IT Service Desk Metrics: Which KPIs Should We Measure?

IT Service Desk Metrics

Let’s talk about IT service desk metrics. Every now and then, people ask me, “Which two or three key performance indicators (KPIs) should our IT service desk measure?” It really is a “How long is a piece of string?” question. Or one that forces what I call “the consultant’s answer” of “It depends.” To help, this article explains that there likely aren’t just two or three KPIs your IT service desk needs, that IT service desk metric portfolios can be problematic, and how your IT service desk can move its focus to what’s most valuable.

This article by @StephenMann explains how IT service desk metric portfolios can be problematic, & how your IT service desk can move its focus to what’s most valuable. #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

Which IT service desk metrics should you use?

As with most aspects of IT service management (ITSM), your IT service desk metrics and KPIs should be driven by your organization and what’s important (to it), not a best practice list. But how often does this happen, with the “logical” alternative usually using all the best practice measures available in the corporate ITSM tool? It’s often a case of the metrics being available, so they’re reported. But the high volume of captured metrics is only part of the issue.

The IT industry already knows that some IT service desk metrics are adopted more than others. The HDI State of Technical Support in 2023 Report found the most adopted IT service desk metrics to be:

  1. Average time to respond (non-phone channels)
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Average number of tickets resolved per staff member
  4. Staff satisfaction
  5. Cost per ticket (desktop support)
  6. Average time to respond to desktop support tickets
  7. Average handle time (non-phone channels)
  8. Average time to resolve tickets
  9. Average speed to answer (phone)
  10. Average time to resolve desktop support tickets.

But just because these are the most adopted IT service desk metrics (by other organizations) doesn’t necessarily make them the best, or even suitable, for your organization.

Just because there's a list of the most adopted metrics (by other orgs) doesn’t necessarily make them the best, or even suitable, for your organization – @StephenMann #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

The common issues with IT service desk metrics

I’ve written on IT service desk metrics issues in the past, so here’s a speedy refresher list.

  • Organizations capture and share too many metrics
  • The primary IT service desk metrics often have the wrong focus – they’re concerned with what IT support does rather than what it achieves through what it does
  • People misunderstand the meaning of metrics – this can be agents, management, or key business stakeholders
  • There’s often no structure for, or context between, metrics. Plus, the relative metric importance might not be clear
  • The metrics and targets rarely change despite change happening all around the IT service desk.

A simple test for your organization’s current IT service desk metrics is “How does this metric demonstrate the business value of the IT service desk?” You’ll likely find that most don’t, especially when digging deeper. For example, the average time to resolve tickets might show the speed of operations, but it likely omits to factor in whether an end-user issue is resolved to their satisfaction. A scary data point from HappySignals’ publicly-available employee experience data points shows this – for the 873,738 pieces of end-user incident handling feedback in 2022, 48% of the 7% of negative responses (over 29,000 responses), the reason was that “My ticket was not solved.”

Do your metrics each demonstrate the business value of the IT service desk? If they don't, they need reconsidering says @StephenMann. #ITSM Click To Tweet

What’s the most valuable “traditional” metric?

It’s not shown in the HDI metrics data, but the total number of incidents handled is often quoted as one of the most valuable IT service desk metrics, perhaps as a value proxy in quantity terms. But it’s hard to justify it as such, or the movements in incident numbers either – because the root cause(s) of an increase or decrease in incident volumes can be both positive and negative.

Another of the most popular IT service desk metrics is the second on the HDI list, customer satisfaction (CSAT). Although, organizations should be wary of the common mistakes made with this metric – especially that CSAT can be focused on IT support operations rather than what’s achieved through the operations (from an end-user perspective). In such cases, end-users might be viewed as happy with the IT support operations but still be unhappy with the outcomes they receive.

What's the most valuable 'traditional' #servicedesk metric? Incident handling? CSAT? Speed? Check out @StephenMann's thoughts here. #ITSM Click To Tweet

It’s why the IT industry has started to focus on employee experience measurement – this tackles many of the common issues with CSAT and other traditional IT service desk metrics. For example, that the metrics are operational rather than outcome-focused, and that IT support performance is assessed at the point of supply rather than consumption.

Speed is an important driver for both employee experience and CSAT (the detail behind the HappySignals’ statistic above shows this), so average handling (or resolution) time is a good KPI to consider. But be wary of this IT service desk metric merely being a measure of IT service desk “mechanics” and not the final end-user outcomes (i.e. quick service but unhappy end users). CSAT (used correctly) or employee experience can be “paired” to ensure that both operations and outcomes are measured. Otherwise, IT support can be “too fast” to be considered valuable.

A third KPI would ideally relate to business outcomes. For example, the drop in vehicles leaving the production line because of IT issues for a car manufacturer. Or the number of patient deaths related to IT issues for a healthcare organization. Both of these IT service desk metrics examples align the IT goal with organizational goals. If this is a difficult starting point for your IT service desk, perhaps look at the average transaction cost over time (through trending) to show that the IT service desk is lowering IT support costs (but again correlate to CSAT or employee experience data to ensure outcomes are still as needed). Done correctly, this metric will show better human-to-human operations and pull in the value associated with self-service, automation, and even AI adoption. But remember that “cheaper isn’t always better,” and an optimal cost might be what’s needed as the target.

So, if your IT organization is looking for just two to three IT service desk KPIs, it will likely struggle to find them. However, by looking at the business value of existing metrics and focusing on those that best measure performance in terms of “what matters most” to business stakeholders, your IT service desk metrics and KPIs will start to become better indicators of how your IT support capabilities are helping or hindering business operations and outcomes.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article, then here are some other articles you may find useful:

Stephen Mann

Principal Analyst 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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