Can case assignments be automated? Should they?

Case assignment means getting the right person to work on an issue so you can (1) meet your response SLAs (2) ensure that the issue is resolved promptly, correctly, and (3) without undue costs to the organization. So it’s pretty important for customer satisfaction, efficiency, and also employee satisfaction.

Many complex-support organizations use what I consider to be the worst method to assign cases, which I call a “manual push”, represented on the extreme right of the diagram, above: they ask a team lead or manager to assign cases manually. The manual push method is expensive, it creates boring work for the queue manager, it’s subject to biases of all kinds, and it’s disruptive to the recipients. There must a better way!

A couple thoughts to improve the situation–whether or not you are planning to automate:

  • Designate no-intake times for the support engineers, times during which they can concentrate on working their backlog. This introduces a little more complexity for scheduling but boosts productivity and peace of mind. Bonus points if you can schedule a no-intake time at the end of each shift.
  • Assign based on workload, not backlog. Assigning based on backlog piles on more work for the support engineers who crank through cases. Work with the support engineers who have large backlogs but don’t reward them for it.
  • Plan for emergencies: very tight SLAs may require special alerts and a dedicated team to be able to react quickly enough. In this case, you may not be concerned so much about exquisite matching but more about stopping the bleeding.
  • Measure the effectiveness of your assignment process. We all track response time, and that’s important, but also look for the percentage of cases who were resolved handedly by the original assignee without any assists or handoffs. That will tell you how well the targeting is working. (Note that you do not want to set individual targets for one-engineer cases, since you want your team members to seek help quickly when needed.)

Should you automate assignments? It’s a good idea if you want to free up your team leads, remove biases, and speed things up. Look for tools that take into account the points, above, especially protected times and workload assignments. If you cannot invest in a tool right now, experiment with basic assignment mechanisms such as round-robin, or assigning intake time slots to specific support engineers, during which they must take all incoming cases.

This post is a small part of the conversation I had with Charles Monnett at the SX Live Conference last week. You can catch the entire discussion by going here.