Service Desk Contacts Per Month

Metric Type

Service: Service Desk
Type: Major Volume
Timescale: Monthly
Ease Of Collection: Medium
Informational Value: High

What Does It Say?

Service Desk Contacts Per Month is one of three metrics which are used to measure the workload carried out by a Service Desk.

What Is High Performance?

The more users that a Service Desk supports, the more contacts the desk will receive. There is therefore no high or low performance level for this metric. Use the instead the ratio Contacts per user per month to understand whether your desk receives more calls or fewer calls than you might expect.

How Easily Can It Be Compared?

The key challenge is in defining what is meant by "contacts".

The majority of contacts to a Service Desk come in phone calls. However, not every desk records each individual incoming phone call: most Service Desk trouble-ticket systems record tickets instead, which is nearly (but not exactly) the same thing. See Service Desk Incidents Per Month.

In addition, however, contacts can be:

  • emails
  • requests submitted by a user filling in a web form
  • faxes (rarely these days)
  • an alert from an automatic monitoring system on a server or router
  • an instant messenger or chat request
  • a request made in person to someone in the IT support team. (These are particularly commonly made to on-site IT support people, and especially in smaller companies where there is no "call-centre" style Service Desk.

It is also important to distinguish between in-bound and out-bound contacts. In-bound contacts are initiated by a user to place a request with the Service Desk. Out-bound contacts are initiated by the Service Desk. The most common reason will be to call back a user concerning a problem. If there is a high Service Desk First Call Resolution Rate then call-backs will be fairly low. However, if the Service Desk is organised so that First Level acts primarily to classify and route an incoming problem, then call-backs will be common, and out-bound contacts may exceed in-bound contacts. Since Service Desk Contacts Per Month is a major volume which is used as the denominator for many Service Desk unit cost, pricing, and staffing ratios, doubling the number of contacts will half the unit cost and thereby badly distort comparisons. For this reason, some outsourcing deals use the concept of "billable contacts" so that each request is uniquely counted once, not several times. This is, in effect, the equivalent of using Service Desk Incidents Per Month, which provides a tighter comparison (but is not without its own challenges).

Out-bound contacts can also sometimes be initiated pro-actively by a Service Desk, for instance as part of a random contact customer satisfaction survey, to schedule proactive maintenance, or to arrange a spot stock-check on a PC. These volumes are much lower, however, and rarely distort the contact count.

How To Collect It?

Querying the records in a trouble-ticket system or incident management system usually produces counts of tickets or incidents, not individual contacts. Individual incoming calls may be counted for you if you are using an Automatic Call Distributor to distribute calls coming into one number to a team of agents.1 However, ACDs do not report emails, web forms, alerts, etc.

In the absence of any of these sources, the last resort is to distribute a tick-sheet to Service Desk agents and ask them to record individual contacts for a sampling period. When sampling, take care to consider the highs and lows of incoming contacts to a Service Desk, so that the sample is representative:

  • Contact levels are highest in the first hours of any working shift, when users turn on their PCs for the first time in the day
  • Contact levels are also high immediately after lunch-time
  • Contact levels are low outside the most common working shift, in particular evenings and weekends
  • Contact levels are high during financial year or quarter ends
  • Contact levels are high immediately following the roll-out of a major upgrade to systems or an application
  • Contact levels are low during the holiday months of July and August, particularly in Europe.

Charting the number of contacts per hour during the course of a day, week, or month is often more informative to Service Desk managers than simply knowing the average Service Desk Contacts Per Month, since it helps set staffing levels for busy periods to avoid long waits for users.

How Frequently Should It Be Reported?

Metripedia recommends using a monthly total as the working figure for calculations. This can be scaled to a daily or hourly average if necessary for other metrics, though doing so will hide the interesting variations described above. The month should be a representative one, avoiding the busy and quiet periods described above.

How To Change It?

Service Desk Contacts Per Month is both a Major Volume and also the main driver of incoming work to the Service Desk. When fewer calls arrive, there is less work for the Service Desk, so fewer agents are needed and costs can be reduced.

There are two main techniques for reducing calls.

The first, most common, and most useful is to introduce self-service. At its most simple, self-service allows users to enter requests on a web site rather than to phone them in. This practice has a small effect on Service Desk costs, because Service Desk agents do not have to spend time collecting basic information about the users name, location, and the type of request. However, the user will still have to spend time providing this information, so Lost User Time is not improved, and User Satisfaction may also be reduced by a less personal service. Though this practice is described by some Service Desks as self-service, it is better termed self-logging.

A fuller self-service solution provides users with guides and documentation which allow them to solve their own problems. Such knowledge management systems can be fed by documentation from software and hardware suppliers, and in sophisticated forms will walk the user through the process of identifying and fixing a problem. Of course, the more sophisticated systems cost more to implement, but if this cost is recovered faster by increased take-up of self-service from the users, then it will still be cost-effective.

A negative side effect of self-service is that it can be expected to increase Lost User Time, since users may spend more time solving IT problems and less on their primary jobs. Whether this is a good thing or not depends partly on whether you consider just the IT budget, or the overall cost of an IT problem to the business. It also depends on the nature of the user population, and in particular the average salary of the users. In a normal Help Desk situation, the user has a problem, and calls the Help Desk. The user might lose 10 minutes to the problem, then spend 10 minutes on the phone to the Help Desk. This second 10 minutes is also spent by the Help Desk agent. Therefore the total time spent by the organisation on the problem would be 30 minutes. In a case where users earn $40 and hour and Help Desk agents earn $20/hour, the overall cost to the business of the problem would be $26.66. If the user had spent only 20 minutes solving the problem using self-service, the cost would have been only $13.32. Even if the user spends 30 minutes solving the problem via self-service, the cost of the problem is still less, at $20.00. However, if the user population is made up of experienced senior knowledge workers rather than clerical workers, earning say $80/hour, the cost of solving the problem by self-service is $40.00.

A second issue with self-service is that not all users are temperamentally inclined to use self-service when it is offered, no matter how good the system is:


Dangers, Traps, & Pitfalls

Service Desk Contacts Per Month can be distorted if the Service Desk makes a large number of relatively simple contacts. Smart Service Desk managers and agents may realise that this benefits them if it increases the number of contacts they can bill for, or if it reduces their apparent overall unit cost, or if it allows them to reach a productivity target of Contacts per Service Desk agent

How Is It Related To Other Measures?

As a Major Volume, this is used as a denominator for a variety of unit cost, pricing, and productivity metrics.

  • Lost User Time can be used as a quality metric to understand the business impact of Service Desk Contacts Per Month.

Public Domain Sources

Currently being researched

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