Come one, come all! We’ve got ratios, stats, salaries, and skills! You have questions about staffing in the technical support center, HDI’s research has answers!
The technical support staff is the voice, and often the face, of IT. Over the past couple of years, HDI has conducted several studies on staffing in the technical service and support industry, focusing on topics like hiring, retention, staffing structure, salaries, skills, and the future. By bringing together data and analysis from several of these studies, this article provides a comprehensive overview of staffing today and in the near future.
While the traditional support center structure continues to be the norm, recent research gives us a clearer view of what is most common, what changes are coming, and what has been successful with regard to tiered support, single point of contact (SPOC), and desktop support models. This article highlights some of the key research results, which you can explore more deeply in the full reports and briefs.
Most support organization have a tiered support model in which tickets are moved from basic level 1 support to a more sophisticated level, based on time limits, ticket types, skillset required, special customers, service level commitments, and/or other criteria. Sixty percent of survey respondents reported having a tiered support model in their organizations, with an additional 33 percent reporting having a modified model of tiered support.
A small portion of the industry is currently tier-free. Organizations with this type of model tend to be either very happy or very unhappy, rather than middle of the road. This polarization could indicate that some organizations do not have tiers because they are small and/or immature, while others are tier-free because they’ve made a strategic decision to move to that type of model. For example, organizations that support complex, mission-critical applications often assemble teams of experts that work collaboratively (i.e., no tiers required) toward problem resolution.
Thirty-seven percent of organizations recently added tiers to their service desks; these tiers were either acquired from other areas of the organization (28%), created new for the service desk (23%), or both. Fewer organizations (15%) are decreasing or eliminating support tiers entirely.
Tiered or not, most organizations (86%) have a single point of contact (SPOC) for connecting with technical support. In 84 percent of organizations, the service desk is the SPOC, either resolving and/or fielding tickets, while 14 percent of organizations allow customers to contact higher levels of support directly (e.g., levels 2 or 3). Just two percent have a SPOC that is located outside the help desk/service desk. In addition to being the most common practice in the industry, organizations in which the service desk is the SPOC are happier with how their support staffs are structured.
How does desktop support play into the support center’s structure? Recent research indicates that while support center and desktop support teams provide distinct and separate functions in most organizations, a blended model appears to becoming more popular. In 2013, 38 percent of technical support organizations reported using a blended (“jump-and-run”) model, up from 35 percent in 2012. Those organizations that do have dedicated desktop support technicians are supporting 310 end users, which translates to 620 devices per technician.
Hiring and Skills
Recent research conducted by HDI and Robert Half Technology shows that there’s a war for talent underway in the technical service and support industry. The vast majority of technical support organizations (72%) report that they’re hiring; 24 percent are expanding (creating and filling new positions), while 48 percent are working to fill positions as they become open. However, there’s simply not enough skilled talent available to fill these positions.
With a large portion of the industry searching for support staff talent, nearly half of respondents (47%) report having difficulties finding skilled professionals for frontline/help desk jobs. More than half (59%) say they’re unable to find skilled professionals for management positions, and almost two-thirds (62%) say they’re having trouble locating qualified candidates for escalated levels of support (i.e., levels 2 and 3 and/or desktop support roles).
The unique skillsets needed to be successful in providing escalated levels of support helps explain the reason for this limited talent pool: prospective hires in this class must have a blend of skills, including problem-solving and troubleshooting skills, technical skills for specific software and hardware, and customer service skills. The chart below lists the top five skills currently needed for frontline support, escalated support, and support center management.
In research released this past July, HDI and Robert Half discovered that, in the near future, technical support centers will need even more diversified skillsets to address the rapidly evolution of technology, its essential role in business operations, and users’ expectations about their technology experience and anytime, anywhere access.
More than three-quarters (76%) of support professionals anticipate that support center professionals will soon be required to play the role of customer advocate to IT (if they aren’t already), and 53 percent believe that the support center will serve as the business relationship manager. In addition, more than half of respondents expect to be the liaison between their organizations and cloud services providers and/or mobile device vendors.
Because finding qualified candidates can be difficult, retention is crucial. In the technical service and support industry, it takes nine to ten weeks to fill a management position, from the time a vacancy is posted to the time it is filled. For levels 2 and 3 and/or desktop support, it takes seven to eight weeks; for frontline/help desk roles, five to six weeks. During this time, other employees are being required to pick up the responsibilities of the vacant position, which leads to burnout and higher turnover.
However, turnover can be turned around. The War for Talent revealed that turnover is less of a problem for organizations that provide these four perks, which survey respondents identified as the most valuable (in descending order of value): paid time off, medical insurance, retirement benefits, and flexible work hours. But organizations can also improve retention by addressing the most frequent causes of turnover. In the technical support industry, compensation is the most common factor contributing to turnover (57%), followed very closely (56%) by limited opportunities to learn, grown, and advance. Technical support professionals don’t want to fall behind and lose either their value to the organization or their marketability as a result of slashed training budgets. When opportunities to learn are limited, staff may begin looking elsewhere for employment. By simply providing learning opportunities, organizations can retain their current employees, which translates into real savings.
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Staffing structure, hiring, skills, retention—we have the data and analysis you need to make informed decisions about the forces shaping the technical service and support industry. Join your peers in participating in our monthly and annual surveys and help us help you stay ahead of the curve. To learn more about HDI’s research, visit www.ThinkHDI.com/Research.
Jenny Rains is HDI’s senior research analyst. She has worked with HDI in a research/analysis capacity since 2003. Before coming to HDI, Jenny was the research/data analyst for one of the largest school districts in Colorado. Her areas of expertise include survey development, research design, data analysis, program evaluation, and project management. Jenny received her BS in psychology from Sam Houston State University and an MA in experimental psychology, with a focus on research and statistics, from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.