Friday, July 17, 2009

Helpdesk Challenges

How does a small MSP without a large staff do helpdesk, scheduling and answer the phones?

This is one of our major challenges right now. We currently forward our local phone line to a hosted PBX (via an 800 number) that then forwards to either my tech or myself depending upon which department (1 for sales, 2 for tech support, etc.) or which extension they choose. It has follow-me features so that it rings my cell phone first and then the tech for some things and my home phone for other things. It's a great service ( but I'm the operator. Not a very efficient use of my time.

So, I'm looking for alternatives. I started looking in to a plain answering service, but it seems to me that if someone is going to answer the phones I want them to be able to do scheduling for techs and interact with my ticketing system to enter new tickets and forward people to the helpdesk. It might be useful to have them do personal assistant stuff as well. So if a tech is in the field and cannot get to the ticketing system, they could call this person and update a ticket over the phone.

There's lots of other reasons to have a "power answering service" too. Of course this really points to hiring someone to sit in an office all day. That's what companies have done in the past. I don't want to do that. We do have an office, but it's really just a place for our back-end systems to sit and for me to work outside the home when I'm not onsite at a client. I don't want to put more warm bodies in an office. I don't remember who it was, maybe Amy Luby, that was talking about telecommuting all their people. I think this is a great idea. Get together once a week for a staff meeting and then let everyone work from home.

The solutions I've come up with so far are either expensive or lacking. I've looked in to virtual assistants, but I hesitate to engage with one without a recommendation. I've asked my MSPU mentor for recommendations but they haven't come up with anything yet. I've looked on the web, but it's impossible to tell who's good and not. I guess I could start interviewing them like I would an employee. Any recommendations here?

I've thought about talking to Synergy about doing helpdesk for ALL of my clients rather than just the one on my all-you-can-eat MSP offering. I'm not sure if they'd do that or not. They're not really an answering service and I can't imagine they'd do the non-helpdesk stuff.

Today I've been looking at automated call centers. I found AnswerNet and they say they can do what I need for $250 to set up and then $205/mo for 250 minutes of "operator" time. I'm also going to contact Successful Office and maybe XACT Telesolutions to see what they offer. I'd pay up to $300 a month for this type of service I think. The real question is how good a job will they do. It'd also be nice to have the other functions of a all center at my disposal... to do appointment call downs the day before and customer satisfaction calls the day after and such. We'll see.

So, other options... get a part time person to work from home? Maybe an intern from the local community college? If I need someone just for a few minutes here and there but 8x5 I don't see that working well.

How do other small businesses handle this? Give me your input.

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