High Service Desk Contact Volume and Economies of Scale

Illustration of a headset with a balancing scale in the middle of it

Whether you deal in goods or services, economies of scale will always apply. Defined by Investopedia as “the cost advantage that arises with increased output of a product” this microeconomic concept is equally true at the service desk but in the currency of the industry which is often measured by monthly contact or incident volume. Economies of scale can be derived from both internal and external sources and, as it happens in the realm on IT support, those cost advantages are assessed via a symbiotic relationship between in-house and outsourced IT groups. In other words, the more efficient both groups become through increased interaction and knowledge transfer, the more both organizations experience lower operational expenses. Below are the top five benefits directly associated with high monthly contact volume economies of scale at the service desk:

  • 1 Increased customization of the scope of services including call types, unique industry processes, tools used and proprietary applications supported. Level 1 support of standard office applications in a B2B environment is easily replicated from client to client no matter how few and far between the contacts. But for those looking for a customized solution that requires equally unique training and documentation procedures to be developed, a high monthly incident volume is the primary factor that justifies that initial investment and determines whether the solution makes sense over the long term. In other words, training a team of agents for 50 varied troubleshooting scenarios is worthwhile if those skills are frequently put to use; however, if only a handful of those scenarios arise a few times per month, it becomes a much less efficient use of those resources and puts cost-effective outsourcing out of reach. Using an assembly line analogy, this would be akin to building an auto manufacturing plant, including machinery and production line, and hiring a worker for each station to produce a handful of vehicles. The economy of scale improves with increased production.
  • 2 Increased agent proficiency through repetition. Even in a shared agent model where agents may support other clients, the ones that generate predominant incident volume will frequently be contacting the same primary agents assigned to their account. So their end users will talk to agents who know them as well as their technical environment, processes, and culture. As that familiarity increases over time, the service desk develops a more in-depth resolution procedure repertoire which leads to higher First Contact Resolution, lower Average Handle Time, and fewer escalations to internal IT groups. The virtuous cycle that is set in motion by increased agent proficiency also leads to lower internal costs for clients their in-house groups deal with fewer interruptions and end users can resume their productive tasks more quickly.
  • 3 More competitive pricingAs with longer-term commitments, clients that generate a higher monthly incident volume should expect tiered pricing that reflects a lower per incident rate. From a service desk outsourcing vendor’s perspective, increased agent utilization enables lower transactional pricing. Since agent salaries are fixed, any upward trend in the number of contacts that they handle during the period for which they are compensated means increased utilization which has an inverse correlation on per unit or per incident costs. Those savings, as the saying goes, are passed along to the client.
  • 4 Deeper insight, analysis, and strategic input. Whenever the service desk has increased interaction with the client’s overall IT operations and management team, there is more opportunity to offer thought leadership regarding service improvements and coordination of new technology rollouts and potential impacts. While incident management is indeed the primary component of Level 1 support, common issues that arise at the service desk are often symptoms of the bigger technology picture. As the first point of contact, agents are the eyes and ears of those symptoms and, the more experienced they are in identifying the root cause, the better equipped they are with relaying that insight to the Team Lead for remediation or to suggest a permanent fix. While this is more of a reactive approach to strategic input, a service desk that resolves high contact volume for a particular client tends to gain traction over time in both expertise and credibility regarding more proactive recommendations. The result is often greater inclusion in how new technology is introduced due to expanded Level 1 wisdom. For example, instead of responding to unforeseen spikes caused by rolling out a new CRM solution via an Outlook add-in, the service desk can recommend beta testing that replicates potential impacts in a non-production environment.
  • 5 Greater knowledge management, improved self-help capabilities. As with individual agent proficiency, frequent troubleshooting of repeat incidents means more opportunities for expanding the knowledge base. Assuming the ITSM platform being utilized includes a self-service portal where end users can access that information, the service desk team can develop new knowledgebase articles and FAQ responses, publish them via an approval workflow, and effectively promote call avoidance. Not only do agents increase their knowledge along with the quantity of relevant, accessible KBAs, but the end user population is more educated. As a result, they are less dependent on the service desk for resolution and less prone to generating per incident fees where avoidable.

To complete the cycle, scaling up expertise, improving processes, and leveraging increasingly more intelligent tools to keep IT operations running smoothly will continue to scale down monthly contact volume. This is good news for both clients and the service desk outsourcing vendor. Once the next generation of more complex, high functioning operating system or application is introduced to their environment, both teams should have the bandwidth to meet the next batch of challenges.