Handling Front-line Staff Shortages

This is a follow-up to last week’s post about basic Helpdesk/Service desk call handling. In this article, I’m going to discuss some strategies and approaches you can take if you simply don’t have enough staff to handle incoming call volumes.

Just to recap, the situation I’m addressing is a chronic shortage of Helpdesk or Service Desk staff to actually answer the telephones and deal with customers – and no budget with which to expand the team.


Making sure the phone is answered is arguably  the most important, visible and (for customers) easily discernible functions of the Service Desk. So it makes sense on the face of it to transfer staff from other functions into this customer facing role.

I am aware this may be greeted with resistance, particularly in organisations which are organised along hierarchical rather than project (matrix) lines. Staff can object because posting to customer-facing teams, and away from technical roles, because they see it as a demotion, or dare I say it seems like rather hard work, or because their focus is narrow and they don’t see the need.

If you anticipate resistance, I can suggest a few things to try:

  • Make the secondment period a fixed interval of no more than one month. My personal preference is something like one to two weeks.
  • Ensure all staff, including managerial staff, take a turn  - even of it’s for a shorter period. This is usually a very effective ‘neutraliser’ of staff disquiet.

A word of caution. Don’t second staff without proper training first – and that training should include some test calls. I’ll also advise you to have a Script – which I’ve blogged about here, and here.

Staff Hours/Lunch Rotas/Start Times

One of the things the telephone statistics I mentioned in the last post will tell you if there is a problem with your service times. For instance, if you get calls at 7:30am but your Helpdesk/Service Desk starts work at 09:00 you may need to look at adjusting your service times accordingly.

One thing I’ve noticed is that whilst many organisations (particularly in the UK public sector) have introduced flexible working hours, the impact on essential support services has not always been thought through fully.

As a normal response to this I’d say ‘produce a costed proposal for increased service times’, however as this post was prompted by someone with no extra budget, the only thing I can suggest is to try to re-negotiate start times – possibly by offering something like an earlier start/finish, skipping Friday afternoons – anything to make the prospect attractive.

Make sure also that there is a clear rota in operation over lunchtime, giving you the maximum possible cover. Again you may find that some staff will trade a shorter lunchtime interval for an earlier finish.

Define the Role of Front-Line Staff Carefully.

Are your front-line staff trying to ‘first-time fix’ or simply take and make calls? If you go for attempting fixes for some or all calls, then naturally the amount of time each calls takes is likely to rise. Make sure staff are clear on what you want them to do, and remember you can vary what you do at different times of the day.

If you really are thin on the ground, it makes most sense to me to concentrate primarily on call taking, with resolutions attempts limited to the most simple of things such as password resets.