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5 critical help desk KPIs to track and manage

IT operations teams shouldn't view help desk KPIs in isolation, but rather as a set of closely related metrics that work together to track the user experience and costs.

Business requirements ultimately determine the criticality of KPIs -- including those for an IT help desk. This means KPIs will never follow a one-size-fits-all model.

However, a few prominent help desk KPIs tend to apply to most IT operations teams. While some of these metrics pertain to customer or user satisfaction and others focus on cost savings, they often go hand-in-hand to optimize IT support tasks.

First response and agent utilization KPIs

The first response KPI gauges a user's experience when they place a help desk call. It assesses how quickly the user connects to an agent that can resolve their problem -- is the user on hold for minutes, or sent into a never-ending automated system tree where they simply give up? The goal, of course, is to have users speak with agents as quickly as possible, and to have the first agent with whom they speak resolve their issue. While it is not particularly difficult to have fast first response times, meeting this metric can often come at the cost of another: agent utilization.

First response and agent utilization are separate, yet closely related, help desk KPIs. As IT managers adjust staffing, first response rates will go up or down, accordingly. For example, increasing help desk staff might improve first response rates. However, this also means some staff members might only have work 50% to 60% of the day -- a horrifying statistic to a company that wants to save money.

Try to strike a balance between user satisfaction and cost. The goal is to keep both user complaints and runaway costs as low as possible.

Ticket status and rate of resolution KPIs

These two help desk KPIs are also closely related. Ticket status typically refers to the volume of tickets that are open, closed, reopened, escalated or not assigned. Rate of resolution focuses on the amount of time spent per ticket closed without escalation. The first metric is status-based and the second is typically time-based, but both demonstrate important statistics for help desk staff.

Having a lower resolution time is always ideal. However, if tickets are closed too quickly and without proper attention, it increases the number of reopened tickets. Some companies strive to keep resolution times within minutes, yet see a high number of reopened cases -- a direct result of rushing to close a ticket without resolving the issue completely.

This is another set of help desk metrics that demand a balance. Rather than focus strictly on time, focus on the rate of tickets being reopened. Few things are more frustrating for users than not having their issue corrected the first time. Aim for minimal reopen rates, which can also help gauge resolution time. From there, use this collective information to drive down the average time spent per ticket.

Help desk costs KPI

This last help desk KPI is a critical one -- and perhaps the most misunderstood.

When companies view cost as a help desk metric, they focus on the actual cost of the ticket process. How much time was spent? What's the cost of the agent? Was there any help desk software or management overhead? All these factors combine to suggest how much a ticket costs a company -- and that metric can be devastating to an IT help desk or operations team. Once these numbers are released, the business might look for ways to trim costs -- and those cost-saving measures are reflected in other KPIs. For example, resolution times might increase, and staff might become over-utilized.

Another challenge with the cost KPI is that many businesses fail to consider the unique cost implications of the user who's waiting for a resolution. If an accountant spends several minutes waiting for a help desk response, it's not ideal -- but it's also not as costly to a company as, for example, a surgeon who must stop working to wait for a help desk response. When employees with a high cost per hour, in terms of their value to a company, are waiting for IT's help to do their job, it can have a real effect on the organization's bottom line. However, many organizations don't capture, or even consider, this kind of data, because it's a variable per-person cost, unlike the fixed costs of help desk staff, equipment and time.

All the help desk KPIs an organization can track and manage -- from response time to ticket status -- have to be brought back to the user. Not all users are the same, and each has a different value and weight to the company, based on the roles they perform. Apply that mindset as you define KPIs, and when you consider how one metric affects another.

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