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Optimizing headcount is a common challenge in most support groups.  In fact, MetricNet has found that the vast majority of service and support organizations are either under-staffed or over-staffed, and each comes with its own set of problems. In this article, MetricNet offers a free, online tool that will help you right-size your support organization.  Additionally, we provide a number of suggestions for how to minimize your headcount requirements without sacrificing the quality of support!

A recent study by Computer Economics revealed a notable disconnect between IT Operational Budgets and IT spending on headcount. They found that “IT spending on a per-user basis is falling.” This is concerning when you consider that most companies are reporting an increase in ticket volumes! So how do we ensure Service and Support is right-sized? What is the appropriate headcount for service and support, and how do we present and defend our headcount to key stakeholders in the organization?

Most organizations wrongly assume that headcount should be based upon the number of users supported. However, MetricNet’s research has proven that staffing should be based upon the workload generated by the user population – the ticket volume and average ticket handle time – and not on the number of users supported. With this in mind, we have developed the Service and Support Budget and Headcount Calculator to help you determine the right headcount and spending level for your service and support organization. Many of MetricNet’s members (sign up here – it’s free!) and clients have come to rely upon this tool for their budget planning activities, and for making operation decisions that optimize performance.

This free online tool takes a few basic pieces of information about your support organization and generates an easy to understand report that you can share with key stakeholders.  It is designed to ensure that you receive adequate funding and headcount for your organization!

But what if you’re like many support organizations that are being asked to do more with less?  What if you simply don’t have the necessary headcount and budget to meet the demands of the workplace? Is it possible to deliver quality service in the face of shrinking budgets and headcount?  The answer is…sometimes yes.  Here’s how…  

It is oftentimes possible to engage in cost reduction strategies that do not affect the quality of service.  In fact, some of these strategies, such as improving channel mix, can actually increase customer satisfaction while simultaneously reducing your costs.  Other cost reduction strategies include shift left, handle time reduction, user self-help tools, a renewed focus on training, and root cause analysis. These are just a few of the ways that creative support organizations are taking charge by reducing workload and costs, without sacrificing the quality of support!

More information on these strategies can be found here.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the more creative – and effective! – strategies that support organizations are using to thrive in the face of shrinking headcount and budgets.

1. Shift Left: Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for service and support includes the cost of support from all sources: the service desk, desktop support, other groups or individuals in IT, field support, and vendors. It is a well established fact that the cost of resolving a ticket at level 1 is lower than the cost of resolving a ticket at desktop support. The diagram below illustrates the power of Shift Left.

support level

2. Reduce Handle Times: This is a strategy used by many support organizations to reduce workload and headcount. New technologies such as remote control tools and knowledge bases can have a dramatic impact on handle times. Another way to affect your handle time is to invest in technician training!

3. Deflect to Lower Cost Channels: An increasing number of support organizations are adopting a more favorable channel mix. That is, they are moving away from all voice to a mix of voice, web/email, chat and self-service which reduces the average cost per ticket (and headcount) overtime.  The diagram below illustrates how an evolving channel mix has reduced the average cost per ticket over the past 8 years.

Cost Deflection

4. Implement or Mature Self Help: Self help costs on average about $2 per ticket and it does make sense to drive some contacts into this channel. Password resets are a classic example as are FAQs following a roll-out (Windows 10 or Office 2016 for example). Generally speaking, it’s the simple things that should get resolved in the self-help channel. You don’t want your end-users spending more time in self-help than they would by calling the service desk!

5. Plan for Adequate Training: Do you know how much absenteeism is costing your support organization? We recently completed a benchmark where a client was experiencing 17% absenteeism. What this meant is that they had to be overstaffed by 17% in order to meet their current workload! Absenteeism is very costly, but you can manage it through coaching, career pathing and training hours. The more training hours your technicians receive, the more satisfied they are with their jobs and the lower your turnover and absenteeism will be.  Moreover, higher training hours are strongly correlated with higher levels of customer satisfaction, lower handle times and hence lower cost per ticket!  It turns out that training is not just a “nice to have”.  Effective training can actually reduce your costs substantially!

6. Eliminate Tickets through Root Cause Analysis: Have you heard of Level -1? We call that Incident Prevention – when incidents are prevented through Root Cause Analysis, effective end-user training and intelligent system design. These are the best incidents because they are the incidents that never happen!  If you are not engaged in active strategies to eliminate tickets at their source, you are probably missing an opportunity to reduce workload and hence costs in your support organization.

Jeffrey Rumburg

Jeff Rumburg is a co-founder and Managing Partner of MetricNet, where he is responsible for global strategy, product development, and financial operations for the company. As a leading expert in benchmarking and re-engineering, Mr. Rumburg authored a best selling book on benchmarking, and has been retained as a benchmarking expert by such well known companies as American Express, Hewlett-Packard, General Motors, IBM, and Sony. Mr. Rumburg was honored in 2014 by receiving the Ron Muns Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the IT Service and Support industry. Prior to co-founding MetricNet, Mr. Rumburg was president and founder of The Verity Group, an international management consulting firm specializing in IT benchmarking. While at Verity, Mr. Rumburg launched a number of syndicated benchmarking services that provided low cost benchmarks to more than 1,000 corporations worldwide. Mr. Rumburg has also held a number of executive positions at META Group, and Gartner. As a vice president at Gartner, Mr. Rumburg led a project team that reengineered Gartner’s global benchmarking product suite. And as vice president at META Group, Mr. Rumburg’s career was focused on business and product development for IT benchmarking. Mr. Rumburg’s education includes an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School, an M.S. magna cum laude in Operations Research from Stanford University, and a B.S. magna cum laude in Mechanical Engineering. He is author of A Hands-On Guide to Competitive Benchmarking: The Path to Continuous Quality and Productivity Improvement, and has taught graduate-level engineering and business courses.

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