Channel Management

A helpdesk implementation must be geared towards achieving a sustainable return on investment (ROI) to be a justifiable project.

It is therefore imperative that an organization establishes a set of benchmark costs for each customer service channel before the implementation, to allow for continuous audit of the system.

Defining Customer Service Channels

These are the communication channels through which customers can raise issues to the organization. Surprisingly, few companies have defined their channels clearly.
Most clients therefore result to establishing personal relationships with particular people within the organization with whom they have had previous good experience with.
Such an organization ends up with numerous points of contact between the organization and its clients making it almost impossible to establish and enforce a uniform set of service standards for the organization.

A typical organization might be expected to have any/all of the following channels of communication.
  1. Front Desk
  2. Telephone
  3. Surface Mail
  4. Email
  5. Website

Effectiveness of these channels will obviate the need for customers to establish who in particular is handling their matters allowing the company to utilize its human resource in actual productive processes.

Benchmark Costs of Each Channel.

The table below is excerpted from part one (Economics of Customer Service) and illustrates costs of each channel, with typical data provided for a small organization with a staff compliment of 50.

Mail [4]
Face to Face[5]
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Monthly Fixed Cost
Transactional Unit Cost[6]


[1] Email costs aggregated over 3 years. Derived from total cost of ownership (TCO) of a Windows 2000 mail server configured with Exchange Server (50 users), Sybari anti virus software, pro-rata costs of lease line and the average annual costs of support and licenses.
[2] Phone costs consist of 10 lines running through a fully configured 50 extension PABX system.
[3] Costs of web design, hosting and maintenance. Includes recommended redesign after 2 years.
[4] Cost of stationery and postage.
[5] Live agent salary estimated at $6.00 per hour
[6] Each customer service interaction is estimated to last 10 minutes.

The implementation strategy will revolve around shifting service requests from channels with a transactional component (i.e. Phone, Surface mail and Face to Face) to those with a fixed cost (i.e. email and Website). As the service traffic grows, the unit customer service costs for email and web become correspondingly cheaper.

Interactive and Non-interactive processes

The human resource cost in any organization is usually its most significant recurrent expenditure item. An organization will therefore seek to ensure the greatest effort of its human resource is directed towards productive processes. An organization stands to reap benefits by converting as many of its customer service processes from interactive to non-interactive. Interactive processes in this sense are those requiring intervention of a service representative.

A company would therefore seek to redirect customer service traffic to its website where customers can access a knowledgebase for frequently asked questions and failing to find a solution, an input page for issues to be logged directly by the client. The client should also be able to track progress of their issues through preset service milestones accessible from the website.

More sophisticated systems will allow creation of service requests directly from free form email and at the same time allow the client to monitor progress through auto-email and auto-responder email updates.

The advent of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) provides interesting possibilities where conceivably customers will be able to log issues over the phone to a speech recognition system and subsequently retrieve status through a voice response mechanism.
A significant shift from interactive to non-interactive processes will provide the most significant cost reduction in customer service.

Typical cost savings and the subsequent ROI are addressed in Economics of Customer Service.

Process Mapping

Process mapping involves identifying the flow and nature of service requests from both external and internal customers.

Billable and Non-billable services

It is critically important that an organization understands which services it is billing for and which it is not. Non-billable services must be dispensed through the cheapest possible channels. Billable services should be dispensed with a view to ensuring a profitable match between costs and revenues.
Failure to achieve either objective results in non-billable services eating away at the company’s bottom line and billable services being delivered consistently at a loss. Sadly, most companies only realize this too late.

Service Delivery Departments

The service delivery departments will in most cases match the normal department structure within an organization. However in many cases, particular departments may have a number of services areas within the department requiring to be considered as a separate service department.

On the other hand care should be taken that too many spurious “service constituencies” are not created as this can provide a headache to helpdesk personnel, especially for large organizations.

Service Representatives

Once identified, each service delivery area should have a service representative nominated. Rotating the service rep position within the department is a powerful way of inculcating service sensitivity to all staff. This is in line with having a single point of contact within the organization even at department level.
A typical service request will therefore be first logged at the helpdesk and routed to the service rep of the relevant department. The service rep then either resolves the query if possible or otherwise routes it to any available technical staff.

The service rep monitors status of service issues within the department keeping the helpdesk informed of potential delays which in turn allows the helpdesk inform the client in good time of impending problems.

80-20 Service Rule


80% of all service requests can well be expected to be generated by 20% of the company’s client base. The success of any implementation will be affected by whether this 20% will be willing to adopt new service delivery procedures.

If these clients agree to migrate to cheaper service channels e.g. web and email, the organization could very well recover its entire ROI within the first few months of implementing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Similarly, it will be expected that 20% of the service issues give rise to 80% of the service requests. This subset of issues is commonly referred to as Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ’s.

A list of the most common service requests should be drawn up based on the organizations experience. The FAQ’s should be grouped into whether they arise from defect (perceived or otherwise) of product or process.

FAQ’s on product usually will arise from either goods failing to achieve client expectations or a gap between marketing information and client perception. If the FAQ’s arise from product quality this should be taken up with the organizations’ suppliers or R&D units. If the FAQ’s are however due to wrong perception fresh marketing material should be issued reflecting the reality.

Service Delivery Standards

Having considered the forgoing, a company should be in a position to establish a set of realistic service delivery standards for its entire bouquet of services. The standards will be a compromise between what customers consider reasonable turn around time and the organizational capacity to deliver.

Setting unrealistic service delivery standards is counter productive as it generates a secondary wave of helpdesk activity by irate customers whose service expectations have not been met.

Helpdesk Audit & Management

Helpdesk activity must be monitored on a daily basis. Most electronic helpdesks will have inbuilt escalation mechanisms notifying management any time a service requests breaches its prescribed delivery cycle. This allows action to be taken continuously and proactively.

The greater objective of a helpdesk audit should however focus on the following pertinent issues;

  • Shift in communication channels. Are more customers choosing to use the cheaper channels provided by the helpdesk?
  • Service filtering. How many calls can now be resolved at customer service and how many are filtering to technical staff?
  • FAQ’s. Is there any change in issues relating to product and those relating to process?
  • Service delivery standards. Has the service delivery cycle reduced significantly enough for a new set of standards to be published?
  • Billable services. Do staff costs of the technical departments co-relate to the billable service revenue?
  • Non-billable services. Is there a significant shift of service delivery from interactive to non-interactive channels?