The FT Word
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Welcome to the May 2005 issue of the FT Word. Please forward this issue to your colleagues.
Topics for this month:
· workforce management in the real (high-complexity) world
· leading indicators and actual performance metrics
· looking for networking opportunities in Atlanta
Workforce Management in the Real World
We know that workforce management is a success and a necessity in high-volume, low-complexity support operations. But what about the high-complexity world most of us live in?
The goal of workforce management is to make the right number and type of staff available at all times to meet customer requirements. The traditional approach is to carefully measure incoming phone load to create accurate, time-based forecasts that can then be used to schedule staff. There are a number of tools that have been created to unburden managers of having to do manual schedules, some with smart features such as supporting car pool schedules. They work very well for high-volume environments.
Is workforce management useful or even relevant in high-complexity environments where
· most cases are open electronically, not on the phone
· volumes are much lower
· resolution times are very high, with many cases requiring many more than one transaction to resolve
· the staff spends more time working the backlog than working new issues?
Here’s what I found out from polling medium to large support centers in high-complexity environments.
1. Create a staffing model based on the resolution model (initial routing and escalations); productivity metrics; and the forecasted volume.
2. Implement productivity metrics to sustain the model. The typical productivity metric is cases closed per head, which works beautifully in low-complexity environments but needs to be handled with care in high-complexity environments where case complexity can range from easy to very, very hard.
A wonderful way to keep tabs on case complexity is to capture effort time for each case. This is often tricky since most CRM systems don’t include a friendly tracking feature and you can expect lots of pushback from the staff. Worth trying, however.
3. Don’t worry about fancy tools for the model. A simple spreadsheet is probably ok. Almost all the companies I work with use Excel for modeling. No doubt it’s a disappointment for tool vendors, but Excel does a fine job of calculating staffing requirements.
4. Consider a tool to manage scheduling. Many support centers, including centers with hundreds of support engineers, use spreadsheets for scheduling and keeping track of training and scheduled absences. However, WFM tools are very useful starting with about 50 support staffers to help juggle vacations, shifts, and training. Look for one with an employee portal so employees can self-manage their schedule once you define basic business rules such as “no fewer than X people on the Y team at any one time”.
5. Manage productivity continuously. You’ll want to balance productivity (cases closed per head) with customer satisfaction when evaluating your staff, and in a complex environment daily figures are often meaningless, but do make productivity a significant chunk of individual staffers’ goals and objectives.
6. Adjust and tune the model. WFM is not a one-time exercise. Adjust the productivity assumptions at least quarterly, using metrics from the tracking system. Increase the goals slightly at least once a year. And don’t hesitate to experiment on a regular basis to see if a different routing or escalation scheme could make productivity go up a bit.
Leading Indicators vs. Actual Performance
Thanks to Josh Baxter for suggesting this topic.
Generally speaking, it’s best to measure outcomes rather than activity. That is, better measure cases closed than hours spent resolving them; better measure customer satisfaction than speed to answer, etc.
However, we know that some metrics are pretty good indicators of the future. For instance, we know that if we have high staff turnover customer satisfaction is likely to suffer in the near future.
What’s a support executive to do?
Measure outcomes. Measuring activities and nothing more will have the team focus on the wrong things. Who cares if we spent 3,278 hours this month working customer cases if we did not resolve any? Measure outcomes that matter to customers whenever possible. This is why measuring customer satisfaction is better than measuring response time.
Balance key metrics. One of the interesting characteristics of targets is that they will often be met… with some interesting side-effects sometimes. So don’t just set a customer satisfaction target, set a productivity target as well. Managers should have a metric for staff satisfaction, however crude: unwanted turnover is easy to measure and better than nothing. And don’t forget to balance team metrics with individual metrics to foster teamwork and collaboration.
Identify and monitor key indicators. Outcomes are what we aim for and what we show to the groups outside support. But also look for leading indicators (be your own Alan Greenspan!) Start by looking for trends. If customer satisfaction is sliding each month, even if you’re above your target, you should at least know why, if not actively work to reverse the trend.
Beyond trends, look at the numbers behind the numbers. Is backlog growing? Then chances are customer satisfaction will go down next month. Are you adding a batch of fresh recruits? Expect productivity to dip.
You should be able to do all that without spending hours digging through detailed reports. For instance, you could look at 5 key metrics: support margin, customer satisfaction, case productivity, self-service usage, turnover; and 10 assorted leading indicators: renewals rate, areas over budget, comments on surveys with low customer ratings, individuals with the bottom 10% ratings, case backlog, bug backlog, new knowledge base documents, escalations from self-service to personal service, unwanted turnover of “new” staffers, exit interviews. Feel free to substitute your own metrics, but you get the idea. Good luck!
Atlanta Support Organizations?
A subscriber to the newsletter based in Atlanta would like to find opportunities for professional networking there. I know there are many Atlanta readers of the newsletter. Does any of you participate in a local chapter of a professional support organization? Please let me know and I will put you in touch.
(This is a great opportunity to start your own if there are no organizations already in place.)
FT Works in the News
SSPA News published two articles I wrote
1) Knowledge Management Best Practices (summarizing learnings from the March conference). You can read it at http://www.thesspa.com/sspanews/April05/article3.asp
2) Running Support as a Business – Making it Work in the Trenches. You can read it at http://www.thesspa.com/sspanews/March05/article2.asp
Please ask for a copy if you are not an SSPA member and cannot get to the URLs.
Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.
650 559 9826
About FT Works
FT Works helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. Areas of expertise include designing support offerings, creating hiring plans to recruit the right people quickly, training support staff to deliver effective support, defining and implementing support processes, selecting support tools, designing effective metrics, and support center audits. See more details at www.ftworks.com.