Effective Queue Management Strategies at the Service Desk

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The primary function of the Level 1 service desk agent is to deliver live support to the end users as quickly as possible so no one is left on hold. While most Level 1 agents can perform Level 2 tasks, both levels of support are segregated based on contact duration so the first-point of contact IT professionals can maximize their availability. This is what the service desk outsourcing industry refers to as “queue management.” With Level 1 focused on resolving access and connectivity issues or mapping network drives, they can quickly jump on the next contact in the queue. In turn, their Level 2 colleagues can troubleshoot more complex and involved incidents for as long as it takes to resolve them. In addition, Team Leads oversee individual agent performance and ensure they’re handling those contacts in a timely manner by monitoring individual KPIs (Average Speed of Answer and Average Handle Time). If it’s a case of current resources being stretched thin, Leads may need to recommend adjustments to staffing level or agents shifts to meet the increased volume. But addressing the personnel aspect of queue management only goes so far. The tools and processes are equally crucial components in three-pronged queue management strategy.

Most ITSM platforms or ticketing systems enable a single point of contact solution via multimedia such as VoIP/phone, email, web form, and chat. All media is routed through a full featured Automated Call Distributor (ACD). ACD features include Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), and Interactive Voice and Video Response (IVR, IVVR). Other elements include real time and historic reporting as well as supervisory monitoring. So when end users contact the service desk through any one of the multiple channels available, they interface with IP call center technology. The new contact is then handled by a unified transaction management system that routes and prioritizes all contacts, regardless of channel, distributing the issue to the service desk profession best suited to solve the request. Screen pops provide client data and status such as a VIP calling.

How are contacts routed via the ACD to the queue?  The ACD system is controlled by a back-end driven programming script.  When voice calls are directed to specific 800 numbers those are in turn routed to specific local Direct Inward Dialing (DID) numbers configured in a cloud-based, multi-tenant contact center service platform.  These DIDs correspond to specific ACD menus which are broken down by the client.  For each client-specific ACD menu, the service desk development team builds a customized solution that includes the proper responses a client wishes their end users to receive when listening to it and marks the call with a queue ID as well as any appropriate skills when it logs the call in the database.  Examples of such skills might be a language marker such as Spanish if, for example, the ACD menu was configured for callers to press “2” to reach a Spanish speaking agent.  Queues are merely groupings of contacts such as voice, voicemail, email or web submits.  Skills, on the other hand, are flags that indicate in the platform how to process or handle that specific inbound contact.  Using the example of the Spanish skill, a contact with this skill tagged to it will be programmed to route only to an agent that can accept Spanish language calls and not route it to those who can’t.

The ACD menu is usually designed to allow a caller to leave a voicemail.  This can be triggered either when a certain hold time has been reached (referred to as “in queue time”) or by the caller themselves by using a specific touch tone such as the pound or star key to go directly to voicemail.  The script recognizes this selection, lets the user leave a message at the beep, and then creates a new call record in the database with a voicemail queue ID and a voicemail skill.  Emails are also processed through scripting but these are directed to the call center service platform via Microsoft Exchange server.  Similar to the way voice calls are handled, specific email addresses are assigned to ACD menus for each client and are then tagged with the appropriate queue ID and skill depending on which email address is the recognized sender.  Likewise, for an email received by a predefined address for web submits, it will be marked as a web submitted contact.

Given that SLAs can be different for different contact types (i.e. voice calls versus emails), different prioritization can be established and is usually based on client requirements.  Generally speaking, priorities are configured to route voice calls to an agent first before waiting emails.  Priorities can also be set on specific skills as well such as Spanish support being a higher routing priority for agents that can speak Spanish over their receipt of English calls. And, in some instances, a client may have a dedicated phone number for VIP users to call.  A VIP caller would then jump to the front of the line and be handled by the next available agent even if there were already callers waiting in the queue. Whatever the preference, whatever the contact medium, if the service desk is leveraging the people, processes, and technology as part of an effective queue management strategy, every end user becomes a VIP, and incident resolution will never be kept on hold.