buy vs build it help desk services What’s one of the most critical parts of your IT business? In one of his recent articles in MSPmentor,  Joe Panettieri suggested that managed service providers should “take a close look at… help desk services.” When you consider that the service and support group is typically the first (and sometimes only) contact point for many of your clients, its value is often overlooked. The technical and phone skills of these personnel are critical to your success and assessing the capabilities of your organization to provide that expertise internally is critical.

As Joe mentions in his article, “your help desk manages some of your most critical customer interactions.”  Your customers’ experience depends on the people you have manning the front line. If those employees are not trained properly or are taking on more responsibilities than they can realistically be expected to manage; it’s a recipe for disaster. Prior to building a help desk plan, every MSP should take an assessment of their current staff. If you create your own internal team to handle this aspect of your service, do you need to hire additional staff or help existing employees get the necessary training? While completing the assessment of your team is rather easy, get answers to all these questions can be a lot more complicated.

Start Ups

While some MSPs have the desire and resources to support every aspect of their business, many others don’t offer round-the-clock support or turn down client opportunities they don’t feel they can handle due to various MSP Help Desk limitations. For new managed services providers, their staff typically consists of themselves and perhaps one or two technicians who can manage a set number of clients and services. The difficult part comes when they attempt to scale the business. Does the company have the capital to bring on new employees before securing the contracts (and corresponding revenue) needed to meet its cash obligations? Even with a signed service agreement in hand, the length of time between billing and payment still makes it risky to bring on new employees without significant financial resources already at hand.

That’s one reason new and developing MSPs outsource their help desk services. Rather than take on the added liability when capital is at a premium, they select a reputable and qualified partner to provide the level of support their clients need. That frees up the MSP to sell new clients and build the portfolio of service offerings that best fit their prospect market and regional needs.

This time can be used to develop new vertical market specialties, including the solutions needed to support healthcare, legal, real estate and education customers. A number of managed service providers are partnering with outsourced help desk companies to expand their technology skill bandwidth while ensuring their current clients receive top quality support. Some MSPs use their partners to provide first tier (phone) support and dedicate their in house staff to handle second tier and specialized solution needs. Others use their own team to provide initial help desk services and leverage outsource partners to support specific technologies, such as VoIP or EMR (emergency medical records) systems.  Either way, MSPs have options to develop the plan for works best for their business and clients, without having to spend capital they may need elsewhere to achieve their organizational growth objectives.

Augment an Existing Business

For companies that have already built the bench to support every client service need, from everyday maintenance to emergency issues, the value of outsourcing may be harder to quantify—unless they have a desire to expand revenue and profitability. This is the real crux of the issue for most established MSPs; should I manage everything in house or is it best to leverage other professionals to manage the basic services?

Many established MSPs outsource their help desk so they can focus their limited resources on providing higher-margin services. When you select a partner that employs highly trained and certified technicians, it allows your company to leverage that bench in a number of ways. For example, Global Mentoring Solutions’ help desk experts (see GMS Live Expert) are multi-certified – each with professional career tracks in their training programs with the most senior Live Expert holding 65 certs. In addition to the almost mandatory Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA network and server accreditations, document imaging and other specialty qualifications allow their partners to expand the support they offer their clients. Most companies simply don’t have the resources to properly train their own employees to handle the variety and level of service needs that a dedicated help desk company can.

While it may be hard for outsiders to understand your corporate culture, customer platforms, and service delivery model, it should not be a major obstacle for most MSPs. If you’re committed to make a help desk partnership work—and receive all the benefits I mentioned above—that relationship can be solidified with a little homework and some in depth discussions.

Even with a specially designed kit to help you build your own help desk (such as the one ConnectWise recently introduced), the process can be long and hard. Providing basic support is one thing, but if you want to expand your portfolio and improve customer service, the investment of time and money may not make sense. Make sure you consider all the costs of construction, including: personnel, training, certification and promotion. After all, even if you build it, will they come?

To quote Joe one final time, “…an effective help desk — backed by carefully tracked performance metrics — can turn your customers into raving fans. And weak help desks can send your customers running for the exits.”

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