FAQ: How Do You Handle Service Desk Staffing for Peaks in Demand?

HDI and HDAA members are a group of community-minded problem solvers. They take their jobs of managing people, process, and […]

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HDI and HDAA members are a group of community-minded problem solvers. They take their jobs of managing people, process, and technology quite seriously, but they also love to help each other excel in their careers. HDIConnect is a one-stop destination where HDI members gather for peer learning, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Today, we’re sharing a recent discussion from Connect about staffing the service desk for peaks in demand.

Q: How do you handle help desk staffing when there is a single hour that requires additional staff.  Are the only options to have additional staff that aren’t needed for several hours or suffer through knowing that abandon rate is going to be high in that hour? – Mary M.

A: Mary, I assume overlapping shifts is not an option. Is having one or two NOC technicians or a level II engineer(s) available, if needed, an option? Or, is going plus one and have their other seven hours be something very valuable like knowledge base article valuation/cleanup, etc.?Steve B.

A: We staff for overages like that with management. Nicole M.

A: Because we have offices in all US time zones, we provide coverage from 8:00 a.m. Eastern to 6:00 p.m. Western time. I staff from 6:00 a.m. Mountain time to 7:00 p.m. My first two people come in at 6:00 a.m. and leave at 3:00 p.m. Then I have one 7:00 a.m. person, one 8:00 a.m. person, one 9:00 a.m. person and one 10:00 a.m. person. This way, I have coverage and flexibility for PTO and other OOO situations.Kathy M.

A: Are you able to provide a little more detail? What time of day it is for during the shift (at the beginning or end)? What kind of volume is typical, and how off are service levels? Do you have the opportunity to leverage flexible scheduling to meet the need or direct contacts during that hour to just one mechanism for contacting the help desk (turn off call and direct to chat, so agents could handle more than one contact at a time)?Heather A.

A: As a bank, we have several branches open on Saturdays, so we offer support from 6:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. with just one agent. The only timeframe where we are having a high abandoned rate/long wait time is from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., as everyone is getting started for the day. I was just curious if there was some out-of-the-box option that could help us during that small timeframe.Mary M.

A: At my last company, when I first started we, too, had a one-person staffed desk, roughly the same hours. The person who worked that Saturday was then given time off during the week.

I found after time (and working them myself) that we would be better served utilizing on-call for that Saturday and having my staff full on the week days. That, and I noticed there was quite a bit of downtime after the first part of the morning for the person working. We supported an insurance call center.

At first the on-call person was busy, but over time the calls subsided and the on-call wasn’t as much an issue.

What is the cause for the uptick in calls on open (between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.)?  Maybe there is an opportunity for training of staff here.

Lastly, if you do have to staff during this time, you might want to think about remote support.  Maybe have someone just dial into the queue for that one hour to help with calls during that time, then log out leaving your main onsite person.Josh S.

A: Is this something that can be planned in advance? If so you might be able to request volunteers from other parts of the IT organization to sign up for shifts. We do this in August when our volume peaks at the start of the Fall semester. Those with good customer service skills often enjoy this change from their regular routine, and there is the added benefit that they leave with a better understanding of what the Help Desk does, how we might collaborate better to resolve issues at the Help Desk, etc.Denise M.

A: In our case, we staff from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern with two shifts (8:005:00 and 9:006:00). Our on-call person handles “after hours” from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., as that is when our West Coast customers tend to call if they have issues.

We have only two support techs in from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. currently, but I’m considering the addition of an 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. shift, since we don’t really get any calls until around 8:30 a.m. and that may help buffer the influx that sometimes occurs around 8:30 a.m.Michael M.

A: I have seen a lot of great responses with ideas in this thread on how to deal with the staffing end of your question. I recommend exploring the root cause of why that one hour is busier to see if you can influence it any. Socializing the issue with your end users might be of benefit.

For example, our Mondays are 30% busier than any other day of the week. And while I do have an extra agent or two (which helps with personal time off coverage and allows for continuous improvement activities), I cannot staff to that level due to the costs. Instead, we have deferred what work we can (e.g., incoming emails are often deferred to Tuesday, less PTO is approved). We have also socialized the challenges both within IT and with our business users. This has resulted in some positive changes. For example, the company does not send announcements that may generate calls out on Mondays. IT only implements changes that require the additional time on the weekend (many small changes go in on Tuesday or Wednesday night). Our end users know that Mondays are our busiest day, and many defer contacting us regarding non-critical issues to another day of the week.

Another example is snowstorm days. Most of our staff opts to work from home when there is inclement weather. Due to infrequency of these events, we have started sending out reminders beforehand with working from home best practices and tips. We also encourage them to complete a test run prior to the foul weather. These steps have helped reduce the volume of calls on the day of the event.

Understanding why that one hour is busier and brainstorming ways to change that might be a good use of your time.Stacy S.

A: What about using staff from other areas to supplement staffing (e.g., desktop support staff are not typically answering a lot of issues on Monday morning, are they)? Also, is the work during these periods typically different, higher volume but lower AHT?

Another approach is to analyze the type of issues conning in and identify actions to reduce the number of them (e.g., changing a locked-out user from three attempts to five or seven attempts can significantly reduce this issue). Often it is just one or two more people that can make the difference.John C.

A: Identify the most common issues/problems during that pick time and find ways to be proactive in dealing with them. It could be creating a self-service portal where you can post things that users should be aware of. For example, if you have several password reset requests, you may need to post your password policy on the self-service portal so that users know the password complexity requirement, the minimum password age, account lock out duration, the enforced password history, etc.

Work with your IT infrastructure team to perform root cause analysis. In the past, we had a similar high volume of requests on Mondays from users when we pushed major updates over the weekend. This was significantly reduced after doing root cause analysis. We had to ensure that the updates are compatible to all hardware/software types that we support.Ayele S.


Members have given great suggestions for handling peak call times. Of course, finding the cause and eliminating it is the best, but it’s often not practical to do.

If customers/users can create tickets through a self-service portal, it’s good to let them know that they can use it and their issue will be responded to as quickly as possible. This can reduce the number of “non-critical” calls or contactsbut, of course, everyone believes their issue to be critical at the time.

One way to determine the exact need for staffing a peak time is to calculate the amount of extra work by multiplying the number of “above normal” calls by the Average Handle Time (AHT). For example, if there are 30 extra calls between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on Monday, and your AHT is 10 minutes, you need 300 minutes (or 5 hours) of extra labor time to keep queue time and abandon rate the same as in non-peak times. Will overlapping the shift do that for you? It depends on the number of staff you have to begin with. If you cannot mitigate all of the delay in handling calls, an announcement on your phone system and intranet notifications that customers/users should expect delays during the peak hour are warranted. These help set expectations.

Educating and informing your customers goes a long way.

Roy Atkinson, Senior Writer/Analyst, HDI

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