick read with a big impact.

Planning Your Help Desk Staffing Levels for 2021: 3 Tips and 1 Tool

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Your help desk faces enough challenges at the best of times. Whether it’s too many calls from too many channels, long resolution times, lost issues, or repetitive, time-consuming tasks, it’s never easy to deliver an excellent customer experience profitably.

But it’s much easier if you’ve planned the right staffing levels.

Because of the upheaval of 2020, it’s not easy to predict what 2021 will bring (after we found out about the zombie ferrets, we don’t even try to guess anymore). However, when it comes to your help desk staffing levels, looking at the right variables will help you develop a solid plan — one that lets you ride whatever weird waves the coming year might have in store.

Here are the top three things to consider when planning help desk staffing levels.

1. Hours of Coverage and Capacity

COVID-19 will continue to affect your staffing model in 2021, if for no other reason than because the type of support your help desk delivers will continue to be different from what you normally deliver. Helping employees get set up to work from home … or helping them head back to the office from home … or helping them go back to working from home again … well, it all takes time.

You will notice the difference most readily in longer talk times. The average talk time at most help desks runs somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. With COVID-19, all these transitions and changes mean you can expect average talk times to increase to somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

What this means for your hours of coverage and capacity is a big deal. If you were operating at a 10-minute average talk time, and now you're suddenly at a 20-minute average, you’ve basically just cut your staffing pool in half, slashing what your help desk agents are available to take on from a workload perspective.

To accurately plan, think about what’s happening now that will reverberate into 2021. You’ll likely still have much of the same support requirements for people working remotely. There will always be new and enticing cloud-based tools and applications that employees will want to try out (and may need help with). And depending on how your organization fared this past year, there may be an increase in staff onboarding … or offboarding.

In addition to looking forward, a good plan takes the past into account as well. What was your help desk workload like in 2020? Where were the peaks and troughs, not just monthly or yearly, but daily? And will the same conditions causing those peaks or troughs happen again in 2021?

For example, some industries like healthcare saw a significant increase in support needs and workloads during 2020 – and those needs will probably not diminish anytime soon. Other industries who were part of the great work-from-home shift in 2020 may be old hands at it by 2021, meaning help desk volume could settle back into pre-COVID numbers. But the timing may change: Many of our clients that have shifted to remote work have had to make major changes to their help desk due to changes in the timing of peak volume. Some are seeing 50% of calls coming in during a two-hour window at the beginning of the day, and then only a trickle the rest of the day. This means they’ve had to make serious reconfigurations when it comes to help desk scheduling, even if their staffing numbers haven’t changed.

2. Types of Support and Contact Channels

Your next consideration when planning your help desk staffing levels for 2021 should be the support channels you offer. What contact channel do you want to drive volume to? Is it phone, chat, text, or email?

Phone support is resource-intensive but has a higher potential of resolution at first contact. Email typically takes multiple back and forth messages to resolve an issue, although agents can multitask between messages. Updating self-service tickets that may go to email also takes quite a few interactions, but they're typically quick to resolve. Plus, you can use canned responses and templates to lighten workloads.

To determine the right mix of channels, look at historical trends in channel usage and place them alongside your current situation. Look for changes in channel usage, workload, and workflow.

Additionally, consider that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If you’re eager to drive most of your traffic to self-service for example, or chat, plan out how you’re going to make that option as appealing and satisfying as possible to the end user. Before making your plan, consider doing a survey, so you can find out what people like and dislike about the different channels. That way, you can more easily gauge what you need to do to drive traffic the way you wish.

3. Workload and Multi-Roles

How you plan your help desk staffing levels for 2021 also depends on the size of your IT shop. If you operate a small IT team, your staff may have multiple IT roles besides just fielding support requests. They have likely been assigned project work that they must complete to keep the lights on. Or they devote time each shift to a new rollout, or other priorities.

To get an accurate picture of your staffing levels, you must calculate the percentage of their day that staff can devote to taking inbound calls. To do this exercise, understand what a typical shift looks like for your help desk staff. For example, they probably receive some calls that can't be fixed over the phone. They must leave their desks and visit the customer to resolve the issue. Naturally, this means they are no longer available to answer incoming support calls. This is an important factor to consider – and something many companies forget.

Let’s work through a scenario. Suppose your team receives 500 tickets a month, spends two hours working each ticket, and takes six days to resolve a ticket … but they can only spend 75% of their day on support. If you don’t take that number into account, your theoretical max throughput per agent will be wildly inflated – and you’ll be understaffed.

Tools for Building Your Staffing Plans

Want to get a quick snapshot of what your help-desk staffing might look like in 2021? Head over to Call Centre Helper and plug your numbers into their Erlang Calculator to calculate the number of staff you require to reach your service levels.

If ROI is on your mind heading into 2021, try our Cost of Support ROI Calculator.

Closest Thing to a Crystal Ball

One thing that COVID-19 has taught us is that predicting the future isn’t easy. But if you accurately estimate your hours of coverage and capacity, if you get a handle on your anticipated types of support for each channel, and if you get a good picture of your anticipated workloads (especially if your help-desk staff wear multiple hats), you will be successful planning your help desk staffing levels for 2021.

By the way, if you need help making sense of your help desk staffing levels, give us a call at 1.800.770.1075. We’re at your service.