How Staffing Models Relate to Service Desk Agent Proficiency

Men and women service desk agents

The correlation between technical proficiency and repetition doesn’t need to be charted as data points on an X-Y axis when there is already the old adage that practice makes perfect. A dedicated service desk agent that handles 100% of a specific issue, whether it be AD administration or remote application installs will excel over a shared agent supporting one-off incidents for a client that generates minimal volume. In other words, an agent that only handles one unique incident a month is not going to have an intuitive approach to troubleshooting. So if they’re supporting a proprietary application with a myriad of administrative steps and settings to install that vary depending on the roles-based access of the end-user, all procedures are not going to be second nature to an agent who handles only a few issues a year. In such cases, documentation is the service desk’s salvation. Having easily accessible documentation is the next best thing to intuitive troubleshooting. Whether the troubleshooting procedures are stored in SharePoint, OneNote, or an IT User portal, they must be searchable and have locked down editing and approval capabilities as part of a formal knowledge management process.

Even with the available tools for service desk agents to develop their skills, the staffing model selected and the frequency of interaction indeed plays a part in both an agent’s technical proficiency on unique incidents and the overall diversity of their resolution repertoire. Though an agent’s technical knowledge is defined by a multitude of factors, below are ways the staffing model can have an impact.

Dedicated Model

In the dedicated model, a team of agents takes all contacts for one account only.  As a result dedicated agents become acutely knowledgeable and experienced in the processes and support issues encountered by this user community.  Effectiveness is greatly increased with each iteration of client-specific support items; however, scalability is limited to the number of agents dedicated to the account.  If there are unexpected and significant spikes in service desk activity or resolution processes become more time consuming due to more complex or incompatible technology releases, this increased volume must still be handled by the same finite resources, though on a best-effort basis.

Shared Model

In a shared model, agents respond to contacts from multiple clients as they are received in the service desk queue. Since the shared model is normally billed at a per incident rate versus a flat monthly per agent rate, it can be more cost-effective. A common misperception of this model is that it is comprised of a nearly infinite team of strangers with limited, if any, proficiency of the client’s unique IT environment, processes, industry, culture, etc. The reality is that this model is typically staffed with “primary agents” who may take contacts for other clients, but still handle an overwhelming majority of one account. So instead of handling 100% of a particular client’s monthly volume like a dedicated agent would, primary agents can still handle up to 70% of that same volume, meaning the potential high proficiency through repetition is also significant. At the same time, the end user community gets to know those agents by name through repeated interaction and client IT management gain a thorough knowledge of individual activity when reviewing ticket data, recorded calls, and simply as a consequence of setting up access rights for those individuals. Also, this model is far more scalable, because when contact volume increases “secondary agents,” those also trained on the account, can be added to the queue to help deliver on the rising demand for support.

Hybrid Model

Considering the inherent benefits of both the shared and dedicated support models, the logical next question is “Do I have to choose between one and the other model?” The answer to that question is a resounding “NO!” Most help desk providers can merge the two models to create a solution that maximizes the benefits of both. For example, clients can choose to use dedicated agents during standard business hours and route specific, high volume contact types to them so they hone their subject matter expertise, but engage shared agents for after-hours support. This ensures total coverage in regards to the client’s global workforce and uninterrupted service levels during peak periods, while concurrently minimizing costs during after-hours or slow periods of coverage.

Of course, any organization evaluating a service desk solution would rather have a clear than a nuanced choice. But so long as there is genuine consideration of how these models align with their IT environment, complexity in supported systems, hourly volume fluctuations, and how their industry and culture may contribute to their support requirements, the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fall into the right place. And a flexible service desk partner will tell you no matter which choice you make, even a contracted scope is never set in stone and can be adjusted as the overall support requirements evolve over time. In an ever changing support environment sometimes proficiency means preparing for what’s ahead.