Service Desk Pricing Models: Per Incident or Per Contact?

A help desk agent sits at his desk working on his computer and talking into his headset

Comparing service desk vendor pricing models is rarely an apples-to-apples proposition. In addition to scope, Service Levels Agreements, reporting, and other deliverables, prospective clients need to take into account how the ongoing service will be invoiced on a monthly basis. How those recurring costs are tabulated should be an essential part of the proposal review process. A dedicated, per agent model is fairly straightforward. Clients pay the service desk outsourcing vendor a flat monthly fee for each agent assigned to their account and all service is delivered on a best effort basis by those individuals. Some vendors also follow a subscription pricing concept, charging a flat monthly per-user fee, also pretty straightforward for clients looking for predictable costs. On the other hand, some clients prefer to pay for what they use versus pay the same flat rate regardless of slow periods. For them, the choice is commonly between a per call or per contact and a per-incident pricing model. And, just as commonly, those options are misconstrued as synonymous.

So what’s the difference between an incident and a contact?

A contact is any offered voice call, voicemail, e-mail, end-user-submission, or text chat request that is directed to the service desk. This includes notifications generated by automated systems used for network monitoring or other notification broadcasts. An incident is any record in the ticketing or incident management system that is created or handled by a service desk agent. This would include ticket records created as a result of contact to the service desk or an end-user-submitted record (which is automatically routed to the service desk for triage and resolution).

Nonetheless, another common misperception in a per incident model is that the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) triggers billable tickets the second it is answered. While this may be true for a per call/per contact pricing model, incidents are not generated by the ACD, but the agents creating the new ticket record upon receipt of the inbound contacts via phone, email, chat, web form, etc.

So how wide is the gap between monthly contact and monthly incident volume? Industry standards dictate the correlation at a 1.5 to 1 ratio for the following reasons:

  1. The end user calls back for a status update on an incident or service request that had been escalated to an on-site IT support group.
  2. The call goes directly to voicemail. In instances where all agents supporting the account are assisting other callers, the end user is given the option to leave a voice message rather than wait on hold. Though that voice mail is offered directly to the next available agent like any live phone call, the subsequent call back does indeed register as a separate contact.
  3. Dropped call for a mobile user. While call center telephony is typically connected via VoIP, enabling agents to handle inbound contacts over a headset anywhere with a high-speed internet connection, globally dispersed mobile users may be at the mercy of their local cell phone carrier’s geographic coverage. Consequently, dropped calls are a problem that inadvertently compounds the total monthly contacts.
  4. Some clients have an end user population that accesses a lot of PHI and PII or whose data security concerns preclude agents from remotely accessing their desktops for more in-depth troubleshooting. In such instances, the agents are limited to a verbal description of the end user’s issue when trying to determine the root cause; however, they may be authorized to capture screenshots or snip error messages and email them to the agents for further analysis which would constitute a separate contact.
  5. If the caller forgot authentication information such as employee ID for a secure password reset or access request, they may be forced to hang up and try again. In order to ensure access to various systems, applications, and other data is secure, the client and service desk vendor establish multiple forms of authorized user verification methods required and not all of them may be top of mind.

In a per incident model none of the above scenarios generate additional charges by the service desk vendor, but in a per call or per contact pricing structure, it can be cha-ching all day long. In other words, if you’re paying per call and certainly if you’re paying per minute, there is no revenue based incentive for the agent to resolve the end user’s issue quickly, especially not on the first call. While KPIs and SLAs are in place to keep any service desk honest in terms of overall performance, with per incident pricing, the agents have that additional motive to get the issue resolved quickly, increase resolution rates, and handle that next contact in-queue. Not only will this make a difference in the service quality, but you’ll see a considerable difference in the monthly invoice.