Each month, I highlight one Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for service and support. I define the KPI, provide recent benchmarking data for the metric, and discuss key correlations and cause-and-effect relationships for the metric. The purpose of the column is to familiarize you with the KPIs that really matter to your organization and to provide you with actionable insight on how to leverage these KPIs to improve your performance! This month, I look at a staffing metric, ratio of agents to total headcount.
There are a number of ways to measure the efficiency of a service desk or desktop support group. Metrics such as cost per ticket and agent utilization are the most common measures of efficiency. A less well-known metric that also drives cost per ticket is the ratio of agents to total headcount, and it applies equally to both service desk and desktop support groups.
Why It’s Important
The ratio of agents to total headcount is an indirect measure of managerial efficiency in service and support. A high ratio of agents to total headcount is indicative of lean management staffing, while a low ratio of agents to total headcount is symptomatic of a top-heavy organization. It is, however, possible for the ratio to be too high, in which case the support organization may lack adequate headcount for proper supervision and other indirect functions such as reporting, workforce scheduling, and training. Conversely, there are times when a low ratio of agents to total headcount may be justified, at least temporarily, such as when a support group moves agents out of customer facing roles to work on and contribute to various projects.
The ratio of agents to total headcount is an indirect measure of managerial efficiency in service and support.
By way of example, let’s assume that a service desk has 25 front-line agents, 3 supervisors, 1 QA/QC person, and 1 person for training and workforce scheduling. That’s a total headcount of 30. In this example, the ratio of agents to total headcount is 25 ÷ 30 = 83.3%. The same calculation would apply for a desktop support group.
The correct ratio of agents and technicians to total headcount is somewhat subjective. However, MetricNet typically recommends a ratio of 77.5% agents to total headcount for the service desk, and a ratio of 87.5% technicians to total headcount for desktop support. Both of these targets are above industry averages but are not so aggressive that your agents and technicians will lack supervision or that your indirect headcount will be stretched too thin.
Benchmarking Data for Ratio of Agents to Total Headcount
When a support organization experiences costs that are higher than the industry average, it can sometimes be attributed to the ratio of agents to total headcount. In general, a high ratio (meaning low indirect headcount) will lead to lower costs, while a low ratio (meaning high indirect headcount) will lead to higher costs. Indeed, data for this metric extracted from MetricNet’s benchmarking database and illustrated in the figure below, shows a downward slope in cost per ticket for both the service desk and desktop support as the ratio of agents to total headcount increases.
The next figure shows the distribution of agents to total headcount for both the service desk and desktop support, along with summary statistics for both metrics. The ratio of agents to total headcount can vary quite widely, from 58% to 88% for the service desk, and from 78% to 96% for desktop support, as the table below illustrates. The average ratio of agents to total headcount tends to be higher for desktop support than for the service desk. This reflects the fact that supervision, reporting, training, and scheduling in desktop support is oftentimes less rigorous than for the service desk.
Please join me for next month’s Metric of the Month: User Self Help/Self Service, a metric that provides insight into shift left, channel mix, and cost per ticket.
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Jeff Rumburg is the winner of the 2014 Ron Muns Lifetime Achievement Award, and was named to HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders list for 2016. As co-founder and CEO of MetricNet, Jeff has been retained as an IT service and support expert by some of the world’s largest corporations, including American Express, Hewlett Packard, Coca-Cola, and Sony. He was formerly CEO of the Verity Group and Vice President of Gartner. Jeff received his MBA from Harvard University and his MS in Operations Research from Stanford University. Contact Jeff at
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