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How To Write a Business Plan for IT Help Desk and Remote Support Services in 9 Steps: Checklist

By henry sheykin, resources on it help desk and remote support services.

  • Financial Model
  • Business Plan
  • Value Proposition
  • One-Page Business Plan

Are you planning to start an IT help desk and remote support service? With the increasing reliance on technology, there is a growing demand for efficient and reliable IT support in the business world. According to recent statistics, the global IT services market size is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2026 , with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.7% . This presents a great opportunity for businesses like yours to tap into this market and provide indispensable services to small and medium-sized businesses.

Identify Target Market And Customer Needs

In order to successfully launch and operate your IT help desk and remote support service, it is crucial to identify your target market and understand their specific needs . This step is the foundation of your business plan, as it will guide your decision-making and help you tailor your services and marketing efforts to the right audience.

To effectively identify your target market , consider the following:

  • Industry: Determine which industries are most likely to require IT support services. Small and medium-sized businesses across various sectors could be your potential clients.
  • Company size: Analyze the size of your target companies. Small and medium-sized businesses are the primary market for your subscription-based IT support service.
  • Geographic location: Determine the geographic areas where your target market is concentrated. This will help you focus your marketing efforts and streamline your operations.
  • Specific needs: Identify the common software and hardware issues faced by your target market. This understanding will enable you to develop solutions that address their specific pain points.
  • Demographics: Consider the demographics of your target market, such as age, gender, and education level. This information can inform your marketing messaging and channels.

Tips for Identifying Target Market and Customer Needs:

  • Conduct market research to gather data and insights about your potential customers.
  • Engage in customer surveys or interviews to understand their pain points and preferences.
  • Utilize online analytics tools to analyze website traffic and identify potential customer demographics.
  • Seek feedback from existing clients or industry experts to gain a deeper understanding of customer needs.
  • Stay up-to-date with industry trends and technological advancements that may impact your target market's requirements.

Research Existing Competitors And Their Offerings

Researching existing competitors in the IT help desk and remote support services industry is crucial for understanding the market landscape and identifying opportunities for differentiation. By analyzing their offerings, you can gain insights into trends, pricing strategies, and customer expectations.

When conducting competitor research, consider the following important points:

  • Identify key competitors: Start by identifying the main competitors in the industry who offer similar IT help desk and remote support services. Focus on both local and national competitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the market.
  • Analyze service offerings: Dive into the specific services provided by each competitor. Assess their range of software and hardware support, response times, availability, and any additional features or benefits they offer.
  • Evaluate pricing models: Examine the pricing structures of your competitors to understand how they position themselves in the market. Identify whether they offer fixed monthly rates, tiered pricing, or customized plans.
  • Assess customer experience: Look for customer reviews and feedback on various platforms to gauge customer satisfaction levels and identify pain points that your service can address. Pay attention to areas where your competitors may be lacking or where customers express dissatisfaction.
  • Consider signing up for trials or demos offered by competitors to experience their services firsthand.
  • Avoid directly copying your competitors' offerings. Instead, focus on differentiating your service by providing unique value propositions.
  • Use social media monitoring tools and online forums to gather insights on customer opinions and preferences.

By thoroughly researching your competitors and their offerings, you can refine your own business strategy, identify gaps in the market, and develop a compelling value proposition that sets your IT help desk and remote support services apart.

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is a crucial step in the business planning process, as it helps identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your IT help desk and remote support services. By conducting a SWOT analysis, you can gain valuable insights that will inform your overall business strategy.

To begin, identify the strengths of your business. These could include areas where you have a competitive advantage, such as specialized expertise, a strong reputation, or advanced technology infrastructure.

Next, identify the weaknesses that you need to address in order to improve your business operations. These may include limited resources, a lack of brand recognition, or gaps in technical capabilities that need to be addressed.

In addition to internal factors, it's important to analyze the external opportunities for your business. This could include emerging technologies that could complement your services or changes in the market that create new potential customer segments.

Last but not least, identify the threats that your business may face. These could include increased competition, changing industry regulations, or economic downturns that could impact customer demand.

Tips for conducting a SWOT analysis:

  • Involve key team members from different departments to gain diverse perspectives.
  • Use data and research to support your analysis and avoid making assumptions.
  • Regularly revisit and update your SWOT analysis to adapt to changing market conditions.

By conducting a thorough SWOT analysis, you can gain a deeper understanding of your business's internal strengths and weaknesses while also identifying external opportunities and threats. This analysis will serve as a foundation for developing a strategic plan that maximizes your business's potential in the IT help desk and remote support services industry.

Define Business Objectives and Goals

Defining clear objectives and goals is essential for the success of your IT help desk and remote support service. These objectives and goals will guide your business decisions and strategies, and help you stay focused on what you want to achieve.

Here are some important points to consider when defining your business objectives and goals:

  • Align with customer needs: Your objectives and goals should directly address the needs and pain points of your target market. This will ensure that your service is relevant and valuable to your customers.
  • Be specific and measurable: Clearly define what you want to achieve and set measurable targets. For example, your objective could be to acquire 100 new subscribing customers within the first year of operation.
  • Consider both short-term and long-term goals: While short-term goals are important for immediate progress, it is equally crucial to have long-term goals that help shape your overall vision and direction.
  • Focus on profitability: One of your goals should be to ensure a sustainable and profitable business. This may involve setting targets for revenue growth, cost control, and profit margins.
  • Emphasize customer satisfaction: Aim to provide exceptional customer service and prioritize customer satisfaction. Set goals related to customer feedback, response time, and resolution rates to improve and maintain high service levels.
  • Adapt to technological advancements: In the IT industry, technology evolves at a rapid pace. Consider setting goals related to staying updated with the latest trends, adopting new tools and software, and continuously improving your service offerings.

Tips for Defining Business Objectives and Goals:

  • Involve key team members in the goal-setting process to ensure alignment and commitment.
  • Regularly review and update your objectives and goals to adapt to changing market conditions and business needs.
  • Ensure that your goals are realistic and achievable, considering the resources and capabilities of your business.
  • Communicate your objectives and goals to your team to foster a shared understanding and motivation.

By defining clear and strategic business objectives and goals, you will have a roadmap to guide your IT help desk and remote support service towards success. Regularly evaluate your progress and make adjustments as needed to stay on track and exceed customer expectations.

Determine The Necessary Resources And Infrastructure

When starting an IT help desk and remote support services business, it is essential to determine the necessary resources and infrastructure to ensure smooth operations and efficient service delivery. Here are some important steps to consider:

1. Hardware and Software: Assess the hardware and software requirements for your business. This includes selecting the right computers, servers, networking devices, and software applications that will support your remote support services. Consider factors such as scalability, reliability, and security when making these decisions.

2. Internet Connection: A reliable and high-speed internet connection is crucial for delivering seamless remote support services. Ensure that your service provider offers a stable connection with sufficient bandwidth to handle simultaneous remote sessions and data transfers.

3. Remote Access Tools: Invest in reliable remote access tools that will allow your team to connect to client systems remotely. Look for secure and user-friendly options that offer features like screen sharing, file transfer, and chat functionality.

4. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System: Implement a CRM system to manage client interactions, track support tickets, and maintain a comprehensive customer database. This will help streamline communication, improve customer service, and track customer satisfaction.

5. Training and Development: Provide regular training and development opportunities for your team members to enhance their technical skills and keep up with the latest industry trends. This will ensure that your team is equipped to handle diverse IT issues and provide effective remote support services.

Here are some tips for determining resources and infrastructure:

  • Consider cloud-based solutions for scalability and ease of access.
  • Collaborate with vendors and suppliers to negotiate favorable pricing and service agreements.
  • Ensure redundant systems and backup solutions are in place to mitigate any potential system failures.
  • Regularly evaluate and upgrade your infrastructure to meet evolving technology requirements.

By determining the necessary resources and infrastructure upfront, you can create a solid foundation for your IT help desk and remote support services business. This will enable you to deliver high-quality and efficient support to your customers while positioning your business for long-term success.

Develop a Pricing Strategy

Developing a pricing strategy for your IT help desk and remote support services is a crucial step in ensuring the profitability and sustainability of your business. It involves determining the right price point that is both competitive in the market and covers your costs while generating a profit margin.

To develop an effective pricing strategy, consider the following:

  • Conduct market research: Research the pricing models of your competitors offering similar IT support services. This will give you a general idea of the price range in the market and help you position your services effectively.
  • Outline your costs: Determine all the costs associated with providing your IT support services, including software licenses, employee salaries, infrastructure maintenance, and other operational expenses. This will help you understand the minimum price you need to charge to cover your costs.
  • Consider different pricing models: There are various pricing models you can choose from, such as per-incident pricing, fixed monthly subscription pricing, or a combination of both. Assess the pros and cons of each model and select the one that aligns with your target market's preferences and fits your business goals.
  • Factor in value-added services: Determine if you want to offer any additional value-added services that can justify higher pricing. Some examples could include 24/7 support, faster response times, or specialized expertise in certain software or hardware.
  • Experiment and iterate: Once you have established your initial pricing strategy, it's important to monitor its effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. Analyze the market response, gather customer feedback, and keep an eye on your financial performance to ensure your pricing strategy remains competitive and profitable.
  • Consider offering different tiers of service with varying features and prices to cater to different customer segments.
  • Regularly review your pricing strategy to stay updated with market trends and adjust as necessary.
  • Offer flexible payment options, such as monthly or annual subscriptions, to accommodate different customer preferences.
  • Provide transparency in your pricing by clearly outlining what is included in each pricing tier to avoid misunderstandings or customer dissatisfaction.

Identify Key Team Members And Their Roles

Building a strong team is crucial for the success of your IT help desk and remote support services. Each team member should bring unique skills and expertise to ensure smooth operations and top-notch customer service. Here are some important steps to identify key team members and define their roles:

  • Evaluate Service Needs: Determine the various support areas within your IT help desk and remote support services. Assess the specific skills and knowledge required to handle different software and hardware issues. This will help you identify the roles and responsibilities needed for your team.
  • Outline Job Descriptions: Create detailed job descriptions for each key role in your team, including titles, responsibilities, required qualifications, and experience. Clearly define expectations and the deliverables for each position.
  • Recruit and Attract Talent: Develop a recruitment strategy to attract highly skilled professionals who align with your business objectives. Utilize job portals, social media platforms, and professional networks to reach potential candidates. Consider partnering with local educational institutions to tap into young talent.
  • Conduct Interviews and Assessments: Screen candidates through interviews and assessments to evaluate their technical skills, problem-solving abilities, and customer service orientation. Look for individuals who exhibit strong communication skills and a passion for helping others.
  • Assign Roles and Responsibilities: Once you have chosen your team members, assign specific roles and responsibilities to each individual based on their strengths and expertise. Ensure that roles are clearly defined and understood by all team members.
  • Promote Collaboration: Foster a collaborative environment within your team to encourage information sharing, problem-solving, and continuous learning. Emphasize the importance of teamwork and create opportunities for cross-training and skill development.

Tips for Identifying Key Team Members:

  • Consider the size and scale of your business when determining the number of team members needed. Start with a small but dedicated team and expand as your business grows.
  • Seek individuals with both technical expertise and strong interpersonal skills. Effective communication and empathy are crucial for providing exceptional customer service.
  • Don't underestimate the importance of cultural fit. Look for team members who align with your company values and can contribute positively to the team dynamics.
  • Consider outsourcing certain roles or partnering with external contractors to tap into specialized expertise without the need for full-time employees.

Create A Marketing And Sales Strategy

Marketing and sales are crucial components of any business plan, as they are responsible for attracting customers and generating revenue. To create an effective marketing and sales strategy for your subscription-based IT support service, consider the following steps:

  • Define your target audience: Identify the specific industries, businesses, or individuals that are most likely to benefit from your IT help desk and remote support services. Understand their needs, pain points, and preferences to tailor your marketing efforts accordingly.
  • Craft a compelling brand message: Develop a clear and concise brand message that communicates the value and benefits of your services. This message should resonate with your target audience and differentiate your business from competitors.
  • Select appropriate marketing channels: Determine the most effective marketing channels to reach your target audience. Consider online advertising, social media platforms, content marketing, email marketing, and direct mail campaigns. Utilize both paid and organic marketing strategies to maximize your reach.
  • Build an informative website: Create a professional website that showcases your services, highlights customer testimonials, and provides valuable resources for potential customers. Optimize your website for search engines to increase organic traffic and enhance your online presence.
  • Establish partnerships and collaborations: Seek partnerships with complementary businesses or industry influencers to expand your reach and tap into new customer bases. Consider sponsoring industry events or offering referral programs to incentivize word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Implement an effective lead generation strategy: Develop lead magnets, such as eBooks, webinars, or free consultations, to capture potential customers' contact information. Nurture these leads through targeted email campaigns and personal follow-ups to convert them into paying customers.
  • Provide exceptional customer service: Prioritize customer satisfaction and aim to exceed expectations at every interaction. Positive word-of-mouth from satisfied customers can greatly enhance your reputation and attract new clients.
  • Regularly analyze and measure the effectiveness of your marketing and sales efforts by tracking metrics such as website traffic, lead conversion rates, and customer acquisition costs.
  • Stay up-to-date with industry trends and changes in technology to ensure your marketing and sales strategies remain relevant and effective.
  • Continuously refine and adapt your marketing and sales strategies based on customer feedback and market dynamics.

Conduct A Financial Analysis And Projections

Conducting a thorough financial analysis and creating accurate projections is crucial for the success of your IT help desk and remote support services business. This step will help you gain a clear understanding of the financial viability of your venture and enable you to make informed business decisions.

1. Gather Financial Data: Begin by gathering all relevant financial data, including your operational costs, anticipated revenue streams, and projected expenses. This information will serve as the foundation for your financial analysis.

2. Analyze Revenue Streams: Identify the different revenue streams for your subscription-based IT support service. Consider factors such as pricing tiers, customer volume, and potential upsell opportunities. This analysis will help you estimate your expected revenue and evaluate its sustainability.

3. Estimate Expenses: Create a comprehensive list of all your projected expenses, including labor costs, infrastructure investments, marketing expenses, and any other costs associated with running your business. Ensure you account for both fixed and variable costs.

4. Calculate Profitability: Use the gathered data to calculate your anticipated profitability. Take into account both direct and indirect costs to ensure accurate calculations. This step will help you determine whether your business model is financially viable.

5. Generate Financial Projections: Based on your financial analysis, generate realistic and detailed financial projections for the next few years. These projections should include income statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets.

6. Assess Funding Needs: Use your financial projections to determine your funding needs. If external financing is required, create a clear plan to outline how the funds will be used and how they will contribute to the growth and profitability of your business.

7. Monitor Performance: Once your business is operational, regularly monitor your financial performance against your projections. This will help you identify any deviations and take corrective actions if necessary.

8. Seek Professional Assistance: If financial analysis and projections are not your area of expertise, consider seeking professional assistance from an accountant or financial consultant. Their insights and advice can be invaluable in ensuring the accuracy and success of your financial planning.

By conducting a thorough financial analysis and creating realistic projections, you will be equipped with the essential information needed to make informed decisions and guide the financial success of your IT help desk and remote support services business.

Writing a business plan for your IT help desk and remote support services is a crucial step to ensure the success and sustainability of your venture. By following these 9 steps, you can effectively identify your target market, research competitors, analyze your strengths and weaknesses, set clear objectives, allocate resources, determine pricing, build a competent team, devise a marketing strategy, and assess financial viability.

Throughout the process, it is important to maintain a professional tone and conduct thorough research to make informed decisions. Your business plan will serve as a roadmap that guides your operations, attracts potential investors or partners, and helps you stay focused on your goals.

Remember to regularly review and update your business plan as your IT help desk and remote support services evolve and adapt to market dynamics and customer needs. With a well-crafted plan in place, you will be better equipped to navigate challenges and maximize growth opportunities in the competitive landscape of IT support services.

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ITSM for high-velocity teams

6 service desk best practices to elevate your game.

How do you build a service desk that can serve the needs of a scaling organization? At Atlassian, we’ve faced this question ourselves. In 2010 we had 230 employees. That number has exploded -- we’re well into the thousands these days. With fast paced growth, we look for every opportunity to get more efficient, and running a successful service desk is a big part of that.

What is a service desk?

First thing’s first: let’s be clear about what service desks do. The ITIL 4 glossary defines a service desk as “the single point of contact between the service provider and the users.” A typical service desk manages service requests and incidents. 

The service desk is the center where customers (e.g. employees or other stakeholders) can find help from their IT service providers. Regardless of what type of help is being provided, the goal of a service desk is to deliver high-quality service to customers in a timely manner.

Help desk vs service desk

There are often questions about the differences between service desk and help desks . To some extent, these may be semantic differences. That said, typically the IT help desk is seen as more tactical and designed to quickly resolve immediate issues. Service desks are considered more strategic and are designed to accommodate broader business needs. They often support multiple ITSM practices. 

Service desk best practices

Your service desk is the frontline for support, a representation of your IT team, and critical in enabling teams. It is at the heart of productive organizations. Embracing service desk best practices can help with managing costs and delivering excellent service experiences. Between setting up new offices, onboarding new employees, and scaling at a rapid speed, we’ve learned some things that have helped along the way. Here are our tips:

1. Use your service desk software to its fullest potential

Long ago at Atlassian, we weren’t using a purpose-built service desk, so with the creation of this global support team, we decided to switch from tracking issues in Jira Software to using Jira Service Management for self-service, SLA tracking, and collaboration.

We had to adapt to manage high ticket volume alongside contributing to and maintaining our support knowledge base . We also embraced knowledge centered support as a way to ultimately reduce ticket volume and improve resolution times.

2. Stop treating your IT teams as “catch-alls”

Ticket variety can often be a bigger challenge than incoming ticket volume. Like many of our customers, our infrastructure is pretty complex. It’s safe to say that we have miles of cable and tons of metal and myriads of VMs that run our local offices, data centers, and application services. Before we launched a dedicated level-one support team, our IT people ran a mad dash back and forth between: user account management, desktop and hardware support, office and network infrastructure, application and system change requests, project work, and maintainance. 

Our first major lesson was to stop spreading so much variety and volume across a single team. Instead, we divided into three more specialized teams:

  • Office engineering, to handle the local network and technology needs unique to each location
  • Workplace tech, which covers our workplace productivity tools like Jira, our travel booking system, etc
  • Atlasdesk, our global service desk team

Life became far simpler, because the teams receive much more targeted work. Plus, areas of specialization allow team members to become actual experts over a particular domain, and ultimately resolve incidents and problems faster because our knowledge is more deeply rooted and our attention more focused.

3. Build a customer portal

It shouldn’t be hard for customers to ask for help. We use Jira Service Management to provide a single customer help center that links the IT service desk and many of our departmental service desks like legal and HR, so customers can come to one place to find every service they need.

It’s super easy to get to the portal, too. Employees just type go/ithelp in their browser, and they are redirected instantly to the right place. New employees learn this as part of onboarding, so they know how to get help quickly and easily from day one.

4. Get smart about SLAs

Like every good service desk team, we want our customers to get the best service possible. To measure how we're doing, we’ve always set goals for ourselves – but they weren’t always easy to track or to customize for different geographies, teams, priority levels, etc.

When we launched our global service desk team, we started from day one with clear SLAs that are easy for service desk analysts to understand and track. Plus, they’re extremely customizable, so managers can set SLAs that are meaningful and relevant to their teams, not just arbitrary measurements.

5. Promote self-service for customers

Studies show that 72% of customers prefer to use self-service support. In order for that to be true, though, it has to be easy to use. The self-service portal that is mentioned above, is one way to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. Knowledge bases and Q&A communities are also helpful.

6. Look at the big picture and measure your progress

We definitely keep an eye on key operational metrics like most IT organizations. But we’ve stopped obsessing over random KPIs, and we’re way more focused now on measuring what matters most. To summarize, we put the customer experience first, and spend our time drilling into the trends and numbers that can help us make the biggest improvements.

We spend our time looking at the peaks and valleys in data, and then asking ourselves “why” to get to the bottom of what causes “good” experiences vs “bad” ones for customers, and low volume vs. high volume days for our team. We focus on preventing incidents, not just solving problems. This is important both to the effectiveness and the happiness of our support analysts. It’s also been helpful in reporting up to management, who appreciate this view of the business.

As you would expect, our teams experience growing pains as we adapt to new challenges. Yours will too. What’s important is that you have the right tools to measure your effectiveness and make the best decisions to guide your team.

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Service Business Plan Template

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Over the past 20+ years, we have helped over 10,000 entrepreneurs and business owners create business plans to start and grow their service businesses. On this page, we will first give you some background information with regards to the importance of business planning. We will then go through a service business plan template step-by-step so you can create your plan today.

Before we get into how to write a service business plan, here are links to several service business plan templates:

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  • Insurance Business Plan
  • Janitorial Business Plan
  • Landscaping Business Plan
  • Massage Therapy Business Plan
  • Nail Salon Business Plan
  • Photography Business Plan
  • Plumbing Business Plan
  • Salon Business Plan
  • Spa Business Plan
  • Staffing Agency Business Plan
  • Tutor Business Plan

Download our Ultimate Business Plan Template here >

What Is a Service Business Plan?

A service business plan provides a snapshot of your service company as it stands today, and lays out your growth plan for the next five years. It explains your goals and your business strategy for reaching them. It also includes market research to support your company plans.

Why You Need a Business Plan

If you’re looking to start a service business or grow your existing business you need a good business plan. A business plan helps you attract investors to satisfy your funding requirements, and plan out the growth of your entire business in order to improve your chances of success. Your service business plan is a living document that should be updated annually as your company grows and changes.

How to Secure Funding for a Services Business

With regards to funding, the main source of funding for a services business are personal savings, credit cards, bank loans, and angel investors. 

With regards to bank loans, banks will want to review your service business plan and gain confidence that you will be able to repay your loan and interest. To acquire this confidence, the loan officer will not only want to confirm that your financials are reasonable, but they will want to see a professionally written plan. Such a plan will give them the confidence that you can successfully and professionally operate a business.

Angel investors are wealthy individuals who will write you a check. They will either take equity in return for their funding or, like a bank, they will give you a loan.

Finish Your Business Plan Today!

How to write a business plan for a service business.

The traditional service business plan format includes these 10 key elements:

Executive Summary

Your executive summary provides an introduction to your business plan in 1 – 2 pages, but it is normally the last section you write because it provides a summary of each key section of your plan.

The goal of your executive summary is to quickly engage the reader. Explain to them the type of services business you are operating and the status. For example, are you a startup, do you have a services business that you would like to grow, or are you operating a chain of services businesses?

Next, provide an overview of each of the subsequent sections of your plan. For example, give a brief overview of the service industry trends. Discuss the type of service business you are operating. Detail your direct competitors and your competitive advantage. Give an overview of your ideal customers. Provide a snapshot of your marketing plan. Identify the key members of your team, and offer an overview of your financial plan.

Company Overview

In your company description, you will detail the type of service business you are operating.

In addition to explaining the type of service business you operate, the company analysis section of your service business plan needs to provide background on the business.

Include answers to questions such as:

  • When and why did you start the business?
  • What milestones have you achieved to date? Milestones could include sales goals you’ve reached, new store openings, etc.
  • Your legal structure. Are you incorporated as an S-Corp? An LLC? A sole proprietorship? Explain your legal structure here.

Industry Analysis

In your industry analysis, you need to provide an overview of the service business.

While this may seem unnecessary, it serves multiple purposes.

First, researching your specific niche of the service market educates you. It helps you gain insights and understand the market in which you are operating. 

Secondly, market research can improve your strategy particularly if your research identifies market trends. For example, if there was a trend towards more eco-friendly services, your company might want to emphasize its environmentally friendly initiatives.

The third reason for market research is to prove to readers that you are an expert in your industry. By conducting the research and presenting it in your plan, you achieve just that.

The following questions should be answered in the industry analysis section of your service business plan:

  • How big is the service business (in dollars)?
  • Is the market declining or increasing?
  • Who are the key competitors in the market? What is your market share?
  • Who are the key suppliers in the market?
  • What trends are affecting the industry?
  • What is the industry’s growth forecast over the next 5 – 10 years?
  • What is the relevant market size? That is, how big is the potential market for your service business. You can extrapolate such a figure by assessing the size of the market in the entire country and then applying that figure to your local population.

Customer Analysis

The customer analysis section of your service business plan must detail the target market you serve and/or expect to serve.

The following are examples of customer segments in the service industry:

  • Businesses in need of a specific service, such as computer repair or consulting
  • People who have a need for a service that is not currently being met
  • People who are price conscious and are looking for the best deal on a service
  • People who want to support businesses with social responsibility values

As you can imagine, the customer segment(s) you choose will greatly depend on the type of service business you operate. Some of your clients may want different pricing and product options and would respond to different marketing promotions compared to other target customer segments.

Try to break out your target market in terms of their demographic and psychographic profiles. With regards to demographics, including a discussion of the ages, genders, locations, and income levels of the customers you seek to serve. Because most service businesses primarily serve customers living in the same city or town, such demographic information is easy to find on government websites.

Psychographic profiles explain the wants and needs of your target customers. The more you can understand and define these needs, the better you will do in attracting and retaining your existing clients.

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Competitive Analysis

Your competitive analysis should identify the indirect and direct competitors your business faces and then focus on the latter.

Direct competitors are other businesses that provide similar services.

Indirect competitors are other options that customers have to purchase from that aren’t direct competitors. This includes businesses that provide an alternative solution to the services that you provide, but not the exact service. Think do-it-yourself and public options for similar services. You need to mention such competition to show you understand that not everyone who needs the specific services will engage your service business.

With regards to direct competition, you want to detail the other service businesses with which you compete. Most likely, your direct competitors will be service businesses located very close to your location. 

For each such competitor, provide an overview of their businesses and document their strengths and weaknesses. Unless you once worked at your competitors’ businesses, it will be impossible to know everything about them. But you should be able to find out key things about them such as:

  • What types of customers do they serve?
  • What products and services do they offer?
  • What is their pricing (premium, low, etc.)?
  • What are they good at?
  • What are their weaknesses?

With regards to the last two questions, think about your answers from the customers’ perspective. And don’t be afraid to stand outside your competitors’ locations and ask customers as they leave what they like most and least about them.

The final part of your competitive analysis section is to document your competitive advantages. For example:

  • Will you provide superior services?
  • Will you provide services that your competitors don’t offer?
  • Will you make it easier or faster for customers to book your services?
  • Will you provide better customer service?
  • Will you offer better pricing?

Think about ways you will outperform your competition and document them in this section of your plan.

Marketing Plan

Traditionally, a marketing plan includes the four P’s: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. For a service business plan, your marketing plan should include the following:

Product : in the product section, you should reiterate the type of service business that you documented in your Company Analysis. Then, detail the specific services you will be offering. For example, in addition to a lawn care business, you may offer to trim trees, bushes, and hedges.

Price : Document your business’s pricing strategy including the prices you will offer and how they compare to your competitors. Essentially in the product and price sub-sections of your marketing plan, you are presenting the services you offer and their prices.

Place : Place refers to the location of your service business. Document your location and mention how the location will impact your success. Discuss how your location might provide a steady stream of customers. 

Promotions : the final part of your service business marketing strategy is the promotions section. Here you will document how you will drive new customers to your location(s). The following are some promotional methods and marketing materials you might consider:

  • Advertising in local papers and magazines
  • Reaching out to local bloggers and websites 
  • Social media advertising
  • Local radio advertising
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Banner ads at local venues

Client Retention

Your service business plan should discuss not just how you will find clients, but how you’ll hold on to them and discourage them from switching to one of your competitors. After all, it should be much less expensive to keep a client than to market and sell services to a new one. Some methods of retaining customers involve creating the perception of switching costs; that is, that they will lose money and time when switching to a new service company. Others involve fine-tuning your customer service skills into a system designed around retention.

Loyalty Program

Creating a loyalty program is a positive way to retain customers. This could involve a punch card system where customers receive a free service after a certain number of visits, or it could involve a points system where customers accumulate points that can be redeemed for discounts or free services. Other loyalty programs offer exclusive deals and privileges to members, such as special access to new services before they are made available to the general public.

Premium Customer Levels

Another related retention strategy is to reward the frequency and/or the amount of money that customers spend with your service business. This is often done by creating different customer levels and providing perks to customers who reach a certain level. The higher the customer level, the more exclusive the perks. Common perks include discounts on services, express service, access to unique services or products, and early notice of promotional deals.

Referral Program

A referral program is a great way to keep customers happy and encourage them to refer their friends and family members. This could involve rewarding customers with a discount or free service for every new customer they refer, or it could involve giving customers a set amount of credit for each referral. Either way, the referral program should be designed to be as simple as possible for customers to participate in.

Customer Testimonials

Finally, customer testimonials can be a powerful retention tool. As potential customers research your service business, they will likely come across your website and online profiles. Seeing positive customer testimonials on your website and across the internet will help convince them that you provide outstanding customer service. You can create a separate page on your website that is dedicated to client testimonials, or you could set up a separate social media profile that features client testimonials and allows customers to provide feedback through a special email address.

Tracking Retention

Simply tracking the numbers and percentages involved in your customer retention can yield valuable information about what you’re doing right or wrong and how successful new initiatives are over time. Statistics to track may include client complaints, the average speed of complaint resolution, the percentage of customers in a given month who were using your services last month, 3 months ago, 6 months ago, a year ago, etc, and so on. When your staff is aware of these statistics and is given targets to work towards, the message that customer service and retention is a priority is heard loud and clear.

Operations Plan

While the earlier sections of your service business plan explained your goals, your operations plan describes how you will meet them. Your plan should have two distinct sections as follows.

Everyday short-term processes include all of the tasks involved in running your service business such as serving customers, procuring supplies, etc.

Long-term goals are the milestones you hope to achieve. These could include the dates when you expect to serve your 100th client, or when you hope to reach $X in sales. It could also be when you expect to hire your Xth employee or launch in a new city.

Management Team

To demonstrate your service business’s ability to succeed as a business, a strong management team is essential. Highlight your key players’ backgrounds, emphasizing those skills and experiences that prove their ability to grow a company. 

Ideally, you and/or your team members have direct experience in the service business. If so, highlight this experience and expertise, but also highlight any experience that you think will help your business succeed.

If your team is lacking, consider assembling an advisory board. An advisory board would include 2 to 8 individuals who would act as mentors to your business. They would help answer questions and provide strategic guidance. If needed, look for advisory board members with experience in a service business and/or successfully running small businesses.

Financial Plan

Your plan should include your 5-year financial statement broken out both monthly or quarterly for the first year and then annually. Your financial statements include your income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statements.

Income Statement : an income statement is more commonly called a Profit and Loss statement or P&L. It shows your revenues and then subtracts your costs to show whether you turned a profit or not.

In developing your income statement, you need to devise assumptions. For example, will you serve 20 customers per week or 50? And will sales grow by 2% or 10% per year? As you can imagine, your choice of assumptions will greatly impact the financial forecasts for your business. As much as possible, conduct research to try to root your assumptions in reality.

Balance Sheets : While balance sheets include much information, to simplify them to the key items you need to know about, balance sheets show your assets and liabilities. For instance, if you spend $50,000 on building out your service business, that will not give you immediate profits. Rather it is an asset that will hopefully help you generate profits for years to come. Likewise, if a bank writes you a check for $50.000, you don’t need to pay it back immediately. Rather, that is a liability you will pay back over time.

Cash Flow Statement : Your cash flow statement will help determine how much money you need to start or grow your business, and make sure you never run out of money. What most entrepreneurs and business owners don’t realize is that you can turn a profit but run out of money and go bankrupt. For example, let’s say a company approached you with a massive $100,000 damage restoration contract that would cost you $50,000 to fulfill. Well, in most cases, you would have to pay that $50,000 now for supplies, equipment rentals, employee salaries, etc. But let’s say the company didn’t pay you for 180 days. During that 180 day period, you could run out of money.

In developing your Income Statement and Balance Sheets be sure to include several of the key costs needed in starting or growing a service business:

  • Cost of equipment to perform the service
  • Cost of maintaining an adequate amount of supplies
  • Payroll or salaries paid to staff
  • Business insurance
  • Taxes and permits
  • Legal expenses

Attach your full financial projections in the appendix of your plan along with any supporting documents that make your plan more compelling. For example, you might include any insurance company affiliations or remediation licenses.

Service Business Plan Summary

Writing a business plan for your service business is a worthwhile endeavor. If you follow the template above, by the time you are done, you will truly be an expert. You will really understand the service business, your competition, and your potential customers. You will have developed a marketing plan and will really understand what it takes to launch and grow a successful cleaning services business.  

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The goal of your Executive Summary is to quickly engage the reader. Explain to them the type of service you are providing and the status; for example, are you a startup, do you have a service that you would like to grow, or are you operating a chain of service locations?

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8 Strategies to Increase Your Service Desk Value

May 24, 2019

To help your IT service desk increase its value, there are different aspects of IT service desk operations, performance, and improvement that need to be considered and addressed. These can be may be distributed across various parts of the IT-support ecosystem and can relate to any of: service desk strategy, people, process, and technology.

This blog summarizes the eight key points from a related webinar called “ 8 Important Steps For Boosting Your Service Desk Value . So, after reading this blog, you might want to check out the webinar if you want a more in-depth take on this subject—there are 40+ minutes of related content (the whys and some hows) in the 60-minute webinar.

But for now, please read on to find out more on how extract more business value from your IT support capabilities.

8 steps to boost your service desk value

The following eight steps are in no way the only things that will help to up your service desk value, but they’re all important in ensuring that your IT service desk is best positioned to drive and deliver better business outcomes:

1. First, realize that continuing to do the same thing won’t lead to different, better outcomes (there’s a need to do things differently and potentially to do different things); and, second, that your service desk is neither unique nor alone in terms of needing to improve operations, performance, and the associated outcomes or value.

2. Flip the eight common metrics mistakes (these are shown on the webinar slide below) into positive metric approaches. For instance, use metrics for productive reasons, such as driving improvement; align metrics with desired outcomes; understand the behavioral aspects of employed metrics; and periodically review the portfolio service desk metrics, changing metrics as appropriate. These will all help to ensure that IT service desk performance is better understood and improved upon over time, however they still don’t necessarily ensure that the desk, and its people, are delivering the business value expected of them.

service desk business plan

3. Design employee feedback mechanisms, such as customer satisfaction surveys, around the employee (not the service provider) – importantly, around what customers value.

4. Understand what truly influences employee experience, happiness, and perceived value. It’s often things that aren’t surfaced via traditional customer service surveys.

service desk business plan

5. Design IT service desk services and capabilities around the people that use them. This will help your IT service desk to avoid situations where newer services (or capabilities), such as self-service and chat, are introduced but then fail to gain sufficient traction in terms of end-user adoption. To back this up, the Service Desk Institute (SDI) found that only 12% of organizations had realized the expected ROI from their investment in IT self-service capabilities.

6. Don’t rush into chatbot adoption without first learning from, and ideally correcting, your IT organization’s self-service and chat mistakes. Why? Because if chatbots are considered an evolution of the traditional self-service, self-help, and chat channels, which IT service desks have – in the main – failed to deliver successfully--then there’s a good possibility that the same mistakes will be made with chatbots.

7. AI is an opportunity for IT service desks to revolutionize how they operate across the parameters of “better, faster, cheaper” – offering a superior customer experience and a higher perception of value. But don’t assume that it will be easy! Deriving value from AI will require time and effort, plus potentially the improvement of existing service desk practices.

8. Look to value-impacting trends to better understand and report performance, in particular to demonstrate increasing value. For example, the reduction in average handling cost per incident over the last 12 months while also achieving an increase in employee satisfaction (or happiness). Or a slight increase in the average handling cost per incident since last quarter that’s dwarfed by a significant reduction in lost employee productivity. Or an increase in reported incident volumes over the last three quarters where it can be shown that it’s because of greater employee happiness with the IT service desk rather than a greater number of IT failures (i.e. more employees think it best to contact the service desk with their issue).

There’s much that can be done to increase the value – even if it’s the perceived value – your IT service desk delivers. This blog highlights a number of them and if you’d like more detail on the why and how, then please watch this on-demand webinar: 8 Important Steps For Boosting Your Service Desk Value .

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Stephen Mann, ​IT Service Management Expert and Principal Analyst and Content Director at

Principal and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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Best practices for running an effective service desk

  • October 5, 2021
  • |   Work Smarter

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When a service desk is efficient and proactive, the positive impact is felt across an organisation. No longer is the service desk reactive, or only seen as cost centre, it can make an entire organisation more efficient when the right strategy is put behind the service desk.

An effective service desk can proactively prevent downtime. Find new ways for employees to manage their workloads. Look for ways a company can save money, and even increase profitability through service delivery improvements.

If that sounds like the service desk of your dreams, then here are best practice methods you can use to improve your organisation’s IT service desk.

Download our guide, How to drive IT Service Desk efficiencies, here to get more advice and support >

Service desk improvements – where to get started

1: Define what winning looks like 

  • Does your service desk have and meet targets?
  • Are your staff satisfied with the service they receive?
  • Do they hit minimum SLA or KPI metrics?

If you aren’t sure, or don’t know the answer to those or similar questions, then it’s time to redefine your service desk and what success looks like. Unless you measure outputs, it is impossible to know how to make improvements and what the service desk – whether internal our outsourced – should aim for.

Ideally, at a minimum, a service desk should adhere to an SLA and customer satisfaction scores. Your staff and stakeholders need to know the minimum turnaround times they should expect when a system goes down or an incident happens. Beyond that, look for ways the service desk can make a positive, proactive contribution to team activity and targets.

2: Map out a plan 

Take a view towards where you want your whole organisation to be in the next 1 to 5 years.

  • How can technology help you achieve those goals?
  • What technology is holding you back?

For many organisations, legacy and on-premises technology is slowing them down. Older systems are more expensive to maintain and when your company is responsible for hardware too, that increases upkeep and security costs. It also represents a much higher risk factor than more secure cloud-based technology.

Look at where you are and the target destination. Then work with your service desk and IT teams to map the journey. It might also be worth working with a trusted external IT partner to look at the most effective solutions for your goals.

3: Take incremental steps 

Until you start making changes, it is difficult to know how effective new technology rollouts are going to be with your team. New software and systems often require new processes. Which means your staff need to be trained. All of this should be factored into any service desk implantation plans.

It is also one of the most effective ways to successfully implement new technology and processes. One of the main reasons digital transformation projects fail is a company attempts to do too much in a hurry. Instead, take a steadier pace and make sure staff and stakeholders are fully bought-in to new ways of working before making further changes.

4: User experience 

The most successful service desks put the user first.

When your user community contacts the service desk they should feel like a customer, not a problem. One of the advantages of outsourcing to a trusted IT partner is your team are always put at the heart of the solution. IT specialists take care and attention to solving problems and helping staff to overcome challenges.

5: Automate processes 

With the right systems in place, an effective service desk can handle a large volume of calls and tickets, whilst also managing long-term projects. Users are keen to try and solve their own problems, so make sure there are systems in place to ensure they can find answers to questions and even implement simple solutions themselves.

An IT service desk can play a valuable role in your organisation. It can empower your team and find solutions that make it easier for your team to work more efficiently, cutting costs and workloads for everyone, which should have a positive impact on the business overall.

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Home Insights Resources The Ultimate Guide to improving your IT Service Desk performance

The Ultimate Guide to improving your IT Service Desk performance

“We could do so much better”. From our experience, if this is how you perceive your IT Service Desk, then you are not alone. So, the purpose of this guide is simple: to help you unpack that dissatisfaction; to pinpoint how and where concrete improvements can be made – and to bring about positive change.

Part 1. The Why? Establishing the Business Case for Optimising Your Service Desk Function

Part 2: how do you know you are running an optimal service desk.

Part 3: Common Bottlenecks and How to Prioritise Your Fixes

Part 4: Optimisation in Action: What We Found at the Law Firm…

Part 5: a glimpse of the future: emerging trends to further boost performance, what we will cover….

Making the business case for Service Desk optimisation is the first step. After all, where resources and time are limited – and with competing claims for your time and attention coming in from other areas of the business, what makes this area a priority?

Next, you need to define best performance , examining how your organisation measures up by identifying areas of inefficiency. We’ll help you with all of this, together with a closer look at some common problem areas and how to address them. We give a real-life illustration of how Service Desk optimisation makes a positive difference – and outline the trends to watch to further boost performance.

The topline purpose of your IT Service Desk is to enhance your organisation’s ability to meet its goals. It helps ensure that employees are able to fulfil their roles; it enables your organisation to run better – and, ultimately, it increases the profitability of the business.

Service Desk optimisation should never be about change for change’s sake. For any proposed change, the question should be asked, “Will the proposed change actively improve the Desk’s ability to support the wider objectives of the business? ”

Practical Benefits for Your Business

Drilling down further, here are some of the key areas where optimising your Service Desk functions can reap benefits for your entire business:

  • Shorter incident resolution times. Solving incidents and requests with minimal delay, thereby reducing the business impact of incidents and keeping everyone as productive as possible.
  • Improved efficiency and reduced operational costs. With streamlined workflows and increased automation in areas such as communication and task allocation, you can substantially reduce the need for manual input. This allows you to do more with less – freeing up IT resources for more profitable uses.
  • Self-service efficiencies. Optimisation often involves enabling users to help themselves (through self-help portals, for instance). This can improve employee satisfaction by enabling employees to get to the solutions they need more quickly. Fewer calls to the Service Desk further adds to potential labour savings, while reducing the burden on staff.
  • Expectation management and value for money. Targeted improvements to Help Desk functionality can help maximise the likelihood that incidents are dealt with in accordance with service level agreements. It also increases your ability to deliver against user expectations.
  • Move from Reactive to Proactive. Improvements should focus on the reactive elements of your Service Desk’s work – i.e. responding to incidents in a consistent, effective and timely fashion. At the same time, by introducing new reporting and analytical capabilities, you become better able to discover the root cause of incidents, find patterns and spot trends. You become better equipped to “learn” from the data, gain a more thorough understanding of business requirements and implement better-fitting IT services.

If you feel unsure about what capabilities of your Service Desk need further optimisation, our newest Service Desk diagnostic tool can provide you with a complete report highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of your Service Desk. Take the test now!

By answering 20 questions you will be able to diagnose your organisation’s Service Desk and assess its strengths and weaknesses. You’ll then immediately be able to access a tailored report that ranks its performance across different areas and provides an indication of how your Service Desk overall.

service desk business plan

Set minimum standards

You need to define and document what ‘normal’ looks like. In connection with this, and where possible, your Service Desk needs to establish and maintain minimum standards for service qualification. This should help you to standardise regarding the hardware, operating systems, apps and services in play within the organisation.

This approach should also help to set clearer working parameters for the Service Desk. Particularly, it helps you define what’s needed from Service Desk staff in terms of gaining and maintaining proficiencies, skill sets and certifications on a controlled number of supported items, rather than a sprawling and ever-changing variety of systems. The benefits of this approach include the following:

  • – More efficient incident resolution.
  • – Easier infrastructure setup.
  • – You become better equipped to standardise your performance metrics and reporting.
  • – Speedier onboarding of end users.
  • – Faster training and knowledge transfer between new and existing Service Desk staff.

Metrics to track

The use of metrics to define and improve on baseline performance is a key method for obtaining optimal performance from your Service Desk teams. As a rule, each metric you use should be meaningful and accurate. Precisely what you need to track will depend to some extent on your organisation-specific priorities, the characteristics of the IT estate and the needs of users. That said, the following metrics are almost always ones to focus on:

  • Cost per Ticket. Calculated by dividing the monthly operating expense of the Service Desk by the monthly ticket volume. A rising CPT month-by-month can be an indicator of inefficiency (it may be a sign that you are paying for a level of support that exceeds your requirements).
  • Customer Satisfaction. Your foundational measure for gauging quality of service. A popular and effective way to measure it involves asking customers to complete a follow-up survey on ticket conclusion. Areas to cover in this questionnaire include quality of outcome, speed of response, communication and ease of accessing the service.
  • First Contact Resolution. This refers to the proportion of incidents resolved on the foot of customers’ initial Service Desk contact. A high FCR rate is generally a strong indicator that Service Desk staff have the knowledge and communication skills to steer through problems efficiently.
  • Service Desk Resolution. The proportion of incidents resolved by the Desk without the need for escalation.
  • Service Desk Analyst utilisation. The average time a Service Desk analyst or technician spends directly on requests and incident response in any given timeframe, divided by total hours worked in that period. If a low utilisation rate is accompanied by a high or rising cost per ticket, it is a sign that the department’s resources are being inefficiently deployed.
  • Mean Time to Resolve. The time that elapses between opening and total resolution of a ticket
  • Analyst Job Satisfaction. Important – and yet easily overlooked. High levels of engagement tend to correlate with improved commitment, lower churn rates and better outcomes both in terms of value and user satisfaction.

service desk business plan

(The SDI Global Best Practice standard specifies 39 different metrics that a service desk should measure, monitor, and report on; this question contains 20 examples from the standards.)

If you would like to know more about what metrics your service desk should be measuring, feel free to read our article: “Which metrics should your IT Service Desk be measuring?”.

Go back to Part. 1

Part 3: How to Prioritise Your Fixes and address Common Bottlenecks

Problem 1: an absence of structure.

A user contacts the Service Desk with an issue. A ticket is opened. It is escalated and resolved. All of this is achieved on an ad-hoc basis. At first glance, it looks as if the system is working (albeit haphazardly). But without a consistent and predictable workflow, it becomes a lot harder to measure whether your IT Service Desk is performing at its best – and what can be improved.

The solution:

You need to deploy a comprehensive service management solution: one that enables you to define a formal workflow into which all new tickets are fed. This ensures all tickets are handled in a consistent manner with set parameters to govern when and how to escalate.

Problem 2: Not being able to put specific procedures to the test

Is our first response resolution strategy for a particular type of issue working as speedily as we would like? Are we escalating to the right technicians and under the right circumstances?

T he solution:

Your IT Service Desk requires detailed reporting capabilities that provide intelligence on matters such as which type of escalation procedures are resulting in the quickest resolutions and which ones are having the most desirable impact on system performance and uptime. These capabilities make you much better able to create a set of best practices and minimum standards (see above).

Problem 3: Reviewing the efficiency of your Service Desk staff

To track the Service Desk Analyst Utilisation metric, you ask how long staff are spending on each task. You have your doubts about the reliability of these rough and ready estimates.

Equipped with end to end tracking through structured processes and toolset optimisation of the amount of time spent on each incident, you get a much more accurate picture of analyst utilisation. This gives you the ability to take action where required – e.g. reviewing task allocation if technicians are ‘idle’ for long periods – or stepping in to provide extra training and guidance if too much time is being spent on particular tasks.

Problem 4: Too much time is spent on routine tasks

A high first contact resolution rate is usually a positive indicator – the same goes for the Service Desk resolution metric. That said, if a huge chunk of Service Desk resources is currently devoted to minor issues, it may mean that those highly specialist resources are not being utilised to their fullest potential.

Self-help features can help significantly reduce the amount of time spent on routine matters. This may include setting up a knowledge base to allow users to correct simple, commonly-occurring issues themselves. Self-help can also extend to communications; for instance, with a platform that allows users to track the progress of tickets online, thereby removing the need for users to contact the Desk for updates.

Problem 5: An inability to track trends

Your Service Desk handles large volumes of tickets relating to a wide range of systems, devices and applications. This potentially offers highly useful data on the history of your assets, such as failure rates and commonly-occurring glitches. At present though, you are struggling to bring all of this data together to make sense of it.

If you unify your Service Desk solution with your IT asset management environment, you are better able to maintain a complete history of all issues affecting each component of your IT infrastructure. This enables you to make much more informed decisions on such matters as replacements and upgrades.

Problem 6: Communication Silos

To cater for a range of preferences, you offer various ways for users to make contact with the Service Desk (e.g. email, phone and web portal). The flipside is your inability to unify all of this information in order to comprehensively track performance.

You need an IT Service Desk solution that cohesively organises information received across multiple channels. This should make it easier to measure, document and control your processes and procedures.

How to prioritise your fixes

Rarely is it the case that a Service Desk requires improvement in a single, isolated area. Much more commonly, organisations find themselves facing issues in some or all of the areas detailed above. If this is the case, you need to decide what changes to make – and what areas to focus on as a priority. For this, we suggest the following methodology:

  • Identify the opportunities for improvement – with particular reference to the metrics detailed in Part 2 above.
  • Quantify the potential beneficial impact of making improvements in that area. For this, always link it back to the business case for change (i.e. by asking whether and to what extent making the changes is likely to support the wider objectives of the business.
  • Estimate the required cost and effort of the proposed changes and carry out a cost/benefit analysis.
  • Develop an action plan for improvement.
  • Confirm the outcome of the changes you have made empirically.

From identifying opportunities for improvement, right through to tracking the success of the changes you have made, expert input is essential.

To understand the real-life benefits that optimisation can bring, our work with leading UK insurance and risk law specialist BLM provides a useful illustration.

During Acora’s Service Review, one of the main findings was BLM’s struggle to access meaningful management reporting. The law firm was being held back by its incumbent toolset technology and a lack of formal process. In addition, its IT Service Desk has organically evolved with the business, meaning the capacity and structure were becoming stretched and was beginning to affect the overall perception of IT.

To find out how Acora successfully transformed A Top 100 Law Firm IT Service Desk into an efficient peak performing and SLA-driven IT Service Desk with “unprecedented levels of Service Desk Resolution” click here.

One of the key aims of optimisation should be to make that shift away from purely reactive IT support and towards a much more proactive approach. Spotting patterns, informing your wider transformation strategy, making better use of your resources: these are all areas to focus on.

With this in mind, it’s worth keeping a close eye on the type of developments that look set to improve Service Desk performance even further. Ones to watch include the following:

AI-enabled capabilities

Artificial intelligence and machine learning offers a way to handle easily repeatable tasks in a more efficient way. Examples include use of chatbox technology to enable users to quickly find fixes to commonly occurring problems. Likewise, an AI-driven escalation procedure can support better Service Level Agreement compliance by ensuring that matters are escalated consistently, with direct reference to the SLA terms.

Big Data Analytics

This refers to the ability to capture, interrogate and find hidden value from data from across your IT estate. This can enable you to deliver a more efficient service and better address the needs of users.

Examples include smart news and notifications: the ability of IT to proactively notify users about potential issues based on their usage habits and history – and on previous requests for assistance they have made. Likewise, ‘smart search’ technologies can be used, both for enabling users to obtain information on commonly occurring issues – and for ensuring technicians can get to the information they need as swiftly as possible.

Focusing on Your People

The global shortfall in IT talent does not show any signs of abating. The ‘model’ Service Desk analyst is someone who successfully combines up-to-date technical knowledge with customer empathy and service skills. Increasingly, individuals who tick all of these boxes are likely to be in very high demand.

If they are serious about Service Desk recruitment and retention, organisations will need to prioritise making improvements in processes so that highly qualified technicians are not routinely grappling with mountains of routine tasks and an ever-growing workload. Outdated, manual processes do little to encourage engagement – and even less to make your organisation stand out as an attractive career destination.

With routine workloads reduced, it gives you scope to recruit and train your people with an eye on what’s really important: not just ‘pure’ technical skills, but also customer facing abilities and team-working ability. If your team is more agile in its outlook (especially when it comes to problem solving), you are likely to be better equipped to face future challenges.

In order to help companies to address these issues, we now offer a flexible support model that combines the control and stability of permanent staff with the flexibility of contractors, with the added features of a complete end-to-end service.

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Continuity Planning for the Service Desk

service desk business plan

About 30 years ago, I worked for a multi-national IT company and one of our buildings burned to the ground. This building included a data center that supported lots of essential services, and yet most of the people who used those services were unaware that anything had gone wrong until they heard about it from colleagues. The IT services seamlessly failed over to other locations and everyone was able to keep working.

Creating truly resilient services took a great deal of effort back then, so this was a great tribute to our state-of-the-art technology, and, perhaps more importantly, to the excellence of our continuity planning. But there have been major improvements in both infrastructure and service architecture since then. A combination of cloud infrastructure and loosely coupled service architecture means that it’s fairly easy nowadays to build IT services that can survive the loss of a building. Managers know that their services will continue to run even in the event of a disaster, so they often don’t see the need to invest in IT service continuity and don’t devote much of their time to continuity management.

This is true as far as it goes. But there are still aspects of an organization’s IT services that won’t survive a disaster without good continuity plans in place. And one of the most important of these is your service desk . If your technology is all working perfectly, but your users can’t get help when they need it, then they aren’t going to be very happy. And keeping users happy is exactly what your service desk is for!

So, what do you need to do to make sure your service desk can still operate in an emergency?

Consider your service levels

The first thing you need to do is to decide what you consider to be the minimum acceptable service desk to have in place immediately after a disaster. Maybe support via an online portal would be sufficient, or maybe you absolutely have to provide support by telephone, or some other channel that is essential for your users. This is a topic for discussion with your governing body, to ensure that you don’t over-invest, or under-invest, in continuity arrangements.

Consider your technology and your people

Once you know what provision you want to have in place, you can think about how to ensure you can offer this. You’ll need to think about technology such as telephony and the service desk platform, as well as connection to any monitoring technology that you use. You’ll almost certainly need to provide some infrastructure, e.g. office space and desks, car parking, etc. And most importantly, you’ll need people. Don’t forget that your people may have been impacted by the event that caused the loss of service, and you can’t simply assume that everyone will be willing and able to just pick up their work from an alternate site. They may have been injured or traumatized by the event, or they may need to go home to look after others, depending on the nature of the disaster. Your continuity plan has to be sufficiently flexible to cope with the loss of critical people, as well as the loss of critical technology and infrastructure.

Consider your failure scenarios

Next, you need to think about all the different failure scenarios that might impact you. Talk through how you’d respond to each of these scenarios. Ideally, you should involve the people who would be involved in recovering the service desk to help identify things that might go wrong and to improve the plans. But you can’t be confident about any plan that hasn’t been tested, so you need to think about how you’ll manage that. Ideally, you’d do a full test of your plans, but, depending on the resources you’d need, this might not be practical; still, test what you can. Some testing is better than no testing at all.

Consider your communication plan

Finally, you need to communicate. Everyone needs to know what to do in case of an emergency – having the steps written down in a file that no one ever bothers to look at simply won’t do. If you’re serious, you need to keep rehearsing – and continually improving – the plans to make sure that people remember them and keep them up-to-date.

Your service desk needs a continuity plan and you need to:

  • Make sure you have a good understanding of your organization’s governance requirements before you start planning
  • Consider how you’ll provide technology, infrastructure, and people
  • Develop and test scenarios for likely emergencies
  • Communicate, rehearse, and improve your plans to keep them fresh

If you follow these simple guidelines, your service desk should be able to survive any emergency.

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Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, trainer, and author who has worked with clients in many countries, helping them create business value for themselves and their customers. He was the author of the 2011 edition of ITIL® Service Transition and lead author of RESILIA™ Cyber Resilience best practice published in June 2015. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog – lucky us!

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Best Practice for Managing Service Desk Teams [+ Case Study Examples]

Posted on Wednesday 28 February 2024.

managing service desk teams

For many organisations, the service desk is the beating heart of the user experience. It is the centre of operations that keeps everything going smoothly. However, perceptions are not always the same as results.

Even if your service desk team meets all pre-defined performance metrics, this doesn’t mean they are realising their full potential – or that they are satisfied. as your team evolves, so do their experience and expectations..

➡️ Are you aware of the areas in which your team can improve?

➡️ Are you fully embracing a best practice culture and approach for your service desk?

If your service desk team is experiencing some of these challenges:

  • Inconsistent process adherence due to a poorly established and maintained governance
  • Poor adoption of or alignment to best practice frameworks or standards
  • A lack of collaboration or effective knowledge management
  • Insufficient first contact resolution performance

… it’s time to take steps to turn things around.

In this article, we will explore effective ways to manage some of the common challenges a service desk teams face. We will also provide insights on establishing good working practices and share some inspiring success stories .

So, keep reading!

The importance of effective leadership to your Service Desk Team

Having a very well-managed and lead service desk team can bring many advantages. When managed effectively and with well-communicated and defined goals, the service desk can be a crucial strategic asset for any organisation.

A service desk helps enhance the end-user experience , enabling a flexible and consistent approach to user support by forecasting and managing demand, improving organisational efficiency by returning end users to an operational state, and providing knowledge and information to enable end users to help themselves.

This can lead to quicker response times, faster incident resolution, and improved business productivity, which can increase satisfaction with the service desk and overall service provider.

Effective people management is crucial in promoting a positive work culture and keeping employees happy. Strong empathetic leadership, ongoing people and career development, and open communication are key factors in achieving this.

Finally, investing in employee well-being by actively providing support, recognising their value, and fostering engagement, cultivate a positive work environment. This, in turn, leads to demonstrably higher levels of job satisfaction and decreased employee turnover (negative attrition).

As talent retention is vital to organisational success, prioritising these efforts ensures that your top performers remain motivated and committed to your company.

How To Recognize That Your Team Needs Improvement

Now that we understand the significance of a well-managed and led service desk team, you might wonder:

How can I tell if my service desk team is struggling to keep up with the organisation’s demands?

What warning signs should I look out for?

Teams that are not managed effectively can quickly become disorganised and ineffective. This often results in frustrated and unmotivated employees, poor time management, lack of efficiency, high staff turnover rates, and poor end-user perception and experience.

Let’s look at the most common challenges and warning signs.

⚡ Let’s start with a few questions. Take a minute to answer them.

  • Has someone from your team encountered a situation where there were no documented processes or procedures for logging and managing IT issues?
  • Is your team repeatedly searching for solutions to the same IT issues due to a lack of centralised knowledge sharing and timely access to information?
  • Does your service desk team often feel demotivated and unsatisfied with their work?
  • Does your team often encounter situations where a technical issue takes longer than expected to resolve, affecting business operations?
  • Are your teams constantly escalating tickets to support teams or other departments?
  • Does a lack of integration exist between your ITSM tool and other business tools or systems?
  • Is your ITSM tool configured well enough to support your operational process and working practices?
  • Is there a mismatch between agreed performance measures and user expectations and demands?
  • Are you unable to generate meaningful and timely management information, meaning your reports are a barrier to you making sustainable continual improvements?
  • Does your ITSM tool lack the functionality to provide you with real-time information to enable fast and effective ‘in-flight” decisions?
  • Do you have an inconsistent approach to user and customer experience across the support organisation?
  • Are you able to easily and effectively capture feedback at all levels and from multiple channels to ensure your operational, tactical and strategic approach is meeting the needs and required outcomes of the business?
  • Is continual improvement inconsistent as it is not underpinned by an agreed process or supported by a robust and recognised continual improvement register?

⚠️ If you answered positively more than twice, these might be your warning signs – and if ignored, they could turn into something more serious.

But you’re not alone. Managing service desk teams can be a very complex and challenging process.

Many organisations struggle with inconsistent processes, inefficient tools, lack of documentation, siloed knowledge, poor communication or collaboration, training, and development, overlooking end-user experience feedback or a transactional mentality.

Implementing some key best practices can transform your IT service desk and boost efficiency, customer satisfaction, and team morale.

service desk manager course

How to Build an Effective Team

The good news is that these challenges are not impossible to overcome.

You can create a thriving service desk team by implementing best practice, conducting regular self-assessments, and gathering end-user feedback to identify bottlenecks and opportunities. So, don’t be afraid to embrace tools like benchmarking against industry standards.

Many of SDI’s customers have experienced extremely positive change as a result of embracing such an approach.

Now, let’s look at some success stories and good working practices you could implement today.

#1 Embrace best practice

This might seem the most obvious advice, but most organisations still need help adopting the industry-best practice to ensure consistency, efficiency, and the quality of service they deliver.

Frameworks like Service Desk Certification ,  ITIL®, Verism, Cobit, KCS , and others offer proven methodologies for streamlining processes, managing knowledge, and improving service delivery.

Take a close look at your current processes and find ways to improve them.

➡️ Define procedures and training objectives in place to encourage teamwork in the organisation.

➡️ Create a structured onboarding process to ensure new staff feel valued and part of the business.

➡️ Have a documented and measurable employee satisfaction program in place that’s regularly scheduled, reviewed, and updated.

➡️ Have well-defined and documented processes that are measurable, communicated, and accessible to stakeholders. These processes include incident and service request management, quality improvement, knowledge capture, change control, and problem management.

#2 Unlock the true potential of accreditation

Achieving accreditation against international standards, like the SDI’s Service Desk Certification programme , demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to quality and provides a roadmap for continual improvement.

This also provides a safety net for customers as they will trust your team’s abilities and skills, boosting their morale and motivation. 

CGI’s Success Story

CGI Success Story

CGI UK is a great example of the transformative power of accreditation. With a brilliant team exceeding 400 service desk analysts and management, CGI UK recently achieved a remarkable milestone – a 99.99% score in the Service Desk Certification programme .

Since securing the SDI’s 5-star accreditation in 2012, they have set the standard for service desks globally. Not only have they maintained this standard, but they have also consistently delivered exceptional services to their clients.

If we only look at the numbers, their operational efficiency is evident. Annually, they handle an incredible 1.5 million contacts , managing 18,000 changes and proactively addressing 800 problems annually. Equally remarkable is CGI UK’s client satisfaction score, which exceeds 93%.

So, there, you have an organisation that is fully utilising the power of Service Desk Certification.

#3 Don’t ignore the power of knowledge management

If your team spends hours searching for solutions to known incidents and service requests instead of consulting a centralised knowledge base, they waste valuable time and resources.

That’s a clear sign that your knowledge management practices need improvement. 

Start by creating a centralised knowledge base – a robust, easily accessible, and regularly updated knowledge base. Think of it as your team’s point of truth, which is important for your current team members and future ones, as it helps with onboarding.

But don’t stop just there. Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among team members to effectively capture and disseminate best practices.

Power Design's Documentation Evolution

PowerDesign Case Study

One of the most significant shifts within the Power Design Inc service desk since embarking on the SDC journey has been the maturation of their approach to processes and documentation.

Prior to the SDC program, Power Design relied heavily on word of mouth and tacit knowledge. However, the program’s emphasis on evidence-based practices has propelled them towards a more consistent and reliable support experience.

Documenting the ‘how,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why’ behind their operations has not only fostered consistency but has also enabled them to define clear career paths, roles, and responsibilities.

This is an excellent example of how diligently documenting processes , procedures , and continuous improvement efforts can enhance transparency within a department and ensure knowledge sharing across the board. Power Design’s proactive approach has ensured that vital information is now accessible to everyone within the organisation.

Overall, Power Design’s journey with the SDC program highlights the importance of objective evaluation, continuous improvement, and collaborative efforts in enhancing service desk operations and delivering exceptional customer experiences.

#4 Prioritise employee experience and well-being

Losing experienced employees on a regular basis is a clear indication that there are underlying issues within your team.

Let’s face it: if your employees feel like they’re not getting the recognition they deserve, or they’re super stressed out, or they don’t see any potential for career growth, they’re more likely to “shut down” and disengage – and eventually leave.

Retaining top talent requires recognising the importance of work-life balance and employee satisfaction. So, consider offering flexible work arrangements, providing career growth and advancement opportunities, and regularly acknowledging and providing feedback on contributions to foster a positive work culture.

DVSA's Focus on Service Desk Team Well-Being

DVSA Case Study

Over the last two years, DVSA ,   an executive agency of the UK Department of Transport (DfT), has put user experience at the heart of everything they do. To enhance their skills and capabilities in providing technical support and assistance to end users, they decided to participate in the   SDC programme .

There are several key changes that they have made since starting their improvement journey.

From merging 1st Line Support and 2nd Line Support into a more technical Service Desk, introducing a User Experience Team and Business Relationship Management Team to standard process and enhanced reporting.

However, one thing that stood out is their commitment to ensuring that the team feels valued and recognised for their work. They achieve this by regularly conducting surveys to gather staff feedback and prioritising supporting a healthy work/life balance for their service desk teams.

📕 READ CASE STUDY:  DVSA’S’ Certification Journey

#5 choose the right itsm tool.

Invest in a robust ITSM tool that aligns with your needs and offers features like incident management, knowledge management, automation, and reporting. But remember, choosing the right tool is just one important step. It is equally important to ensure that it is implemented correctly.

Consult with your team and ensure that the tool has all the features to make their day-to-day work more efficient and less administratively intensive. Once implemented, ensure that the whole team gets proper training and can use the tool efficiently.

service desk business plan

Euromonitor is another great example of a company striving to improve. To get a clear picture of where they stood and where they needed to go, they started their improvement journey with the SDI Health Check Service .

The impact? Well, for starters, they’ve significantly improved their incident response and resolution numbers. They eliminated a long-standing issue with too many aged tickets in the system.

They’ve also streamlined their workflow , with more consistency in how they tackle their workload.

But, thanks to the gained insights from the Service Health Check, Euromonitor has also discovered the need for a new ITSM tool . An ITSM tool that is more tailored to their needs.

⬇️ DOWNLOAD: Euromonitor Case Study as pdf

#6 communicate, collaborate, celebrate.

Promote a culture of continuous learning and development within the team. Focus on creating a culture of open communication and collaboration within your team.

For example, you could do regular “ pulse surveys ” where employees are able to provide feedback to leadership anonymously. Think about it as an engagement survey that will help you identify what drives employee engagement and what actions you can take based on employee feedback.

⚡Here are some easy questions that you can include in your next pulse survey:

  • How would you rate the culture within our organisation?
  • Are you satisfied with the decision-making processes within our organisation?
  • Do you have confidence in our leadership team’s abilities?
  • Does our organisation do a good job of communicating with employees?
  • Do your strengths match well with my role?
  • Do you have the resources you need to perform your job effectively?
  • Do you feel satisfied with the recognition or praise you receive for your work?
  • Do you feel empowered to make decisions regarding your work?

Regularly sharing and celebrating your team’s successes and addressing challenges transparently can foster trust and create a thriving work environment.

Are you ready to transform your IT service desk team?

A well-managed service desk team ensures consistent, high-quality customer service, boosting customer satisfaction, building trust, and creating positive experiences.

Take a moment to reflect on some of these warning signs, examples, and tips and consider how you can support your service desk teams to thrive.

Whether it’s outdated working practices, inefficient process management, or a lack of ITSM tool utilisation, we can help you pinpoint the exact areas that need attention. With our guidance and support, you’ll find the right path for your team and achieve tangible results that drive your service desk and support team to new heights.

📞 get in touch with our team today.

Service Desk Certification

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9 Best Help Desk Software of 2024

Table of Contents

  • Best Help Desk Software
  • Things To Consider When Buying
  • How We Chose

Few things in life are as frustrating as when our technologies fail us. Even the most tech-savvy among us sometimes encounter a product that just won’t do what it’s supposed to do, no matter how hard we try. When a tech glitch gets the better of us, it’s time to contact the help desk. For businesses of all types and sizes, help desk software is the cornerstone of support for internal and external customers.

Given that businesses and customers now have heightened expectations about the quality of support they receive, we looked first and foremost for products that meet and exceed these rising expectations. In selecting the Best Help Desk Software for 2024, we knew that people want fast and complete answers to their tech questions, whether solutions they discover themselves or with the assistance of a help-desk pro. We identified the top help-desk software overall and in eight additional categories to help you meet your company’s customer support needs.

  • Best Overall: Freshdesk »
  • Best Budget: Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk »
  • Best for Small Businesses: Zendesk Suite »
  • Best for Ticket Management and Tracking: Zoho Desk »
  • Best for IT Help Desks: ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus »
  • Best for E-Commerce: Gorgias »
  • Best for Customer Support Teams: Help Scout »
  • Best for Self-Service and Knowledge Base: HappyFox »
  • Best for Integration with CRM Systems: HubSpot Service Hub »

Freshdesk Logo

Best Overall: Freshdesk

AI-based ticket routing

Unifies customer interactions across platforms

Personalized communication and self-service options

Supports a variety of third-party integrations

Customizable permissions for agents

Many analytics features available only in the Pro plan

High price of the Pro plan for small businesses with limited budgets

Freshdesk takes the top spot in our roundup by offering first-rate help desk solutions for every business budget. The company’s free plan supports up to 10 agents and includes the ability to convert requests received via email and social media to tickets that can be tracked, prioritized, and responded to.

Freshdesk’s most popular package is Pro, which costs $49 a month per agent when purchased annually and $59 a month per agent on a month-to-month basis. While the plan’s price could strain a small-business budget, the features it offers give you a great deal of control over your help-desk operations. These include average handling time (AHT), custom service level agreements (SLA), and community forums.

The top-of-the-line help desk plan from the company, Enterprise, is priced at $79 per agent per month annually and $95 per agent per month by the month. The package adds several bots that automate agent interaction with customers, as well as a secure sandbox for testing new features, skill-based routing of requests, and knowledge base workflow management.

Freshdesk combines all the tools your business’s help desk staff will need to respond to and resolve customer queries, including easy-to-use resources that help your clients help themselves. The free version of the product gives very small companies a taste of what help desk software can do for them, but most SMBs will find Freshdesk’s Growth ($15 per month per agent annually, $18 per month per agent monthly) or Pro plan the best option for their help-desk needs. (The company’s Enterprise plan costs $79 per agent per month annually and $95 per agent per month monthly.)

  • Multi-Channel Support: Email, live chat, phone, social media, and other request channels managed via a single platform
  • Ticket Management: Team inbox, SLA management, agent collision detection, and custom ticket status
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Customizable ticket forms, agent roles, URLs, customer segments, apps, and objects
  • Knowledge Base: AI-based chatbot, ticket replies can be converted to knowledge base articles, and knowledge base article analytics
  • SLA Management: Ticket response and resolution deadlines can be set by business hour or category
  • Reporting and Analytics: Curated and scheduled reports, dashboards, customer satisfaction ratings, and customizable reports
  • Integration Capabilities: App marketplace features more than 1,000 free and fee-based add-ons, including WhatsApp, Slack, Shopify, and Microsoft Teams
  • Customization Options: Workflows, customer portals, ticket forms, agent roles, customer segments, apps, and objects can be customized
  • Security and Data Protection: Paid accounts include SSL certificates, identity and access management, and IP and network restrictions
  • Mobile Accessibility: Mobile apps available for iOS and Android

Spiceworks Logo

Best Budget: Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk

Free solution will meets basic help desk needs

No limit on the number of tickets or agents

Easy to set up and use

Supports ticket collaboration and self-service via knowledge base

Ad-supported service

Lacks customization options, third-party apps, and other help-desk tools many SMBs require

Spiceworks takes a community approach to help desk software, providing a free product that’s supported by partnerships and ads . The cloud-based system meets the needs of many small firms with basic help desk needs. However, it lacks many features that SMBs require, including multi-channel support, customization options, and integration with third-party apps.

Spiceworks lets you assign and route incoming tickets based on priority and category, and create custom ticket queues. You can automate ticket responses, publish a knowledge base, and establish rules for assigning tickets, priorities, and due dates. The service’s mobile app lets you monitor help desk requests on iOS and Android devices. Reporting functions include the ability to automatically add data from your account to a Power BI report template.

Small businesses with basic help desk needs may find it difficult to pass up Spiceworks’ free option. The service includes hosting, backups, and maintenance, and it’s easy to set up and operate. However, even very small businesses will benefit from the features available in low-cost help desk software that improves their competitiveness and that can grow along with the company.

Spiceworks gives very small businesses and startups a free help desk option that lets them focus on growing their operation. The system is easy to get started and use, although it lacks the advanced capabilities of the fee-based products in our roundup, such as multi-channel handling of customer communication and integration with third-party apps.

  • Multi-Channel Support: None
  • Ticket Management: Assign and route tickets based on various criteria; graphical dashboard for ticket management, as well as management via mobile app
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: None
  • Knowledge Base: Spiceworks Knowledge Base and the ability to create a knowledge base
  • SLA Management: None
  • Reporting and Analytics: Basic reporting, including automatic generation of Power BI reports from your account’s data
  • Integration Capabilities: None
  • Customization Options: Customizable web portal, ticket queues, and ticket views
  • Security and Data Protection: HTTPS and TLS; offsite backups each hour; security center with bulletins
  • Mobile Accessibility: Apps for iOS and Android devices

Best for Small Business: Zendesk Suite

Seamless multi-channel communication with customers

App marketplace features hundreds of third-party integrations

AI-based assistant helps agents resolve issues quickly (Professional plan only)

Searchable knowledge base provides easy-to-find answers to common questions

Startups qualify for six months of free service

Relatively high price of entry-level plan (also sells ticketing-only packages)

Dashboard customization available only in high-end packages

Lowest-priced plan includes features many small firms won’t need

Small businesses looking for an advanced, comprehensive help desk solution will find the Zendesk Suite a contender that’s hard to beat. The service lets you manage support requests across all channels, including phone, email, chat, and social messaging. Its AI-based assistant speeds responses and resolution by automatically gathering information and solving common requests. Unfortunately, the AI feature is available only as an add-on for the Professional plan, which costs $149 per agent per month (monthly) or $115 per agent per month (annually).

Features of the entry-level Zendesk Suite Team package include pre-defined macros and bots that answer common questions automatically, an analytics dashboard, custom business rules, and a marketplace featuring more than 1,000 free and fee-based apps and integrations. Zendesk Suite Team costs $69 a month per agent when purchased by the month and $55 a month per agent with an annual contract. The company also sells basic ticketing systems that start at $25 per agent per month (monthly) and $19 per agent per month (annually), but these plans lack the advanced features of the Suite packages that put small businesses on equal footing with their larger counterparts.

Zendesk Suite costs more than competing help desk software for small businesses, but the features and functionality of the company’s Team and Growth plans let SMBs provide first-class support services to their customers. The macros, bots, and other automation features promise to boost the productivity of help desk staff and the satisfaction of your clients.

  • Multi-Channel Support: Voice, chat, email, and messaging managed together
  • Ticket Management: Centralizes all customer interaction, including customer histories
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Macros and bots automatically respond to common questions
  • Knowledge Base: Searchable knowledge base offers customers a self-help option
  • SLA Management: Includes an SLA feature that helps agents meet performance requirements
  • Reporting and Analytics: Pre-built analytics dashboards
  • Integration Capabilities: App marketplace offers more than 1,000 free and fee-based integrations
  • Customization Options: Custom business rules, but interface customizations available only in the Enterprise version
  • Security and Data Protection: Authentication options, three levels of password protection, two-factor authentication (2FA), and role-based access controls
  • Mobile Accessibility: Available for Android and iOS devices

Zoho Desk Logo

Best for Ticket Management and Tracking: Zoho Desk

Sophisticated ticket-routing features

Starter plan costs only $20 per user per month ($14 per user per month with an annual contract)

Abundant customization options include layouts, custom fields, and email templates

Integrates with other Zoho apps as well as third-party services such as RingCentral, G Suite, and Slack

Lacks the clean interface and usability of competing services

Live chat support available only with the Enterprise plan, which costs $40 per user per month billed annually

Free version is limited to three users, and Express supports only five users

Zoho promotes its Zoho Desk help desk software as “context-aware,” so tickets are assigned to the appropriate agent automatically and customer problems resolved more quickly. You can merge, split, and clone tickets, view ticket history, and add from 20 to 50 tags per ticket, depending on which plan you choose (Standard, Professional, or Enterprise). Other features let you track tickets by product, add the resolution to your knowledge base, assign tickets directly to agents and teams, and suggest articles on the topic.

The prices of Zoho Desk plans start at $20 a month per user for Standard ($15 a month per user when purchased annually) and run to $50 a month per user for Enterprise ($40 a month per user with annual agreements). The company also offers a free help desk service and an Express plan priced at $9 a month per user ($7 a month per user when purchased by the year), which limit the number of users to three and five, respectively. The tradeoff for Zoho Desk’s relatively low prices is the product’s complexity and its lack of ticket templates and multi-department support in the Standard plan.

Zoho Desk’s Standard, Professional, and Enterprise versions are packed with features that will help your staff respond to customer questions quickly and effectively. The plans are affordable by most small businesses and include a range of integrations and customization options, although the service is less intuitive to use than other offerings in our roundup.

  • Multi-Channel Support: Unified messaging for requests received via email, telephone, live chat, and social media
  • Ticket Management: Many ticketing operations are automated to speed responses, sentiment analysis helps agents prioritize requests
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Create rules that route tickets by criteria, automate email notifications, and change a ticket’s priority
  • Knowledge Base: Features include portal customization, domain mapping, secure access, article repository, and forums and community
  • SLA Management: Automatically escalates overdue tickets, identifies SLA breaches, and reports average response times
  • Reporting and Analytics: Built-in reports for tracking agent performance, measuring customer service quality, and surveying clients
  • Integration Capabilities: Integrates with other Zoho apps and several third-party systems, including Microsoft Teams, Slack, and G Suite
  • Customization Options: Customize layouts, fields, ticket status, email templates, and web forms
  • Security and Data Protection: Set agent and admin roles, apply field-level security, and mark specific data as private (accessible only by the record owner)
  • Mobile Accessibility: Mobile app available for iOS and Android devices

Best for IT Help Desks: ManageEngine Service Desk Plus

Supports the ITSM standard

Applies AI techniques to streamline IT service management

Available in on-premises and cloud versions

More expensive than other help desk software in our round-up

Limited third-party integrations

Confusing pricing structure and many add-on services

ManageEngine’s Service Desk Plus meets the needs of IT departments for a help desk solution that complies with the IT Service Management (ITSM) standard for aligning IT processes and services with your organization’s long-term goals. ITSM is intended to streamline the processing of service requests, problems, changes, incidents, and other IT assets. The result is greater efficiency at a lower cost.

Realizing the benefits of ITSM for your help desk operation comes at a price, however. The on-premises packages cost $120 per technician per month for Standard, $248 per technician per month for Professional, and $598 per technician per month for Enterprise. Multilingual plans are priced higher.

Annual plans for the cloud versions of Service Desk Plus cost $10 a month per technician for Standard, $21 a month per technician for Professional, and $50 a month per technician for Enterprise (month-to-month costs are $12, $23, and $58, respectively).

The Standard plan price supports two technicians and 250 nodes. The Professional plan costs an additional $495 for two technicians and 250 nodes, and Enterprise costs $1,195 for two technicians and 250 nodes. The cost of plans supporting 10 technicians and 500 modes are an additional $1,195 for Standard, $2,295 for Professional, and $5,995 for Enterprise.

  • Multi-Channel Support: Unified view of requests via email, phone, and web portal
  • Ticket Management: Rules-based system for routing tickets, interaction management, and automatic responses
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Create rules to categorize and prioritize tickets, and notify and assign technicians
  • Knowledge Base: Searchable knowledge base combines articles, web pages, community resources, and help pages
  • SLA Management: Technicians can set up SLAs for service requests based on delivery date and quality of service
  • Reporting and Analytics: ITSM analytics viewable via six different dashboards
  • Integration Capabilities: ITSM integrations as well as some business integrations
  • Customization Options: Configurable SLAs, incident and service request forms, and notifications
  • Security and Data Protection: AES-256 encryption, as well as SSL and HTTPS, single sign-on, and application-level authentication
  • Mobile Accessibility: Mobile app available for Android devices; app for iOS for web-based Service Desk Plus MSP version only

Best for E-Commerce: Gorgias

Designed specifically for e-commerce businesses

Features AI-based sentiment analysis tools

Integrates with BigCommerce, Magento, and Shopify

Easy-to-use email-like interface

May be priced too high for small e-commerce operations

Extra charges for surpassing your monthly ticket limit

Add-on services can drive up your monthly bill

Gorgias specializes in providing help desk software for e-commerce businesses. The service integrates with three e-commerce platforms: BigCommerce, Magento, and Shopify. You can also use the ChannelReply service to respond to messages sent from buyers who use Amazon, eBay, Back Market, NewEgg, Etsy, and Walmart. (ChannelReply costs from $31 a month for up to 200 messages a month.)

The company sells five plans by the month and four by the year (the entry-level Starter plan is available only month-to-month):

  • Starter costs $10 a month and allows up to 50 tickets each month. It is limited to three user seats.
  • Basic is priced at $60 a month when purchased monthly and $50 a month with an annual contract. It lets you process up to 300 tickets a month and supports up to 500 user seats.
  • Pro costs $360 a month for a month-to-month plan and $300 a month with a one-year agreement. You can process as many as 2,000 tickets a month with this plan.
  • Advanced is priced at $900 a month when bought by the month and $750 a month by the year. It allows up to 5,000 tickets each month.
  • Enterprise is priced based on a custom quote from the company determined by your ticket volume and other factors.

Exceeding your monthly ticket limit can get expensive: Starter charges $0.40 for each ticket above the limit, Basic charges $40 for each 100 over, and Pro and Advanced charge $36 for every 100 tickets over the monthly limit. The overage charges go up for customers who purchase the company’s Automation add-on, which costs $30 a month and provides auto-responders, self-service features, and other options.

Gorgias’s focus on e-commerce makes the service a great choice for vendors who sell on BigCommerce, Magento, and Shopify. The service also links to Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and other online platforms. However, you’ll pay a high price for the service compared to other help desk solutions in our roundup, especially if you exceed your monthly ticket limit.  

  • Multi-Channel Support: Available via the Omnisend add-on, which is offered in free and fee-based versions
  • Ticket Management: Lets you create and manage tickets using an email-like interface
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Create rules to automatically personalize responses to customers and prioritize inquiries based on specific triggers
  • Knowledge Base: The HelpDocs fee-based service lets you create a knowledge base that your customers can access
  • SLA Management: Track open SLA tickets by view: Public, Shared, or Private
  • Reporting and Analytics: Reports on team productivity, audit logs, and revenue; third-party apps available for BI and analytics
  • Integration Capabilities: Integrations available in more than a dozen categories
  • Customization Options: The chat widget and customer reporting workflow can be customized
  • Security and Data Protection: SOC Type II certification, single sign-on for Google and Microsoft 365, continuous encrypted backups, and two-factor authentication
  • Mobile Accessibility: Gorgias app is available for Android and iOS devices

Best for Customer Support Teams: Help Scout

Team approach promotes collaboration in help desk operations

Shared inbox facilitates assignments and lets you tag customer conversations

Promotes personalization by adding history and app activity to every request

Supports fewer third-party integrations than competing services

API access offered only in the high-end Pro package

Channel support excludes phone contact (available as a fee-based add-on)

Keeping your team on the same page is the goal of the Help Scout help desk software, which features a shared inbox that uses an email interface but is packed with collaboration features. Assignments can be made to individuals and teams, all replies are saved in a shared library, and team members can share private notes to help troubleshoot problems and coordinate solutions. Customer interactions can be tagged by category to automate workflows and enhance reporting.

Help Scout’s Standard and Plus packages can be purchased by the month for $25 a month per user and $50 a month per user, respectively. Annual contracts cost $20 a month per user and $40 a month per user, respectively. The high-end Pro plan is priced at $65 a month per user:

  • Standard supports up to 25 users and includes two shared inboxes, one Docs knowledge base, email and live chat, and rules-based automation of common tasks.
  • Plus lets you have up to five shared inboxes and two Docs knowledge bases. It adds social channels to the Standard plan’s email and live chat, as well as advanced collaboration with custom fields and teams.
  • Pro allows up to 25 shared inboxes and 10 Docs knowledge bases. It features “enterprise” security, HIPAA compliance, advanced API access, and a dedicated account manager conducting account optimization reviews.

All of Help Scout’s features are focused on meeting the needs of teams working together to address customer requests and concerns. The three plans sold by the company are affordable for most small businesses, although they lack features many midsize and large firms may require for their help desk operations, such as third-party integrations and customizations.

  • Multi-Channel Support: Email and live chat in Standard, social channels added to Plus and Pro
  • Ticket Management: Conversations can be created, assigned, annotated, merged, and summarized using an AI-based tool (Plus and Pro plans only)
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: AND and OR conditions let you automate workflow tasks, such as sorting inbound messages
  • Knowledge Base: Docs knowledge base creation tool integrates with Help Scout’s other support tools
  • SLA Management: Available with the Super SLA third-party add-on, which costs from $39 a month for five SLA rules to $229 a month for unlimited rules
  • Reporting and Analytics: Six types of reports include all channels, email, chat, and company and user; analytics available via add-ons
  • Integration Capabilities: Several dozen integrations include Talkdesk, Kickstarter, Trello Power-Up, and Slack
  • Customization Options: Developer APIs include Apps, Beacon, Mailbox API, Docs API, and Webhooks
  • Security and Data Protection: Hosting provider Amazon AWS is SOC 2-compliant; also supports PCI Level III, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and GDPR
  • Mobile Accessibility: Mobile app available for Android and iOS devices

Best for Self-Service and Knowledge Base: HappyFox

Self-service customer portal

Simple approach to creating knowledge bases

Multilingual help desk and knowledge base support

Priced higher than other help desk packages in our round-up

Minimum of five agents for each plan

Limited social media integration

One of the most efficient ways for a help desk to meet its customers' needs is by making it easy for them to find their own answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. HappyFox is a full-featured help desk package that shines in its ability to help your customers help themselves. The company’s four help desk plans include a self-service portal that lets customers track their tickets, participate in community forums, and access a custom-built knowledge base.

Global businesses will appreciate HappyFox’s support for multilingual knowledge bases (not available in the entry-level Mighty package) and for adding foreign languages to their self-service support center. The available language modules include dozens of European languages as well as Bengali, Brazilian Portuguese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, simplified and traditional Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese.

HappyFox’s help desk packages are more expensive than those of other vendors in our roundup, and they require a minimum of five agents, which makes them unsuitable for some small businesses. The entry-level Mighty plan costs $39 per agent per month when purchased month-to-month, and $29 a month per agent with an annual contract. Many SMBs will find HappyFox’s mid-level Fantastic plan their best option: it costs $59 per agent per month month-to-month and $49 per agent per month when bought annually. This package includes SLA breach notification, custom ticket queues, Smart Rule metrics, and a custom dashboard.

HappyFox help desk software allows SMBs and enterprises to reduce the time and effort required to respond to customer questions by providing quality self-help tools via the company’s self-service portal and knowledge base creation tools. The service’s help desk plans are packed with features but are also among the most expensive in our roundup.

  • Multi-Channel Support: Omni-channel support includes email, live chat, phone, mobile devices, and social media (Facebook and Twitter only)
  • Ticket Management: Create custom ticket queues, sort by category and ticket status, and pin tickets
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Automate ticket workflows, data entry, and agent actions for common customer interactions
  • Knowledge Base: Step-by-step creation of knowledge bases with multilingual support
  • SLA Management: Create and manage SLAs, SLA breach notifications (excluded from the Mighty plan), and uptime SLA (enterprise packages only)
  • Reporting and Analytics: BI integrations with Salesforce, Aircall, and Wrike, as well as more than a dozen types of reports, report filters, and reporting history
  • Integration Capabilities: Dozens of integrations, including Slack, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Magento, and BigCommerce
  • Customization Options: Add logos and other brands, map to custom domains, create customized roles and categories, and personalize email notifications
  • Security and Data Protection: Amazon AWS data center controls include SOC 2 and PCI DSS compliance, encrypted offsite backups, and account access controls
  • Mobile Accessibility: Mobile help desk software for Android and iOS devices

HubSpot Service Hub Logo

Best for Integration with CRM Systems: HubSpot Service Hub

Customer service integrated with the company’s free CRM platform

Offers plans for every budget: from free to enterprise-grade

Omnichannel customer support integrates email, chat, web forms, and messaging apps

Big gap between the entry-level Starter and high-end Professional plans

Free plan has limited support and lacks other options

Starter plan’s price includes only two users ($10 a month for each added user)

HubSpot’s Service Hub links to the company’s free CRM software to help integrate your business’s sales and support operations. While HubSpot offers free versions of its Service Hub and CRM products, most SMBs will require more features than are available in the free offerings. For example, the free CRM service doesn’t support payments or integrate with social media accounts. Similarly, the free Service Hub plan allows only five documents per account and lacks email and in-app chat support.

The Starter Service Hub plan costs $20 a month when purchased monthly and $18 a month with an annual contract. It supports two paid users and charges $10 a month for additional users ($9 a month with a yearly contract). The plan lets you have up to 1,000 personal and team meeting links, 50 active lists and 1,000 static lists, and as many as 5,000 documents per account.

The company’s Professional package costs $500 a month on a month-to-month basis and $450 a month with an annual contract. It allows up to five users, with each added user costing $100 a month (monthly) or $90 a month (yearly). HubSpot also sells an Enterprise version of Service Hub that costs from $1,200 a month.

By making customer service an adjunct of CRM, HubSpot Service Hub helps firms convert customer questions and other forms of contact into sales opportunities. While many SMBs will have their help desk needs met by HubSpot’s Starter plan, others will require the features that are offered only in the more expensive Professional package. The company’s free version helps companies get started with help desk and CRM operations, but most will soon need the features in the Starter and Professional packages.

  • Multi-Channel Support: Omnichannel support combines team email, chat, Facebook Messenger, web forms, and WhatsApp messages into a single channel
  • Ticket Management: Starter and Professional plans include automated ticket responses and other actions
  • Automation and Workflow Rules: Starter and Professional packages let you create and manage workflows
  • Knowledge Base: Multilanguage knowledge base available only in the Professional plan
  • SLA Management: Available only in the Professional plan
  • Reporting and Analytics: Reporting dashboard allows from three dashboards with 10 reports each in the free version to 25 dashboards with 30 reports each in Professional; service analytics only in Professional
  • Integration Capabilities: App Marketplace features more than 200 third-party customer service integrations, including Jira, WhatsApp, Threads, and SurveyMonkey
  • Customization Options: CRM interface customizations available in Professional only
  • Security and Data Protection: Complies with SOC 2, SOC 3, TRUSTe, GDPR, and CCPA; role-based access controls; regular backups; data encryption at rest and in transit

The Bottom Line

Help desk software can offer businesses a wealth of benefits, but you’ll need to carefully think about how much you want the software to do (and to what extent you will actually leverage its capabilities), and what your budget can accommodate.

All of the software options on this list provide the basic core functions of a good help desk software. Our top picks overall – Freshdesk, Zendesk, and Zoho – all offer well-rounded options at price points that can potentially fit many different budgets. For those with tighter budget concerns or needs that may be a bit more niche, the other options on this list provide additional options that may fit the bill for both price and customization options.

Things To Consider When Looking for Help Desk Software

Feature set: Help desk software has four core functions:

  • Create, route, and track tickets
  • Update and close tickets while maintaining a ticket history
  • Extract data from tickets to use for marketing and other purposes
  • Provide multiple channels for receiving tickets from customers, including phone, email, chat, text, social media, and web forms

Other important features of help desk software are providing customers with self-service options (including a knowledge base), the ability to register products and download updates and manuals, and links to CRM and other sales and marketing systems . Many businesses also require the ability to integrate with third-party apps, and support for IT Service Management (ITSM) and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standards.

Integration capabilities: Most help desk software includes hooks to the business’s other internal systems, as well as with external platforms, such as social media and e-commerce services. In particular, the programs connect to CRM, project management, and chatbots as part of a unified customer-service strategy. Integrations allow customers to receive quick responses to their queries while reducing the workload of the firm's support teams. They also allow the customer information in the request to be reused for marketing and other purposes.

Most of the help desk software vendors in our round-up provide app marketplaces that list dozens or hundreds of free and fee-based products that work with their service. Larger firms may also require access to the vendor’s APIs to program links between the product and their internal systems.

Reporting and analytics: Getting maximum value from your business’s investment in help desk software requires the ability to generate reports and track the performance of your support team. The products in our roundup that are designed for SMBs feature the ability to generate reports indicating key metrics, such as volume of tickets, time to resolution, and customer satisfaction ratings. Analytics help businesses identify and track trends, such as the source of tickets, tickets by department, and the number of active tickets.

Security and data privacy: Help desk software should encrypt sensitive data by default, both in place and in transit. Other security features to consider are:

  • Data masking and redaction
  • Custom roles and permissions
  • Access controls, including two-factor authentication (2FA). 

Cloud-based systems should comply with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework , ISO 27001 and ISO 27002, Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls, and System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 and 3. Other data security standards that a company may need to comply with are HIPAA for handling sensitive healthcare information, and GDPR for protecting the data of EU residents.

Pricing and value: Factors that affect the cost of help desk software include the number of agents they support, ticket volume limits, integration options, and features such as knowledge bases, AI-based analytics, and content management. The prices of the help desk plans in our roundup range from free to several thousand dollars a year, although most help desk solutions suitable for SMBs cost between $10 per user per month and $100 per user per month.

Most help desk software vendors offer discounts when you purchase a plan for one or more years rather than paying month to month. Many vendors let you start with a low-priced plan and switch to a package with more features and functionality as your business grows and its support needs change.

How We Chose the Best Help Desk Software

U.S. News 360 Reviews analyzed professional and consumer reviews of help desk software and took deep dives into the vendors’ own descriptions of their products’ functions and features. We winnowed our original list of more than 20 contenders down to one overall choice and eight selections as the best in specific categories, including Best Budget, Best for Small Business, and Best for IT Teams. We identified several trends in help desk software, such as AI-assisted ticket routing and management, a wider range of integration options, and a greater focus on multi-channel support. While the options ranged in price from free to several thousand dollars a year, we settled on a range for services priced between $20 per user per month and $100 per user per month.


Our contributors and editors have years of experience researching, testing, and reviewing tech hardware and software. Dennis O’Reilly , the author of this piece and a features writer for 360 Reviews, has more than 15 years of experience reviewing hardware, software, and services for PC World, CNET, Windows Secrets, and other publications. Dennis is a small business owner and tech writer who dabbles as an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California.

All the help desk software vendors in our round-up offer free trials of seven to 30 days (except Spiceworks, which is a free product). HubSpot Service Hub, Freshdesk, Zoho Desk, Zendesk, Help Scout, Manage Engine ServiceDesk Plus, HappyFox, and Gorgias provide free demos. Signing up for a demo or free trial requires registering with the company by providing your name, email address, telephone number, and other information, but not a credit card or other financial data.

A characteristic of the help desk solutions we reviewed is how easy most are to install and use. Whether you choose an on-premises system or one that runs in the cloud, the system should allow help desk staff to get started quickly, receive and handle tickets from various channels (email, phone, chat, social media, and messaging systems), and collaborate seamlessly to resolve customer issues. The services in our round-up that stand out for their intuitive interfaces and usability are Freshdesk, Help Scout, HappyFox, Zendesk, and Zoho Desk.

Collaboration and multi-channel support are key to improving the speed of resolutions and boosting the productivity of help desk staff. The system should make it easy for agents to route help requests to area experts, prioritize tickets, and escalate urgent issues. In addition to collaboration among agents, the systems should support interdepartmental communication to take advantage of coworkers’ knowledge of the company’s products. The help desk products that are noted for their collaboration features are Freshdesk, Zendesk, and Spiceworks.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) explains that over 99% of businesses in America are actually small businesses that may have more limited resources and budgets. Despite this, they still “need cybersecurity solutions, guidance, and training so they can cost-effectively address and manage their cybersecurity risks.” This matters when considering the help desk software you utilize and its security.

All the products in our round-up support manual backups of your help desk data. Most of the services automatically back up your data, including Freshdesk, Gorgias, HubSpot Service Hub, ManageEngine Service Desk Plus, Spiceworks, and Zendesk. Help desks can pose a security risk for organizations because of the sensitive data they process. Help desk operations must be included in the company’s ongoing risk assessments and security policies.

Security standards that apply to help desks include PCI for payment protection; HIPAA for sensitive health information; SOC-2 for the collection, storage, and sharing of data; IT Service Management (ITSM) and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) for IT departments; and ISO 27001 and 27002 for general information security. Firms that do business in Europe must also comply with the EU’s GDPR standard.

The primary reason to upgrade your company’s help desk software is to improve customer satisfaction. Recent innovations in help desk services include AI-assisted processing and response to customer problems and queries, cloud-based systems that lower operating costs and reduce a firm’s internal IT footprint, and support for more channels of communication with customers beyond email and phone requests, including live chat, messaging, and social media.

In addition, the self-help features of modern help desk solutions make it easier for customers to find their own solutions, usually by searching the company’s knowledge base. Lastly, the efficiency of ticket management has improved through enhanced collaboration tools that make it easier for help desk staff to work together to resolve customers’ issues.

U.S. News 360 Reviews takes an unbiased approach to our recommendations. When you use our links to buy products, we may earn a commission but that in no way affects our editorial independence.

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Balancing stocks and bonds: Here's why the 60/40 plan is still a good bet

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If you have held your entire investment portfolio in stocks and stock funds lately, you are sitting pretty right now, with the market lately hitting a succession of new highs.

Still, few investors can stomach the volatility and uncertainty that come with a pure-stock position.

No problem. Mixing in some bonds or bond funds with your stocks can help temper the risks. In fact, what many investors consider to be the ultimate balanced portfolio — a blend of 60% stocks or stock funds with 40% bonds or bond funds — continues to represent a sound strategy.

"The basic 60/40 portfolio, composed of U.S. stocks and high-quality bonds, has been tough to beat over longer periods,” said investment researcher Morningstar in a new report. “Diversifying into other asset classes generally (has) led to lower returns.”

High-quality bonds are those issued by government entities or corporations with strong credit ratings.

Disappointing results from foreign stocks

Morningstar’s study supports the notion of adding bonds to the mix rather than other diversification options, such as foreign stocks and funds. Many foreign companies operate in faster-growing economies but still haven't kept up with their American counterparts in recent decades. So too for various other investment choices.

The 60/40 standard was roundly faulted in 2022, a rare year when both stocks and bonds took in on the chin. But it's back in vogue. In 2023, investors pursuing this strategy would have gained about 18%, compared to around 26% for stocks only and 5% for just bonds, according to the report written by Morningstar's Amy Arnott, Christine Benz and Karen Zaya.

Over the past 10 years, stocks by themselves delivered total returns averaging 11.6% annually, compared to 7.8% a year for the 60/40 strategy and 1.7% for bonds. Over the past 20 years, the numbers have been largely similar: 9.8% annually for stocks, 7.5% for the 60/40 strategy and 3.2% for bonds.

Betting everything on the stock market over the past two decades would have been the best way to go, in hindsight, but most investors didn't recognize this in advance and even fewer of them could have stomached the considerable gyrations along the way.

A balanced posture of roughly 60/40 is a solution for people who want decent returns, not too much risk and a desire to keep things relatively simple.

"Investors looking to build diversified portfolios don't necessarily need to venture too far beyond the basic mix of larger-cap stocks and high-quality bonds," Morningstar said.

How various assets interact

What investors typically want, when devising a strategy, is a generally smooth ride that produces decent gains but without facing a lot of potholes along the way. The degree to which various assets fluctuate in line with or independently of each other is measured by their correlations. Without going into detail, lower correlations are better, delivering the greatest potential to reduce volatility.

Bonds historically have had low correlations with stocks, thus providing diversification benefits. When foreign stocks and funds began to gain popularity three or four decades ago, they were viewed as diversification enhancers. However, this hasn't panned out over the last decade and a half. Foreign stocks and funds haven't produced the same good gains, and they haven't offered a smoother investment ride, the report added.

The diversification benefits also haven't been that great for various other investment categories including foreign bonds and REITS, or real estate investment trusts, Morningstar added. "Many of these categories have also posted losses in periods of equity-market stress," the researchers wrote.

Some of these other asset categories might not be suitable for mainstream investors anyway, with the cryptocurrency category offering a good example. "Cryptocurrency's extreme volatility makes it difficult to live with," wrote the Morningstar authors.

Cash investments such as money-market funds, as well as short-term bonds or bond funds, can be used in place of bonds with longer maturities. These choices can be especially suitable for retirees who need to draw down their portfolios from highly liquid accounts, the Morningstar report added.

Diversification strategies that have worked in the past may not work quite as well in the future, especially in a period like the present when the economy is facing relatively high interest rates and inflation, Morningstar cautioned. Nevertheless, the basic argument in favor of diversification still holds, and an uncomplicated 60/40 strategy can be a good way to achieve it.

Reach the writer at [email protected].

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Why is Japan changing its ban on exporting lethal weapons, and why is it so controversial?

FILE - Britain's Defense Minister Grant Shapps, right, Italy's Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, center, attend a joint press conference after a signing ceremony for Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) at the defense ministry on Dec. 14, 2023, in Tokyo, Japan. Japan’s Cabinet on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, approved a plan to sell future next-generation fighter jets that it’s developing with Britain and Italy to other countries, in the latest move away from the country’s postwar pacifist principles. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - Britain’s Defense Minister Grant Shapps, right, Italy’s Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, center, attend a joint press conference after a signing ceremony for Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) at the defense ministry on Dec. 14, 2023, in Tokyo, Japan. Japan’s Cabinet on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, approved a plan to sell future next-generation fighter jets that it’s developing with Britain and Italy to other countries, in the latest move away from the country’s postwar pacifist principles. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Britain’s Defense Minister Grant Shapps, right, Italy’s Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, center, shake hands after a signing ceremony for the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) at the defense ministry, Dec. 14, 2023, in Tokyo, Japan. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara speaks during a news conference at the parliament building in Tokyo on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, following the Cabinet’s decision to ease Japan’s strict defense equipment transfer rules. Japan’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to sell future next-generation fighter jets that it’s developing with Britain and Italy to other countries, in the latest move away from the country’s postwar pacifist principles. (Keisuke Hosojima/Kyodo News via AP)

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Cabinet OK’d a plan to sell future next-generation fighter jets to other countries on Tuesday, its latest step away from the pacifist principles the country adopted at the end of World War II.

The controversial decision to allow international arms sales is expected to help secure Japan’s role in a year-old project to develop a new fighter jet together with Italy and the U.K., but it’s also part of a move to build up Japan’s arms industry and bolster its role in global affairs.

For now, Tokyo says that it doesn’t plan to export co-developed lethal weapons other than the new fighters, which aren’t expected to enter service until 2035.

Here is a look at what the latest change is about and why Japan is rapidly easing weapons export rules.


On Tuesday, the Cabinet approved a revision to its guidelines for selling defense equipment overseas, and authorized sales of the future jet. The government says that it has no plans to export other co-developed lethal weapons under the guidelines, and it would require Cabinet approval to do so.

Britain's Defense Minister Grant Shapps, right, Italy's Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, center, shake hands after a signing ceremony for the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) at the defense ministry, Dec. 14, 2023, in Tokyo, Japan. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Japan has long prohibited most arms exports under the country’s pacifist constitution, although it’s begun to take steps toward a change amid rising regional and global tensions. In 2014, it began to export some non-lethal military supplies, and last December, it approved a change that would allow sales of 80 lethal weapons and components that it manufactures under licenses from other countries back to the licensors. The change, which was made in December, cleared the way for Japan to sell U.S.-designed Patriot missiles to the United States, helping replace munitions that Washington is sending to Ukraine.

The decision on jets will allow Japan to export lethal weapons it co-produces to other countries for the first time.


Japan is working with Italy and the U.K. to develop an advanced fighter jet to replace its aging fleet of American-designed F-2 fighters, and the Eurofighter Typhoons used by the U.K. and Italian militaries.

Japan, which was previously working on a homegrown design to be called the F-X, agreed in December 2022 to merge its effort with a British-Italian program called the Tempest. The joint project, known as the Global Combat Air Program, is based in the U.K., and hasn’t yet announced a new name for its design.

Japan hopes the new plane will offer better sensing and stealth capabilities amid growing tensions in the region, giving it a technological edge against regional rivals China and Russia.


In its decision, the Cabinet said that the ban on exporting finished products would hinder efforts to develop the new jet, and limit Japan to a supporting role in the project. Italy and the U.K. are eager to make sells of the jet in order to defray development and manufacturing costs.

U.K. Defense Minister Grant Shapps has repeatedly said Japan needs “updating” to not cause the project to stall.

Kishida sought Cabinet approval before signing the GCAP agreement in February, but it was delayed by resistance from his junior coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komeito party.

Exports would also help boost Japan’s defense industry, which historically has catered only to the country’s Self Defense Force, as Kishida seeks to build up the military. Japan began opening the door to some exports in 2014, but the industry has still struggled to win customers.

The change also comes as Kishida is planning an April state visit to Washington, where he is expected to stress Japan’s readiness to take a greater role in military and defense industry partnerships.

Japan sees China’s rapid military buildup and its increasing assertiveness as threats, especially growing tensions in the disputed East and South China Seas. Japan also sees increasing joint military exercises between China and Russia around Japan as a threat.


Because of its wartime past as an aggressor and the devastation that followed its defeat in World War II, Japan adopted a constitution that limits its military to self-defense and long maintained a strict policy to limit transfers of military equipment and technology and ban all exports of lethal weapons.

Opposition lawmakers and pacifist activists have criticized Kishida’s government for committing to the fighter jet project without explaining to the public or seeking approval for the major policy change.

Recent polls show public opinion is divided on the plan.

To address such concerns, the government is limiting exports of co-developed lethal weapons to the jet for now, and has promised that no sales will be made for use in active wars. If a purchaser begins using the jets for war, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said, Japan will stop providing spare parts and other components.


Potential markets for the jet include the 15 countries with which Japan has defense partnership agreements, such as the United States, Germany, India and Vietnam. A defense official said Taiwan — a self-governed island that China claims as its own territory — is not being considered. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to briefing rules.

More weapons and components could be added to the approved list under the new export guidelines.

When Kishida goes to Washington in April, he’s likely to talk to U.S. leaders about potential new defense and weapons industry cooperation. The new policy could also help Japan push for a bigger role in alliances and regional defense partnerships like Australia, the U.S. and the U.K.'s AUKUS.

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New York Takes Crucial Step Toward Making Congestion Pricing a Reality

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to approve a new $15 toll to drive into Manhattan. The plan still faces challenges from six lawsuits before it can begin in June.

Multiple cars are stopped at a traffic light at a Manhattan intersection. A person responsible for controlling traffic stands nearby wearing a yellow reflective vest.

By Winnie Hu and Ana Ley

New York City completed a crucial final step on Wednesday in a decades-long effort to become the first American city to roll out a comprehensive congestion pricing program, one that aims to push motorists out of their cars and onto mass transit by charging new tolls to drive into Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

The program could start as early as mid-June after the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that will install and manage the program, voted 11-to-1 to approve the final tolling rates, which will charge most passenger cars $15 a day to enter at 60th Street and below in Manhattan. The program is expected to reduce traffic and raise $1 billion annually for public transit improvements.

It was a historic moment for New York’s leaders and transportation advocates after decades of failed attempts to advance congestion pricing even as other gridlocked cities around the world, including London, Stockholm and Singapore, proved that similar programs could reduce traffic and pollution.

While other American cities have introduced related concepts by establishing toll roads or closing streets to traffic, the plan in New York is unmatched in ambition and scale.

Congestion pricing is expected to reduce the number of vehicles that enter Lower Manhattan by about 17 percent, according to a November study by an advisory committee reporting to the M.T.A. The report also said that the total number of miles driven in 28 counties across the region would be reduced.

“This was the right thing to do,” Janno Lieber, the authority’s chairman and chief executive, said after the vote. “New York has more traffic than any place in the United States, and now we’re doing something about it.”

Congestion pricing has long been a hard sell in New York, where many people commute by car from the boroughs outside of Manhattan and the suburbs, in part because some of them do not have access to public transit.

New York State legislators finally approved congestion pricing in 2019 after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo helped push it through. A series of recent breakdowns in the city’s subway system had underscored the need for billions of dollars to update its aging infrastructure.

It has taken another five years to reach the starting line. Before the tolling program can begin, it must be reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, which is expected to approve it.

Congestion pricing also faces legal challenges from six lawsuits that have been brought by elected officials and residents from across the New York region. Opponents have increasingly mobilized against the program in recent months, citing the cost of the tolls and the potential environmental effects from shifting traffic and pollution to other areas as drivers avoid the tolls.

A court hearing is scheduled for April 3 and 4 on a lawsuit brought by the State of New Jersey, which is seen as the most serious legal challenge. The mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., Mark J. Sokolich, has filed a related lawsuit.

Four more lawsuits have been brought in New York: by Ed Day, the Rockland County executive; by Vito Fossella, the Staten Island borough president, and the United Federation of Teachers; and by two separate groups of city residents.

Amid the litigation, M.T.A. officials have suspended some capital construction projects that were to be paid for by the program, and they said at a committee meeting on Monday that crucial work to modernize subway signals on the A and C lines had been delayed.

Nearly all the toll readers have been installed, and will automatically charge drivers for entering the designated congestion zone at 60th Street or below. There is no toll for leaving the zone or driving around in it. Through traffic on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the West Side Highway will not be tolled.

Under the final tolling structure, which was based on recommendations by the advisory panel, most passenger vehicles will be charged $15 a day from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. The toll will be $24 for small trucks and charter buses, and will rise to $36 for large trucks and tour buses. It will be $7.50 for motorcycles.

Those tolls will be discounted by 75 percent at night, dropping the cost for a passenger vehicle to $3.75.

Fares will go up by $1.25 for taxis and black car services, and by $2.50 for Uber and Lyft. Passengers will be responsible for paying the new fees, and they will be added to every ride that begins, ends or occurs within the congestion zone. There will be no nighttime discounts. (The new fees come on top of an existing congestion surcharge that was imposed on for-hire vehicles in 2019.)

The tolls will mostly be collected using the E-ZPass system. Electronic detection points have been placed at entrances and exits to the tolling zone. Drivers who do not use an E-ZPass will pay significantly higher fees — for instance, $22.50 instead of $15 during peak hours for passenger vehicles.

Emergency vehicles like fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, as well as vehicles carrying people with disabilities, were exempted from the new tolls under the state’s congestion pricing legislation .

As for discounts, low-income drivers who make less than $50,000 annually can apply to receive half off the daytime toll after their first 10 trips in a calendar month. In addition, low-income residents of the congestion zone who make less than $60,000 a year can apply for a state tax credit.

All drivers entering the zone directly from four tolled tunnels — the Lincoln, Holland, Hugh L. Carey and Queens-Midtown — will receive a “crossing credit” that will be applied against the daytime toll. The credit will be $5 round-trip for passenger vehicles, $12 for small trucks and intercity and charter buses, $20 for large trucks and tour buses, and $2.50 for motorcycles. No credits will be offered at night.

Grace Ashford contributed reporting.

Winnie Hu is a Times reporter covering the people and neighborhoods of New York City. More about Winnie Hu

Ana Ley is a Times reporter covering New York City’s mass transit system and the millions of passengers who use it. More about Ana Ley

Microsoft and OpenAI plan to build a $100 billion supercomputer to power artificial intelligence: report

  • Microsoft and OpenAI are working on a $100 billion supercomputer, according to The Information.
  • The project could launch as soon as 2028 as part of the companies' five-phase plan.
  • The US-based supercomputer, known as Stargate, would far exceed current computing power.

Insider Today

Microsoft and OpenAI are planning an unprecedented supercomputer that uses millions of specialized server chips and could cost up to $100 billion, The Information reported this week.

The US-based supercomputer, known as "Stargate," would be the centerpiece of a five-phase plan focused on a series of supercomputer installations the companies plan to build in the next six years, the outlet reported. Stargate, which would be phase 5 of the plan, could launch as soon as 2028, people involved in the proposal told The Information.

Executives at both companies have already drawn up plans for the data center project, which would power OpenAI's artificial intelligence, according to the outlet.

A spokesperson for Microsoft declined to comment directly on the report but highlighted the company's demonstrated ability to build pioneering AI infrastructure. 

"We are always planning for the next generation of infrastructure innovations needed to continue pushing the frontier of AI capability," a representative for the company told Business Insider. 

OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI.

Related stories

Microsoft, which has already committed more than $13 billion to OpenAI, would likely provide funding for Stargate, per the report. OpenAI currently uses Microsoft data centers to power its generative AI system ChatGPT in exchange for Microsoft having exclusive rights to resell OpenAI's technology to its own customers.

Microsoft insiders told Business Insider earlier this month that the company's strategy has increasingly focused on its work with OpenAI , leading some to worry that Microsoft is essentially becoming an IT department for the startup. 

The supercomputer could be 100 times more expensive than the largest data centers currently in operation, per the report. The project signals the massive amount of money likely to be poured into the industry as artificial intelligence continues to evolve in the coming years.

Stargate also has the potential to far exceed the computing power currently supplied by Microsoft to OpenAI from its data centers around the country but would require at least several gigawatts of power to do so, The Information reported,

Microsoft's involvement in the project, however, hinges on OpenAI fulfilling its promise to boost its AI's capabilities , a source told the outlet.

The quest to obtain the necessary server chips is the primary factor driving Stargate's hefty price tag, according to the report. Finding enough energy sources to power the project could also pose challenges, and the two companies have talked about possibly using alternative power sources like nuclear energy , sources said.

The demand for AI chips has reached a fever pitch, allowing a select few companies — primarily Nvidia — to control the market. Altman has expressed frustration with the "brutal" situation and signaled earlier this year that he wants to make his own. 

The chip dilemna is just one of several details that still need to be ironed out with regard to Stargate. People familiar with the project told The Information that Microsoft needs to figure out how to put more GPUs into a single rack than it currently does in order to boost the chips' performance. The company also needs to find a way to prevent the chips from overheating, according to the report.

It's not clear where Stargate would be located or whether it would be built in just one data center or several nearby centers, The Information reported.

Axel Springer, Business Insider's parent company, has a global deal to allow OpenAI to train its models on its media brands' reporting.

Watch: An AI expert discusses the hardware and infrastructure needed to properly run and train AI models

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  26. Why is Japan changing its ban on exporting lethal weapons?

    The controversial decision to allow international arms sales is expected to help secure Japan's role in a year-old project to develop a new fighter jet together with Italy and the U.K. ... unbiased news in all formats and the essential provider of the technology and services vital to the news business. More than half the world's population ...

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