Phone support is one of the trickiest balancing acts for a growing MSP. You want to be responsive and provide clients with top-notch service, but phone calls can pull team members away from higher-priority work.
Additionally, interruptions from phone calls lead to context switching, which can be a productivity killer even after the call ends. For example, a 2021 report from Cornell University’s Ellis Idea Lab and Qatalog found that it takes an average of nine and a half minutes to get back into a good workflow after a context switch.
In this article, we’ll deep dive into the topic of MSP phone support to help you get it right. Specifically, we’ll explore who answers the phone at MSPs, the pros and cons of different approaches, and five phone support mistakes to avoid.
Who answers an MSP’s support line?
Who (or what) answers the phone when a client calls an MSP’s support number varies from MSP to MSP. Let’s start by looking at common approaches to answering the phone at an MSP.
This category covers automated answering systems like interactive voice recording (IVR) and auto attendants. At a minimum, phone trees route callers to specific queues. Some can also be configured to support more complex workflows like routing based on a case number from a ticketing system. When used properly, phone trees can reduce unnecessary interrupts and free up your team to focus on work that matters.
Setting up a phone tree doesn’t have to be complex or overly expensive. There are plenty of options like RingCentral, Bitrix24, and GoTo Connect that can help implement phone trees. Additionally, Microsoft Teams—which may already be included in the services your MSP offers—includes auto attendant and call queue support.
As a bonus, phone trees have the added benefit of filtering out robocalls. According to the FTC, with approximately 4 billion robocalls a month occurring in the US, this phone tree benefit alone can drive productivity gains.
But a phone tree isn’t the same as a human who can help solve your problem. They can be confusing, particularly if configured poorly, and frustrate clients before they get to a human.
- Filters out robocalls
- Routes clients to the right person or team
- Frees up human time
- Clients may not like an automated system
- Poorly configured trees can frustrate customers
An administrator or dispatcher
Another popular approach to MSP support calls is having an administrator or dispatcher be the first person to answer the phone. An administrator or dispatcher collects basic information such as contact details and the reason for the call, then takes the next step. The next step could be:
- Creating a ticket for the client and informing them someone will follow up
- Forwarding the call to a helpdesk or sales rep
- Deploying a technician
- Answering the inquiry directly (e.g., providing status on a ticket or confirming a schedule)
You can hire dedicated staff to fill this role or offload the work to an answering service. There are several benefits to this approach. Humans can handle more complex situations than phone trees, and there’s the customer satisfaction benefit of getting another person on the other end of the phone.
However, the costs of a dedicated administrator or answering service might not be worth the benefits for many MSPs. Additionally, clients may become frustrated if the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t have the tech skills to solve their problem.
- Human touch out of the gate
- Effective call routing
- An administrator can consider context a phone tree cannot
- Clients may become frustrated if they can’t get technical help from them
The standard helpdesk approach has a Level 1 technician acting as the first line of defense for phone calls. With this model, the person answering the phone can also solve basic technical problems like password resets or troubleshooting printer issues. If they can’t solve the problem, they escalate to Level 2.
The benefit of this approach is that customers can get technical help immediately and go from problem to solution quickly. The downsides are the need for dedicated helpdesk staff (or giving existing staff an additional role) and the potential for technicians to waste time on lower-priority work due to the “first come, first serve” nature of phone calls.
- Immediate technical help for clients
- More effective initial triage
- Call volume may not justify dedicating technicians to phones
- Technicians may spend too much time on lower-priority issues
A mixed approach
Of course, the previous three options aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other. For example, an IVR might route some customer calls directly to Level 2 or 3 support. Similarly, you might have dispatch and helpdesk phone support available during normal business hours while using an automated system after hours. Mixing these different approaches can help you get the right mix of customer service and focus out of your phone queues.
Can you not answer the phone?
This one is controversial, but you don’t have to pick up the phone at all. For example, as I mentioned in our post on tech support channels, Andy Cormier says email is the best support intake method and could (not necessarily should) be the only method you offer.
Similarly, Karl Palachuk has an SOP on not answering the phone. The thought process is simple: Instead of letting the phone interrupt you, focus on priorities and call people back when time permits.
However, plenty of MSPs will tell you that not answering the phone isn’t a viable business practice or good customer service. Check out this r/msp thread for a great example.
Whether or not ditching the phone completely is right for your MSP will depend on your industry, SLAs, and the expectations you set for your clients. At the least, an interesting thought experiment I’d recommend is asking yourself, “What happens if we stop answering the phone?” Will you focus on higher-priority work, or will it lead to dissatisfied customers and broken SLAs? Let that answer drive what you do next.
5 MSP phone support mistakes to avoid
There’s no one way to get phone support right, but there are some common mistakes you should avoid. Below is our top five list of MSP phone support mistakes to avoid.
Phone support mistake #1: Frustrating your clients
Whatever you do, don’t let your phone support workflows frustrate your clients. For the most part, this boils down to:
- Setting the right expectations: If your clients expect you to have an engineer answer the phone on the first ring, and they get an IVR, they’re likely to be frustrated. That’s human nature. But if you set the expectation that a ticketing system or email is the right support channel upfront, reasonable people will understand. The key is setting those expectations upfront and making them clear.
- Living up to those expectations: As an MSP, you’re a trusted advisor. If you say that opening a ticket is how your clients should get their issues addressed, ensure you’re responding to tickets promptly. Otherwise, people will look for ways to “cut in line” and get their issues addressed.
- Adapting based on what you learn: If your current policy leads to unhappy clients, modify it! That might mean investing more or less in phone support, depending on the context of your situation.
Phone support mistake # 2: Incentivizing jumping the line
Like it or not, a phone call is often a quick way to get faster service. You know that. Your clients know that. If you create an environment where your clients can jump ahead of others with a phone call, you’re incentivizing behavior that can derail your processes.
Admittedly, this is more of an art than a science. As a rule of thumb, if there are no unique circumstances other than “the client called instead of creating a ticket,” avoid prioritizing that ticket over others of the same severity.
Phone support mistake #3: Making answering the phone “everyone’s job”
In some environments, anyone can answer the phone. That’s great on the surface, but if it’s everyone’s job, it can become no one’s job. People hesitate to stop their work and answer the phone because “someone else can get it.”
As a result, your phone support can suffer from the bystander effect, hold times get longer than they’re supposed to be, and a subset of your employees may get stressed from constantly being the one to drop what they’re doing to answer the phone.
Phone support mistake #4: Letting the phone queue allocate your resources
Number 2 and 3 are examples of how a phone system can take over work prioritization if you’re not careful. Other examples include:
- Ineffective call routing policies
- Assigning the wrong team members to phone support
- Owners that answer phone calls when they should be focused on growing their MSP business
The key to avoiding this mistake is ensuring your phone support policies align to your priorities, not vice versa.
Phone support mistake #5: Looking for “one-size-fits-all” answers
A one-person MSP with just a few clients may be fine with a direct line for their phone support. An enterprise-level MSP might need an advanced IVR to have a chance at routing calls effectively.
Similarly, the industries you serve and SLAs you define can directly influence your phone support policies. That means individual MSPs have to define phone support policies that work for their business model.
Final thoughts: Balance customer service and priority
Like most things involved in running a successful MSP, getting phone support right is a balancing act. Delighting your customers and being there when you’re needed is a key aspect of being a quality MSP. The tricky part is that the person calling you at any moment may not be the person with the highest priority issue. As you set up your ticketing processes, create a system that aligns your phone support practices with focusing on the right priorities.
If you have a tip for MSP phone support or a point you think we missed, let me know in the comments!