How to Structure an IT Help Desk

it help desk Managed service providers (MSPs) need an IT help desk to address and answer the technical questions of clients. In the modern MSP environment, the IT help desk is the primary source of contact between customers and knowledgeable, responsive support personnel. Successful help desks are customer oriented and encourage clients to report IT incidents when they occur.

When structuring the IT help desk, MSPs must consider the tiered support model to escalate customer incidents to the right specialists. Tiered support ensures that all complex problems and non-urgent issues are quickly resolved to improve customer experience (CX). Though tiered servicing is effective, some IT organizations prefer to implement a less hierarchical method of support. “Swarming” is an alternative support framework that encourages a more collaborative, non-siloed approach for managing customer incidents.

This article discusses how MSPs can build an effective IT help desk through a tiered or swarming support team structure. It also introduces best practices to achieve absolute customer satisfaction when clients interact with IT support personnel.

Why Is an IT Help Desk Important?

The help desk is the “face” of the IT support organization, as it is the first department to interact with customers when technical assistance is needed. Help desk personnel are responsible for building strong, positive relationships with customers. A successful help desk ensures customer issues are addressed and resolved in a timely, efficient manner. The purpose of the IT help desk is to improve customer satisfaction and retain valuable customers.

Without an IT help desk, customers are unable to connect and communicate with a primary point of contact. Technical support assistance becomes complex, and customers are left wondering whether their issues are being addressed. MSPs can only deliver quality support when customers have a way to report incidents and receive ticket updates from a designated source, such as an IT help desk.

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The Tiered Support Model

A tiered support structure gives MSPs an organized, hierarchical approach to IT customer service. Zendesk, a leading ticketing system provider, defines tiered support as, “A system that funnels customer queries into more defined levels (tiers) … [it provides] customer service teams with a roadmap for when and how queries are escalated.” As stated by Zendesk, the tiered approach escalates customer incidents to different IT support levels based on the complexity of the incident.

The tiered framework consists of three IT support levels, including Level 1 help desk support, Level 2 technical support and Level 3 specialist support. These three support levels are further examined and defined as:

  • Level 1 (L1): IT help desk staff answer the customer’s call and provide timely resolution for simple, basic-level incidents. Help desk staff often spend one to 10 minutes on the customer’s support ticket. More severe issues escalate to Level 2 technicians.
  • Level 2 (L2): In this tier, tech-savvy IT personnel will manage more complex customer support tickets. Personnel have the knowledge and skills needed to manage most critical incidents.
  • Level 3 (L3): If L2 support is unable to resolve an incident, the team will escalate the issue to Level 3 specialized support. L3 is composed of highly skilled IT experts that can manage even the most complicated incidents. L3 teams can conduct a root cause analysis to gain more insight into customers’ IT issues. 

The Swarming Support Model

Swarming delivers a new collaborative approach to IT support. The model is designed to break down silos and eliminate the need for tiers and escalations. TOPdesk, a supplier of service management software, reaffirms that, “Instead of passing tickets back and forth between teams, your [IT] employee ‘swarms’ around the problem with their coworkers, finding the answer until the ticket is resolved.” MSPs can accelerate ticket response and resolution through the simultaneous collaboration capabilities of the swarming model.

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How Do the Support Models Impact IT Help Desks?

Tiered Support Model

As previously mentioned, help desks are responsible for resolving Level 1 (L1) incidents in the three-tiered support model. L1 personnel often handle more cases than L2 and L3 teams due to the simplicity of the issues they manage. If customer issues are too complex, L1 help desks will escalate the incident to the next tier in line. The IT help desk must follow hierarchical processes to ensure customer support tickets are resolved promptly.

Swarming Support Model

IT help desk staff are added and included in “swarms” or incident response groups. According to a recent article, front-line agents, such as help desk personnel, are placed in a collaborative “local swarm” group. The local swarm continuously checks for incoming tickets and manages easy-to-solve customer issues. Unlike the local swarm, IT specialists are added to the “severity swarm” group that manages more complex incidents. By choosing the swarming model, help desks no longer must escalate tickets to siloed support teams.


Front-line help desks spearhead the ticket resolution process for IT managed service providers. As the initial point of contact for customers, the IT help desk learns about clients’ issues and provides the right level of support to address their incidents. 

Based on the support model of an MSP, front-line desks must either escalate incidents to higher tiers or simply collaborate with colleagues to resolve incidents. Regardless of the support structure used, the IT help desk always aims to improve customer experience and satisfaction when technical assistance is needed.


What is the main difference between the tiered support model and the swarming support model?
The main difference between the tiered support model and the swarming support model is collaboration. Where both models aim to improve the customer experience, one escalates incidents to different tiers of individual team members, and the other uses a collaborative approach, ensuring that all team members discuss and resolve an incident.
How should knowledge be managed and shared among a support team?
Support teams should create and distribute a knowledge base outlining common issues to improve efficiency. Additionally, a team’s knowledge base should be frequently updated to reflect new customer issues that may evolve from software updates or industry changes.
What tools do support teams use?
Support teams often use ticketing tools to track the progress of customer issues and alerting tools to notify them when there is a customer call after-hours.

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