Talking Shop: Managing help desk call volume and scheduling

Optimize Help Desk effectiveness through planning and coordination

Effective management of personnel resources is essential to the success of any IT call center or help desk. IT help desks often receive more calls for support than they can handle. Operators and analysts can easily feel overwhelmed, as if a tidal wave is about to engulf them. I recently examined this problem within my organization and found that, through planning and resource management, IT administrators can lessen the stress and confusion caused by periodic call surges.

Case study: Supporting 4,000 employees
I work at the IT call center of a mid-size utility with about 4,000 employees, and our goal is to become the single point of contact for IT services by providing outstanding customer service to our internal customers and delivering high-quality, efficient, and timely responses and solutions. A major step toward achieving this goal is providing our clients adequate access to help desk resources.

Currently, patrons can contact our help desk in four ways: by walk-up, e-mail, voice mail and telephone. These access points are designed to fit the diverse needs of every client, and all are used on a regular basis. However, telephone communication accounts for the majority of contacts, and most help desk resources are focused on this access point. Realizing this, I asked myself the questions:
  • Is our daily work schedule configured correctly for our current call volume and for optimum efficiency?
  • If not, what changes could we make to better serve our clients while remaining within budget constraints?

Call statistics—an invaluable tool
To answer these questions, I first examined significant call statistics. This data covered the seven-month period from February to August 1999 and included:
  • Total number of calls offered to our call center
  • Total number of calls abandoned (those calls that rang to an analyst’s phone but were not answered)
  • Total number of calls answered within our 60-second target time
  • The percentage of calls answered within our 60-second target time
  • The average speed at which calls were answered
  • The average time clients waited in queue

I also used our most recent workday schedule to get an accurate description of the daily phone coverage. Together these documents provided an accurate and detailed description of the relationship between our call volume and shift scheduling.

To effectively use personnel and provide clients adequate access to IT support resources, your shift scheduling must relate to your call volume. Efficiency and high-quality customer service should always be at the forefront of a help desk manager’s or supervisor’s mind. Call statistics are invaluable when measuring those characteristics essential to a successful help desk.

When are the rush hours?
By looking at the number of calls sent to our help desk, I noticed that most calls for assistance were made between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. During this time, the rate of abandoned calls was the highest, and the time clients spent waiting in queue was the longest. Our workday schedule is already configured to accommodate this three-hour call-heavy period, however. Between 7:45 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., all available personnel are online simultaneously. This provides the maximum amount of phone coverage available at our current staffing level. Analysts have more time for their administrative work after this three-hour morning rush, when the call volume drops significantly.

What can be done?
Providing high-quality, efficient, and timely responses and solutions takes not only hard work and determination but continuous self-evaluation and improvement. Help desk managers must recognize this need and take the necessary steps to maintain and improve their level of customer service.

As part of this process, managers should examine their current call volume and the effectiveness of their daily shift schedules. Using this data, I concluded that the only improvements to our current staffing level would be either to increase the overall number of available support personnel or increase the number of online staff during the call-heavy morning hours. To provide adequate customer support, help desk managers must match their resources with their overall call volume, taking occasional call surges into consideration.


Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

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