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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are the foundation of your MSP business. They are essential to building strong client relationships and must be clear, reasonable and well-constructed.

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MSPradio Episode 8: The Help Desk Dilemma for MSPs

Posted June 11, 2014by Nate Teplow

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A service desk (a.k.a help desk) is critical for an MSP's success. Your clients will need someone to call when something goes wrong. The problem is that maintaining a full service desk is a business of its own. You need to be available 24/7, call volume can be incredibly volatile and it's difficult to find and retain top talent. Ultimately, maintaining a help desk in-house isn't scalable for MSPs.

On this episode of MSPradio, we chat with Jacque Rowden, Director of Continuum's Help Desk, as well as Bryan and Bob Sullo from Clocktower Technology Services to discuss the help desk dilemma for MSPs and how you can find success with an outsourced help desk solution.

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Episode Transcription:

 

Nate:                       Alright, welcome to another episode of MSP radio. I’m your host Nate Teplow. And today we’re talking about service delivery and service quality. So a lot of MSP’s out there, they are growing their business and they need a way to deliver on these services and provide a help desk and a service desk for their clients to call into and receive help from. But it can be a huge struggle for MSP’s and you’ve got to strike the right balance between providing a top quality of service but also in a way that is scalable for your business and not too costly. So it is a big struggle for MSP’s and definitely a hot topic in the managed services space.

So on the line today we’ve got Jacque Roden; she is the director of help desk here at Continuum. Jacque, how are you doing today?

Jacque:                  Doing very well Nate thank you. How about yourself?

Nate:                       Doing great and it’s great to have you on the show here.

Jacque:                  Great to be here, thanks.

Nate:                       So we wanted to talk a little bit about the service delivery dilemma for MSP’s and how they can approach it and fix it. But you were actually telling me an interesting story just before the show on a partner that was in the office today. Do you mind telling our audience about that a little bit?

Jacque:                  No, not at all Nate. It’s really sort of value dates our business model and what I do for a living but also it is a very interesting case study we had a partner come in today to our office and he is interested in outsourcing support for his clients. The reason is that he was telling me how difficult it is. He is in Philadelphia. And he is telling me how difficult it is in the Philadelphia area to find and especially retain good Techs, good IT Techs. He said that when he goes and looks for people; whether they are out on a four-year program in computer science or a two-year technical school, either way he finds that they show up at an interview really with very high salary demands. It is understandable because they are hard to find. And he said that in order to retain good talents, he has to find a way for them not to do the grunt work; they don’t want to be resetting passwords and explaining Outlook or how to put drafts across an Excel spreadsheet. They want the more exciting, interesting, challenging work and she can’t parse it out so that one person gets this and the other person gets that.

He told me how is about four months behind on his project pipeline because they are playing… Yeah, four months. And he said this is revenue obviously that either he’s collected and now the clients are really knocking at the door saying, “Where are these upgrades?” Or he hasn’t collected this revenue yet because he can’t get to the project and the noise, the daily noise of just the grade 6 activities and the helpdesk activity is such that he says his Techs are underwater.

He’s got seven and just the managing of the personnel staffing issues is taking all his time, he can’t grow his business. So he’s looking at various outsourced helpdesks, Continuum is just one of them he is looking at. And he came into sort of meet us, here how we scale. I was able to explain that an outsource helpdesk, for example Continuum has 64 Techs on stuff so we obviously can flex up-and-down very easily, handle a lot of business volume and so can my competitors, that’s what we are in business to do. And in my techs have certifications across hardware, software as well as process. So I’ve got some six Sigma green belts on the team, they really understand the mechanisms of work workings of providing technical customer support on a level and at the status, a bar that an MSP really has difficulty scaling to.

Nate:                       It’s like a full-time job in itself, just maintaining and managing a help desk yourself. And you are an MSP; it’s tough to keep two businesses in one.

Jacque:                  That’s exactly right! He said he isn’t getting the business of being a managed service provider to worry about hiring and staffing and staff development and staff retention and staff engagement and satisfaction; that wasn’t what he had in mind. And he really wants to leverage his Techs, his highly paid Philadelphia staff salary Techs to get the project work done that he has promised his clients. He is really great about being the trusted advisor for his clients, that’s what he got in business to do and to be. And he can’t fill that role full-time while he’s worrying about these other kind of day-to-day; and for him frankly, dismissible concerns.

Nate:                       A help desk is almost a headache to maintain in-house or a headache to say the least to maintain in house. But it’s critical to an MSP success. They need to have someone that their clients can call when they have concerns.

Jacque:                  I would if I was a small business. That would certainly be probably the top of my list. I would put up with hardware failures or things like that faster and with more tolerance than I would put up with not being able to get an answer as to why QuickBooks isn’t working today are how I install a new printer and make sure that all the pieces in my office can print to that printer. That’s an immediate need.

An insidious hardware failure such as a [06:01 Inaudible] that is predictably going to fail in X number of weeks, that doesn’t stop me from doing business today. I understand that that’s where I need to be focused or where I need my MSP and my trusted advisor to be focused but I need my questions answered right now and I think that’s the pressure that MSP’s feel.

Nate:                       So you’ve got your fair share of experience managing and recruiting for help desk. What do you typical look for in a help desk technician?

Jacque:                  That is a great question Nate and there is one question that I ask anyone who applies for a position on our help desk and I imagine it is probably true across organizations like When I meet a candidate who has passed our pre-interview skills assessment, brings the right mix of education and experience. I meet that person or one of my supervisors will meet that person and we ask, “At the end of for the where you feel really, really good, you feel that you really accomplished something, you made a good contribution that day, when you look back across the day, what is it that gives you like great feeling?” And there is really only one answer I want to hear. I want to hear, “I helped people get to work.” “I help people solve the technical problems” “I was able to get Dr. Susan Dennis’ office back up and running on [07:21 Dentrix]”. I don’t want to hear someone say, “I learned something new”. Or, “I had a really challenging new problem that I was able to get to the bottom of.” That’s great that they are people who that makes them feel good at the end of the day but at the end of the day, for my help desk, it has to be about helping people surmount technical challenges and get back to business and that’s got to be their focus. So if they answered the question the right way, then they’ve probably passed all our tests.

Nate:                       It is an interesting point that hopefully you don’t want your technicians necessarily learning on the job because they should have it already in theory. And to really focus on helping people and not just trying to work through technical problems and figure it out as the day goes on.

Jacque:                  Nate, they are going to learn on the job absolutely. I mean certainly they will need to come in with the base minimum base of knowledge about everything from Windows 7 to exchange administration to Outlook 2013 or office 365 absolutely. But they are going to learn on the job but it can be at the expense of our MSP’s clients. So if somebody gets presented with an issue they haven’t dealt with before and they can’t find it in our knowledge base and it doesn’t show up as one of the first couple of hits with Google and your MSP partner has not provided the specific information about that issue, that tech needs to get that ticket escalated to someone with more knowledge, someone who has solved that problem, or to our [08:52 Knock] so that the caller’s problem is resolved. At the end of the day, My tech can certainly go back and I want them to go back and say, “Hey, how did you solve that?” And let them learn that way but not at the expense of somebody on hold.

Nate:                       How do you become most successful as an MSP using help desk?

Jacque:                  It’s really simple Nate and it’s really hard. All that we need to be very successful in representing an MSP through our white label service as that MSP and solving the problems for their customers, their clients, is we need the same information to MSP would need to solve the problem. So if our partner gives us as much information as they can; the IP range, address range for printers, the configuration of Sonic Wall or whatever firewall’s being use, all that kind of network information and even the personal touch things such as which department people are in for any other facts that could help us create a connection with that caller, then we are going to be successful. And our most successful partnerships are with MSP’s who provide us all the data that they have. And for those partners, we can resolve easily, let’s say 90% of the end downs from their clients.

But if an MSP can’t provide that information, and I said it was hard Nate, it is hard to get information keep it current, and the MSP’s who can’t do that or don’t do that, unfortunately we can’t be as successful as we would like to be because we just don’t have the information; whether it is login credentials or server names are information specific to a line of business applications.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely. And actually we are going to have on the second part of show here, we’re going to have a segment with one of our help desk partners and they are going to tell a very similar story in terms of how they found success with the help desk and providing all of the information that you guys need.

So I’ve got one last question for you here and they have never been part of our help desk or really a service delivery team but I would imagine that it can be difficult sometimes; you don’t get a lot of praise and it’s mostly just angry requests coming in but never a thank you necessarily. So that sounds hard, but I want to put the positive spin on it, what is your favorite part for you in terms of running the help desk?

Jacque:                  That is a hard question to answer Nate because they are so many things I love about my job and I love about the role that I have here.

I am going to focus though on the incredible teams that I have on the help desk. So we have about 64 people on our help desk and they are broken up into about five teams. So we have the Blue Barracudas and Team Thunderstruck and the Night Owls and these teams are so supportive of each other. For example the Blue Barracudas all wore neckties to work over their T-shirts or their dress shirts on Tuesday because they wanted to demonstrate to the entire organization that they are all about business. And so they have a goofy little symbolic thing that they all did and one guy brought in extra ties in case somebody forgot there’s. One guy had on a Betty Boop tie on and I know that [12:14 inaudible]. So the fact that these folks love their job, they support each other, they have fun together; the Night Owls had a barbecue last night. One person brought in sweet potatoes. One person brought in ears of corn, they had hamburgers and baked beans and they took turns during the scheduled lunch and break manning the grill and they just had a burger fest all night long.

So is the camaraderie, it’s the mutual supportiveness, it is the fact that everybody’s got each other’s desk, nobody let’s anybody flounder on a call or a ticket and that’s the only way we can be successful, is by having really engaged employees who like to come to work, like to do their job, like each other and so are the end of the day, our MSP clients like to call them.

Nate:                       Yeah, and it’s a team effort too, it’s not just finding a good technician, but building a good knowledgeable team and I think that is an important point you just made.

Jacque:                  Absolutely.

Nate:                       Great well, Jacque it’s been great having you on the show. I think you provided some great, great tips for MSP’s and just a great insight into how a service desk works, what makes a good quality service desk and how to build a good team. So thank you for joining me here today.

Jacque:                  Nate thank you for having me on.

Nate:                       Absolutely.

So we’re going to take a quick commercial break here. Coming up next we are going to be speaking with Brian and Bob Sullo from Clocktower Technology services. They’ve been a long time customer of Continuum help desk and they are going to tell us a little bit about how they have been so successful with the help desk and how it has really helped their business grow.

So taking a quick commercial break and we will see you guys in a minute.

Nate:                       All right welcome back to MSP radio. I am a host Nate Teplow. So we just spoke with Jacque Roden, our Continuum help desk director about solving the service delivery dilemma for MSP’s and why outsourcing is an option that most MSP’s should consider when it comes to its service delivery. So I am joined here right now by Bryan and Bob Sullo from Clocktower technology services. Brian and Bob how are you guys doing today?

Male:                       Doing great Nate, thank you.

Nate:                       Thanks for joining me. So you guys have been long time customers of Continuum help desk. And I thought you would be a great use case for the show to demonstrate how you can really leverage the help desk and why it’s really make sense for your business.

                                    How long have you been with Continuum help desk? I think it’s been a couple of years now at least right?

Male:                       Well we have been with Continuum since the beginning. 16:45

Nate:                       So at least two or three years here yeah, great. And what’s the process been like for you using Continuum help desk?

Male:                       Overall, it’s been excellent.

Nate:                       Great. So what’s the process been like in terfms of working with Continuum help desk and from getting started to where you are now?

Male:                       Well, in general the process is great. When we first began, we thought you could just flip a switch, turn on the help desk and not have to think about it anymore. We very quickly find out that’s not the case. It requires some level of input from the partner. So we had to document then the client site. The help desk is not on-site, they are not visiting the client every day but they need to know when somebody calls, they need to know how things are set up and how to get into the systems if they need to get into to solve the customers problems and once we learned that, it’s been smooth sailing since then.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely and this is something you have to do normally correct? It is not additional work for you in terms of if you had a service desk in-house, you’d still have to provide the same documentation?

Male:                       Exactly right. You have to. After we stumbled in the beginning, we decided that, “Why not look at it like it’s an in-house resource?” Because really, you don’t handle either one of them differently.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Male:                       Yeah and by doing that now, we can handle help desk, manage our resources very easily because that’s how we would do it in-house, we do it same way with them.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s great, that’s great. So how has this really helped your business? I think from what you were telling me before this is that it really eliminates a huge headache for you correct?

Male:                       Absolutely. We realized we wanted our business that we are not the help desk. Although most IT service providers try to operate as one and do a poor job of it. And we realize that no, we need to concentrate on our core competencies; the project work, the higher-level engineering, the consulting type work. And that the Outlook problems, the printer problems, those were really taking away from what we do best.

Nate:                       Yeah definitely, It’s almost a job on its own just to maintain the help desk. It’s not something you can just plug someone in and have them do what you really have to build a team with the right expertise and manage them and find talent and that’s almost a business on its own versus what you guys do.

Male:                       It is.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely.                                                                                                

                                    What sorts of metrics are you guys looking at when it comes to the help desk? I know you do a lot of looking at these metrics and analyzing them more so than most of our partners do but what are the things that you look for in terms of the help desk and how they are doing?

Male:                       Sure. We break down the [19:32 analyzation] of the tickets probably more than most partners do as he said. And we look at it and we say, “Okay, from the inception of this ticket, it came into the help desk, what happened to it? Did it come to us as level IV or was it completed by the help desk and if it came to us, why? Is it something that we did not provide documentation for? And we are pretty hard on ourselves about that. If we didn’t, we make a note of it and then we make sure that documentation is there next time. Is it something that, it was a level IV task, it’s required on-site service or there was something that help desk should not be expected to do?

                                    And then what we do is we take all of those statistics, we boil them down and we look at it and say, “Okay, how good is the help desk doing for us?” And pretty consistently, the help desk is servicing over 93% of the calls that we think they should be able to. Sometimes it’s a size 97%. and the ones that slip past the line, there is always something…

Nate:                       There is always going to be an exception to that rule.

Male:                       Yeah. There’s always going to be some exceptions. Maybe there is a new person. Now I will say that to the training that the people go through is excellent because when the start, they are ready to hit the ground running. The first time a customer calls, they get to the same service that they would get from anybody. But, everybody has a little bit of a learning curve when they first start so there’s a few things here or there. But overall, the fact that we don’t have to deal at all with those tickets is huge! They are getting handled without anybody from our company even having to worry about it.

Nate:                       Yeah. And you can focus on your business and driving growth and finding new clients and new opportunities rather than be bogged down by these mundane tickets that are being opened.

Male:                       Exactly. Sometimes the scheduling of calls, you can’t predict when calls are going to come in and in order for me to staff properly for that, it’s impossible.

Nate:                       It’s a job on its own.

Male:                       Yeah. You just can’t and you’ve either got enough or too many.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Male:                       And in our business as with many others, cash flow is always consideration; we have to be careful of our expenditures so I can’t afford to have a large staff sitting there waiting for calls that might not come in until this afternoon.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Male:                       So the help desk just takes care of that, is very scalable.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s great. Do you guys find it’s difficult to kind of let go of your service delivery to a third-party vendor? I mean you have spent a lot of time with Continuum help desk. It sounds like you have grown to trust them but the first, is it hard to kind of let go of the fact of just like call this other party that I am working with; not that you would say that to your clients but just have that be maintained somewhere else?

Male:                       Yeah I think it is. It’s a mindset that you have to just convince yourself to get over it essentially. Techs, techie people, engineers have trouble lifting anything go. We always want to control it and I think what you have to do is, you just have to draw a line in the sand and say, “Okay, I am going to trust our help desk to take care of this for me.” And then you verify the trust. And you make sure that it’s actually happening but eventually, you get to the point where you say, “Wow! This is great, I don’t have to deal with these things anymore.”

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely and you get all these metrics back too. You kind of track the tickets and see where issues might be and you can refine from there as you move forward but yeah.

Male:                       One of the things that we notice. Treat your outsource hep desk is a vendor, it’s not going to work well for you. You need to treat them as a partner, which they are. They treat us as a partner, we treat them as a partner, collaboration, then it works well.

Nate:                       Yeah. It’s an extension of your team.

Male:                       Absolutely.

Nate:                       Yeah, yeah that’s great. Cool. So another concern for many MSP’s is integrating their PSA a system with their help desk. How does that work for you?

Male:                       It works great. It’s never good when you have to look for tickets in more than one location and being able to integrate with our PSA system allows us to… We don’t have to necessarily concentrate on those tickets all the time but it allows us the availability into them so that we know, and all of our clients, what’s going on at any given time.

Nate:                       So how has the help desk given you a competitive advantage over some of the other MSP’s out there in terms of allowing you to better utilize the technicians you have in-house and eliminate a huge concern for you?

Male:                       Well, it’s done a few things for us. One is it allowed us to go after larger clients; which we couldn’t do before because we couldn’t service them properly. But now we can. We can give them 24 seven, 365 live answer. Huge advantage!

Nate:                       Yeah.

Male:                       Competitive advantage.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Male:                       Secondly, it’s allowed us to take our engineers and let them concentrate on the higher-level engineering projects or server projects and so forth without having to worry about dealing with paper jams and printers or Outlook problems and so forth while we do cover some of that occasionally, we can really utilize them the way they were meant to be utilized.

Nate:                       Yeah. And it’s better for them too. I think they get better value out of working on business problems than fixing paper jams.

Male:                       Oh sure, that’s what they want to do.

Nate:                       Yeah, yeah that’s great. Well Bryan and Bob, it was great having you here at MSP radio. Thank you so much for joining me and it’s been great to hear how help desk has really allowed you to focus on your business rather than be bogged down by a bunch of technical concerns from your clients.

Well thank you all for tuning into MSP radio. We hope you all enjoyed our episodes on help desks and how you can best utilize them and leverage them to grow your business and provide top-quality’s level of service to your clients. So again, thank you all for tuning in. Don’t forget to Tweet us @follow Continuum or use the hash tag MSP radio, we love hearing what you guys have to say about the show and don’t forget to visit our blog too at blog. Continuum.net we’ve got a ton of great content there about growing your business, the managed IT services space and a lot more there. So hope to see you there and hope to see you next week on MSP radio!

Nate Teplow is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Continuum, currently managing the company's RMM marketing initiatives. Nate's experience spans inbound marketing, content strategy, marketing communications and B2B lead generation. A proud Miami Hurricane alumni, Nate enjoys staying active, traveling to new places and performing A/B tests.

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