More headcount? Only if you can make a case for it…

Many thanks to Kevin Williams for suggesting this topic.

As support managers we develop an instinctual feel for workload and staffing. We just know when we need a few more bodies to shoulder the load and we can easily get approval to hire. We wish! At the very least, approval requires justification, and in most cases our intuition needs bolstering with a bona fide staffing model.

Afraid of staffing models? Don’t be! My experience suggests that simple models perform just as well as complex ones, with the added advantage that they can be understood by all support managers (and support engineers, too, should they have the inclination) and updated on a regular basis without having to resort to special intervention from a spreadsheet guru.

1. Determine the staffing for support delivery

This step is fairly easy because it’s mechanical, at least for established support organizations that have plenty of historical data they can use. You need ┬ájust four pieces of data:

  • the expected size of the customer base, including planned increases
  • the incident rate (average number of cases per customer per month)
  • utilization rate (average time per head spent on support delivery)
  • the effort time per cases (average minutes to resolve a case)

Keep it simple! Unless there are established, significantly different segments of customers or products, use a global incident rate for all customers and products. (Remember that you are creating a staffing model, not a schedule. You will adjust details later.) High-level estimates of the utilization rate and effort time are sufficient if you do not routinely track the data, as is common.

With those four pieces of data, you will get the required headcount for support engineers.

2. Add operations and planning staff

In addition to standard support delivery, all support organizations past the start-up stage need dedicated staffing for planning, internal training, tool support, and support of online functionality including the knowledge base or communities (at least the work that is not parceled out to the support engineers.) I typically see 5-10% of the headcount dedicated to operations, depending on the size of the overall operation and the scope of the responsibilities of the operations team.

3. Compute the managers’ headcount

This is easily done with a staff to manager ratio.

4. Consider exceptional investments

Let’s say that this year you are expanding into China and you need to start a support center there. The investment will be large compared to the expected return, but you need to hire and train a Chinese-speaking team and you need to be proactive about it. This may require an add-on to your staffing model, just for this year. (The larger the organization, the less need for adjustments.)

5. Check the bottom line

Now the fun part: do the expenses match the margin you are targeting for the support team?

6. Rinse and repeat

Adjust the model until you can answer “yes” to the question in step 5.

Overwhelmed? We can help create a custom staffing model for your organization, as we have for dozens of other support organizations.

Do you have a staffing model in place for support? What does it cover?

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