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For some help desk clients, a dedicated staffing model is the only solution they’ll consider. Not only do they prefer having assigned team members focused solely on their unique environment, but the predictability of stable monthly costs offers budgetary assurances that per incident pricing in a shared model cannot.   It’s a fact that high call volumes in a shared model can generate unanticipated higher monthly fees   while the dedicated model can be relied upon to deliver fixed per agent pricing that puts CFOs at ease.  But what happens when these dedicated agents take a vacation or experience an unplanned absence?   The reality of any workplace is that absences do occur and, in a service desk environment, can hinder the team’s overall productivity and adversely impact SLAs. That’s why it makes sense for clients to consider a backfill option when collaborating on a dedicated agent model with their service desk vendors.

Backfill Costs

Since backfill requires additional personnel not ordinarily assigned to the account, the backfill service desk agent must be fully trained on the client’s unique environment and ticketing system. These are typically agents that serve multiple accounts in the shared model. So, since they’re temporarily removed from these pooled resources, staffing levels for other clients will either be reduced or agents may be called upon to cover additional shifts or handle more than the daily average number of calls in order to offset the personnel shortage. The result is the vendor essentially is incurring the cost of both employees, the one being paid for time off (assuming the agent has accrued such benefits) and the one reassigned from handling other responsibilities, and absorbing the burden operationally so they tend to compensate for those expenses by building them into their per agent pricing when backfill is included. Service desk vendors usually calculate the additional cost on a proprietary formula establishing that a certain number of agents would require one backfill agent and factor this ratio into monthly per agent pricing. The good news is clients never have to worry about employee absenteeism or manage staffing levels with internal resources as such headaches are all outsourced to the service desk vendor.

How is Backfill Managed Operationally?

From an operational standpoint, the backfill process is usually triggered the instant a dedicated agent notifies the team that they will not be able to support the client during their scheduled start time. The service desk manager or team lead then determines the proper procedural course through a variety of options. One option would be for the account’s team lead to handle more inbound calls rather than manage the team or respond to escalations of unresolved issues. The drawback with this option is the account management function that promotes overall client satisfaction is temporarily deferred while the team lead is diverted to handling level 1 calls. A second option would be simply to request staff to start earlier and/or work later than scheduled in order to accommodate either the overall shortage of shared agents or to be reassigned as the dedicated agent. In this instance, the vendor is usually subject to overtime costs assuming those agents already be scheduled for a full 40 hour work week; though many tend to give additional hour priority to part time staff retained for this additional benefit. A third option for vendors and less than ideal involves calling in agents who may have had a scheduled vacation or day off although this last resort should be used sparingly as no one likes to change plans at the last minute.   

Why Not Backfill?

When developing a customized service desk solution, a flexible vendor must consider the client’s budgetary constraints. In many instances clients are willing to put up with a temporary lapse in productive output from their remaining dedicated agents in exchange for more attractive per agent pricing. So in devising the most cost conscious variant, backfill options should be among the service desk features, along with assigned toll free numbers and customized reporting packages.  Whatever the choice, service desk vendors should regularly engage client management with a customized solution delivery model that runs parallel to the client’s evolving business needs.​