Shift Left Help Desk Support

Shift Left Help Desk Support

An enormously powerful strategy for making your Help Desk cost-effective and reducing the burden of repetitive work on your IT engineers is a shift left Help Desk support strategy. Implementing a shift-left Help Desk support strategy has become popular in the IT service management community. A shift-left support strategy is based on moving service and support requests from high-cost support engineers and developers to lower-cost tier 1 Help Desk agents. Even better, the shift-left support strategy can also move the work further left by empowering customers to fulfill their needs using self-service tools. By moving work to the left, it will reduce overall cost and free up the time of your IT engineers to work on more productive work. Let us look at how we use our IT engineer’s time more effectively.

Shift left Help Desk uses an IT Engineer’s time effectively

The Help Desk is great at resolving routine and well-documented issues. The Help Desk also has established troubleshooting methods that can lead to resolving some more complex issues. If a customer is having a unique or seemingly complex issue, the Help Desk may not be equipped to resolve the issue. If the Help Desk is not able to resolve an issue or fulfill a request, they update the support ticket with the support steps already tried. The ticket is then escalated to the next level of support. In most cases, the next level of support is an IT engineering or application support team.

IT Engineers and application support personnel are great at solving problems. IT engineers will work with developers, SMEs, and the vendor to solve it. This is a beautiful process to watch. All this talent and brainpower come to bear on solving the customer’s issue. Once the issue is known, the IT engineers will devise a plan to resolve the issue. The resolution could spin off a change to eliminate the defect from the environment. The resolution could be implementing a workaround to get the customer up and running. Also, the resolution may just be actions that require the IT engineer’s advanced knowledge or access. When the customer’s issue is ultimately resolved, the ticket is sent back to the Help Desk to confirm the closure with the customer. To this point, the process worked well. However, what if the issue occurs with other customers?

Solving problems versus a redundant task

When the same issue repeatedly comes into the Help Desk and is ultimately escalated to the IT engineer’s support ticket queue, this issue turns into a redundant task. Is working on this known issue the best use of their talent and time of your expensive resources? The IT engineer has already come up with a resolution for the issue. They already know how to resolve the problem. Their valuable and expensive time should be focused on more complex tasks and projects. For some companies, they will remain at this level of maturity. The same issues will be passed from the Help Desk to IT engineering over and over. Our goal is to devise a plan to stop this process and put a better plan in place.

In our shift-left support strategy, we want to move the support of these known repetitive issues to lower-tier support like a Help Desk agent. To do this, it will require effort from the IT engineer and others to determine what is needed by the Help Desk to resolve these issues. Once a support plan is devised, the IT engineer will document the support into the knowledgebase. The Help Desk agent then can follow the knowledgebase article and resolve the issue without engaging IT engineers and developers. This will free the IT engineer and developer’s time to work on other higher-priority issues and projects.

Shift left Help Desk support is cost-effective

We discussed how the shift-left support strategy could free IT engineers and developer’s time to work on higher priority issues and projects. This sounds great, but what does this mean for overall costs? The shift-left support strategy transfers repeatable and well-documented work. The work is transferred from high-cost resources such as IT engineers to lower-cost resources at the Help Desk. This transfer of work does have a significant benefit to the overall IT department budget. How? Let’s look at the following example.

A customer calls the Help Desk with an issue. The Help Desk agent troubleshoots the issue for fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, the Help Desk agent determines they don’t have the knowledge or access to resolve the issue. The caller is told the issue must be escalated to an IT engineer. The Help Desk agent takes another five minutes to document the details of the call and issue. The Help Desk agent has spent a total of twenty minutes on an issue and has not been able to resolve it. The customer is still having an issue and is waiting.

Cost so far

Help Desk agent – 20 min X $18 per hour = $6.00

Help Desk Shift Left
Help Desk Management book by Wayne Schlicht

Later that day, the issue ticket is then assigned to an IT engineer. The engineer spends five minutes reading the notes. The engineer then calls the user and then spends another fifteen minutes working on the issue. Once the engineer is able to resolve the issue, he takes another five minutes to document the work. The engineer then sends the resolved ticket back to the Help Desk.

Cost so far

Help Desk agent – 20 min X $18 per hour = $6.00

IT engineer – 25 min X $40 = $16.66

The Help Desk agent receives the ticket back into their queue. After reading the work notes for five minutes, the Help Desk reaches out to the customer. The Help Desk agent, as the ticket owner, is required to confirm everything is working for the customer. The Help Desk agent and customer have a quick 3-minute conversation confirming the ticket can be closed.

Total ticket cost

Help Desk agent – 20 min X $18 per hour = $6.00

IT engineer – 25 min X $40 = $16.66

Help Desk agent – 7 minutes = $2.10

Total ticket cost = $24.76

The end result is if the Help Desk agent had the knowledge and access, they might have been able to resolve the customer’s issue at first contact. This means the total ticket support cost could have been limited to $6.00. Since the Help Desk was not empowered to resolve the issue, the ticket cost quadrupled to $24.76. Even worse, take this cost and multiply it by 100 or 1000 tickets annually, and you have a high cost for just this specific issue. The shift-left support strategy can be used to reduce the costs of supporting these issues. It also can be used cost-effectively in supporting fulfilling service requests.

Fulfilling requests for service

In my time assisting Help Desk managers in implementing best practices, I see a pattern where the Help Desk is not empowered to process service requests to the extent that they could. One of the reasons the Help Desk cannot fulfill requests for service is system knowledge. A generalist at the Help Desk will not know applications and services with the depth that an SME, engineer, or developer would. An important way to transfer this knowledge is through knowledge articles and training sessions. By sharing this application and services information, the Help Desk agent will be better prepared to support requests for services.

Another reason the Help Desk cannot fulfill requests for service just comes down to not having proper access and permissions to fulfill the request. Some companies keep the access and control to fulfill these service requests with a small group of IT engineers. The Help Desk agent has no choice but to escalate these requests. In our shift-left support strategy, we find ways to delegate the control and knowledge safely to the Help Desk. When I use the term safely, I am referring to delegating only enough permissions to complete the work to fulfill the request and no more.

Fundamentals of the shift left Help Desk support strategy

Knowledge management – A shift-left support strategy is focused on transferring duties and processes to the Help Desk staff from desktop support, IT engineers, and developers. Creating usable knowledge articles will be critical to ensure successful implantation.

Access management – Implementing a shift-left support strategy may involve delegating elevated access to the Help Desk staff. Working with your IT security and access management groups will be critical to avoiding any unnecessary security risks. Ensure only appropriate access is delegated for the Help Desk staff to perform their new duties.

Organizational change – Implementing a support strategy like shift-left can be a disruptive but positive change to your support processes. Anytime there is a change in the way an organization does something, there can be angst, confusion, and uncertainty. With stakeholder involvement, communication, and education, we can make the adoption of a shift-left support strategy successful.

End-user self-service – The most cost-effective delivery of IT services is allowing customers to obtain what they need on their own. By offering end-user self-service tools, the cost of provisioning services can be minimal. In addition, customer satisfaction tends to improve when a customer can obtain what they need at the time they want it.

Automation – IT labor costs are a large portion of any IT support department’s budget. Once end-user support and provisioning processes are set up, these processes can run without much or any labor effort. More importantly, automation can reduce the overall cost significantly.

Implement a shift-left Help Desk support process

By moving work to the left, it will reduce the overall cost of your IT department. Your IT engineers will be freed up to work on more productive work. Use the shift left Help Desk support strategy worksheet to start implementing shift-left at your company today!


  1. I’m familiar with shift left, but what took me by surprise is the practice of the IT Engineer sending the ticket back to the help desk once the issue is resolved only for the agent to have to reach back out to the customer (who probably won’t answer the phone) just to confirm the issue is fixed. This feels like a bloated process and a waste of the customers’ time.

    • Thank you for the great feedback. Shift-left is about moving routine work from IT Engineers and Developers to the Service Desk Agents. I hope you try it. Use the step-by-step worksheet found here Help Desk Management Book. Let us know how it is working out.
      In your comment, you also mentioned having the Help Desk Agent reach back out to the customer to confirm resolution before closure. This principle I discuss in my book, and the Total Contact Ownership article found here Total Contact Ownership. I agree that if an IT Engineer resolves the ticket while working with the customer, there may be no need for the Help Desk agent to contact the customer again. However, be careful. Sometimes IT Engineers may solve the back-end issue, and the customer may be unaware that it now works for days. Either way, good luck, and thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you. Moving work to the left will reduce overall cost and free up the time of your IT engineers to work on more productive work. A shift left Help Desk will let us use our IT engineer’s time more effectively.

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