Measuring the success of internal handoffs

This topic, measuring the success of internal handoffs, was suggested by a loyal reader who wishes to remain anonymous (thank you J!).

For the purpose of the blog I widened the question a bit. The initial question was posed in the context of forced, time-based escalations (e.g. if a case is more than X days and still unresolved, it is automatically “escalated” to a more technical team). I will discuss internal handoffs of all kinds in this post.

Handoffs are a pain

Customers don’t like to be bounced around, and handoffs requires additional work from both the sending engineer and the receiving engineer, so you take a productivity hit. Always strive to avoid handoffs through intelligent routing or other process changes.

Customer satisfaction is always key

Customer satisfaction is lower, on average, for cases that required a handoff as compared to cases that did not, since handoff cases take longer and, as mentioned above, customers don’t like to switch contacts. Still, customer satisfaction ratings are useful to track improvements over time as well as compare support engineers, both on the sending and receiving sides.

Time matters

Cases with handoffs have much in common with regular cases so measuring response time (by the receiving engineer, measured from the time of transfer) and resolution time is a good idea. Always measure against a target, which needs not be shared with customers but must exist internally.

But the real question is: did we add value?

CSAT and SLA metrics cannot answer the burning questions about handoffs:

  • Was the handoff required?
  • Was it done well?
  • Was it timely (not too early, not too late)?

The person who can easily answer these questions is the receiving engineer. Provide guidelines and audit a portion of cases to ensure that answers are grounded. For example, the handoff is probably not required if the answer was in the knowledge base all along, or the customer would have been better off simply waiting for the sending engineer’s next shift. A good handoff requires that the sending engineer gather basic troubleshooting escalation and summarize the findings before handing off. A timely handoff occurs before the customer is mad-as-hell because nothing constructive happened for three days.

If you think that asking colleagues to rate colleagues is too awkward, you can simply conduct case audits to judge which handoffs were legitimate, but it’s time consuming, and you won’t be able to get to all of them.

Engineer who produce many poor handoffs need training or a motivational session, or both. And if you are experiencing many unnecessary handoffs, chances are that support engineers are somehow rewarded to continue this unhealthy behavior: are you penalizing owners of cases that go beyond a certain timeframe? Are you imposing customer satisfaction targets that encourage the engineers to dump their tougher cases? On the other hand, do you reward support engineers when they close more cases?

For the timeliness question, you can try using simple time measurements and AI metrics. For instance, if many cases are solved very fast after the handoff, chances are that they should have been handed off, and solved, earlier. (It could also be that you are unnecessarily restricting access to a tool or procedure.)

How do you measure the success of handoffs? Please share your approach in a comment.

On separating onboarding and retention activities

Customer Success teams start by hiring a few Customer Success Managers (CSMs) who do a little bit of everything: they train new customers, they check in on them, they engage in retention activities and discussions. Undifferentiated roles make a lot of sense in a small team.

As the team grows, however, it’s very helpful to separate onboarding and retention activities. Why?

  • The skill sets are different. Onboarding is similar to training or consulting and requires the ability to structure a curriculum, to deliver great presentations, to follow a methodical process. On the other hand, retention requires quick reactions to unscripted objections, debating abilities, and an ability to build compromises. Some individuals have a vast set of skills that allows them to do both well, but that’s rare.
  • The temperaments required are really different. Onboarding requires patience and the ability to gain trust and build positive relationships. Onboarding is a happy-making job. Retention is much faster pace, more aggressive, and requires individuals that can bounce back from rejection. Sunny, caregiving personalities shine in onboarding. Bold, quick personalities do better with retention, at least if retention activities are more reactive than proactive.

Consider the strengths of your CSMs when assigning them to one side of the job or the other. In other words, assign them to onboarding because they can structure training conversations and are kind and skilled at building trust — not because they cannot think of their feet and make it as retention specialists. Assign by strength, not by weakness. (And even onboarding specialists need to think on their feet sometimes!)

Do you separate onboarding and retention? Why and how? Please share.

Productive Strategy Meetings

No, it’s not an oxymoron: strategy meetings can be both productive and even enjoyable.

Pick a theme

It may be the same old annual strategy discussion — but there should be a topic that’s a special focus. Maybe you are trying to push self-service, or implement an escalation management process, or change the career development approach for the team. Make that the theme.

Structure the agenda

Holding a long, unstructured session is a sure recipe for amorphous thinking and vague next steps. Be flexible with timing, but start with a structured agenda. Insert ample breaks and “wrap-up” sessions to make it possible to adapt to the team’s needs.

Invite a speaker

Working on the escalation process? Someone from the sales team may be just the right person to talk about what it feels like in the field. You could ask a customer to present their challenges. And you could invite an industry expert (yours truly would be happy to attend; email me if interested)

Assign homework

Putting everyone in a room and telling them to strategize may not produce the best thinking. Assign specific research topics and give the participants an opportunity to think and poll their teams ahead of time.

Gather the right people 

I’ve attended a lot of strategy meetings that got stuck because the right people were not in attendance (and quite a few where there were too many people present, but that’s another story). Anticipate topics that will require subject-matter experts and make sure that they are available.

Use breakouts judiciously

If you are strategizing with a small team, it’s great to conduct every discussion with the entire group. But if you are bringing dozens of managers together, schedule breakout sessions on various topics. Ask each breakout team to report back to the larger group on what they are proposing: it’s a wonderful way to focus the discussions towards a tangible goal.

Have some fun

Team building is important. It does not have to be a stilted dinner, or a boozy dinner, or a super-competitive activity beloved by the highest-paid person in the room. Consider a cooking class, a short volunteering activity, or an easy hike — something that will get the team interacting with minimal pressure.

 

Any ideas you want to share on productive strategy meetings?