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Building an Efficient Escalation Process

The help desk is a critical function of any IT services businesses. It is most likely your most expensive department and can generate a significant amount of your revenue. It is also where you can find a lot of efficiency gains if you look for them. The way your help desk is structured can go a long way to creating an efficient service delivery.

Taking a tiered approach

When you get to a point where you have enough technicians to organize them into a tiered structure, you need to answer questions about how requests/tickets will flow from intake to resolution. This includes what happens when a ticket needs to be escalated. The first step happens during the intake, determining where that ticket should start. I have seen MSPs automatically assign certain types of tickets directly to Tier 2 or 3, bypassing Tier 1 entirely. An example of this might be firewall or server issues where a mistake by a less knowledgeable tech could adversely affect all of a client’s users. Some of this can be automated by your professional services automation (PSA) tool but in a lot of cases it may require the creation of a triage role that evaluates tickets as they come in and forwards them to the correct team.

Setting time limits

The next thing to think about is time limits. Tickets can spend too much time in a particular team because the tech thinks they will have the answer soon. In the meantime, jobs are backing up and your Tier 2 techs might be twiddling their thumbs. To avoid this, set a discreet amount of time that tickets are allowed to spend in each tier. If that time lapses without a solid plan to resolution it should be escalated to the next tier. How much time depends on your situation, but think along the lines of 30 minutes in Tier 1 and 60 minutes in Tier 2. Remember, the problem does not have to be solved, it just needs to have a defined plan to solve it.

Closing the loop

The final step in defining your help desk structure for efficient escalation is to make sure you close the loop on tickets that get escalated from a lower tier to a higher tier. For every ticket that is escalated, it should be evaluated to see if it has occurred in the past or is likely to occur again. If it meets that criteria, it should be added to a training session. These training sessions should be held regularly (read monthly or quarterly). This will improve the capability of your Tier 1 techs, reduce the time it takes to resolve the problem in the future, and free up higher tier resources to do billable project work.

Getting the workflow right

My last suggestion is not really about the structure of your help desk but is more about how to configure your PSA. In a lot of cases, you will have your remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool automatically creating tickets in your PSA software. Make sure you have workflow rules set up to get those tickets to the right resources without having to go through triage. Workflow rules can also be used to auto-sort incoming client tickets when they enter the system via email or a customer portal.

When building your help desk, the goal should be to fix the client’s problem quickly and with the least expensive resource. This is a hard balance to get perfect but with some planning and ongoing improvement you can continuously get closer to a very efficient—and profitable—help desk configuration.


Eric Anthony is the head operations nerd at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.

You can follow Eric on Twitter @operations_nerd

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