The FT Word – January 2002

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the January 2002 edition of the FT Works Newsletter, a monthly review of trends in the support management arena.

In this month’s issue:

  • Good customer portals

  • Calculating productivity

  • A poll on training

  • A reminder that there are only a few days left to take advantage of special pricing on the “Cutting Support Cost” booklet. Details at the end of this message.

Good Customer Portals

As we start a new year, it’s a good time to take a critical look at your support web site, not with the weary approach of one who knows the behind-the-scene secrets, but with the fresh look of a new customer. Does your site work? Here’s a checklist to help you evaluate where you may want to spend your efforts this year. Ten questions, ten minutes!

1. Do you have a support web site?

If not, get going, you’re behind the curve. As almost all customers, and certainly business customers, have web access, they are demanding and expecting web-based support. And you will see significant savings.

2. Is it easy to find?

The support web site should be a click away from your company’s main site, even if access is password-protected.

3. Is it widely accessible?

Are you reserving web site usage to a select few customers? Why? The cost of self-service is mostly fixed, so you might as well open it up to all. And even if you limit the number of contacts allowed to log support cases, it pays to open up the knowledge base and other low-cost services to non-contacts.

4. Is it easy and fun to use?

You may need to enlist a fresh eye to answer this question, but it’s worth asking. Even if your customers are all-business and all-technical, an appealing site leaves a positive impression and increases the likelihood that it will be used over and over again.

5. Is everything there?

Do customers need to trudge over to the Documentation area to find manuals, then trudge back to the Support area to query the knowledge base? Organize the site from a customer’s perspective, not by department.

6. Is the knowledge base accurate, up to date, and complete?

Incorrect information will, at best, bring you more cases, and at worst create legal issues, so promptly remove any questionable documents.  Audit your publication process to make sure it can catch problems before they are advertised to customers, but beware of overly cumbersome review processes, which invariably result in long publication delays.

7. Is the search mechanism user-friendly?

Even if you have an accurate, up to date, and complete knowledge base (lucky you!), can customers find what they are after using reasonably straightforward tools? If it takes a guru to hit the particular keywords required for the search, or if queries routinely return dozens of documents, or if your customers cannot handle your search engine, then you need to work on the search mechanisms, whether it’s adding a natural language search or allowing advanced searches to more accurately pinpoint the information.

8. Can customers manage cases from the web?

At a minimum, customers should be able to log cases from the web, review transactions on existing cases, and add comments on existing cases. I see very few reasons why customers should not be allowed to close and reopen cases as well.

If your support-tracking system cannot handle that, it may be time for an upgrade (the savings on the status-related activities alone should allow you to justify ROI within months). If your staff or yourself cannot handle the thought of all that openness, try reading some current support magazines for inspiration and take the plunge!

9. Are you pushing the envelope?

If you have the basics down (access to the knowledge base and online case management), then you should take a look at more advanced features, depending on your customer base. For instance, can customers personalize their support page? Do you offer online diagnostics? What about electronic software distribution? Chat-based support? Support through wireless? Not all the options may be applicable to you, so be wise in where you place your investments.

10. Are you leveraging your customers to improve the site?

Say a customer finds an incorrect document, or has a suggestion to improve the support web site. Is it possible to give feedback? Is the feedback acted upon?

Are you a perfect 10? If so, congratulations and please let me know so I can use your site as a shining example of self-service best practice. Not quite there? Time to set some specific improvement goals for 2002. Good luck!

Calculating Productivity

Question: When calculating productivity, should I evaluate cases closed/all staff or cases closed/support reps?

Answer: You can do either. Traditionally, productivity is computed by rep (i.e. using the cases/support rep formula) and represents the average number of cases a rep can handle in the particular period (typically per day) but I like to use productivity by staff member instead to highlight the contribution – or lack thereof – of the non-delivery staff.

Let’s take an example.

Center BigOverhead has 20 reps who together closed 60 cases per day on average over the past month. That translates to an even 3 cases per day per support rep. BigOverhead has 10 non-delivery staff members (managers, tool administrators, knowledge base specialists, support planners, etc.) The productivity for the group is 60/30 = 2 cases per person per day.

Center LeanAndMean also has 20 reps who closed only 50 cases per day, for a 2.5 cases per day support rep productivity number (17% less than BigOverhead). But if LeanAndMean has just 5 non-reps the group productivity number is 50/25 = 2 cases per person per day, the same as BigOverhead!

What’s the moral of the story? It’s in two parts.

1) When talking with other support managers and executives, be sure to compare apples and apples.

2) If you have the slightest doubt about the effectiveness of your non-delivery staff, monitor the group productivity number instead of or in addition to the rep productivity number.

Note: never use open cases for the numerators in the formulas. Using closed cases ensures that you are counting only work actually accomplished.

Training Poll

Having discovered a wonderful location for seminars in the Bay Area (Quadrus in Menlo Park, right off 280), I’m considering offering public seminars for support engineers and reps as well as for support managers  to allow you to (1) offer training to individuals and small groups at a reasonable cost and (2) offer scheduling flexibility.

Would you be interested in attending or having your staff attend a public seminar in the coming months? If so, please send me a note with the type of seminar (individual contributor or manager) and the number of attendees you are interested in so I can plan accordingly and adapt to your schedule too… Thank you!

Special Introductory Pricing on “Cutting Support Costs”

Until 1/31/02 (only 11 days left!) you can get a special price of $25 (including shipping and handling) on the latest FT Works booklet entitled “Cutting Support Costs”. The booklet covers strategies for minimizing costs without hurting customer satisfaction and for the long term. Details and order information here (the special pricing is available to newsletter subscribers only).

FT Works in the News

SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled Six Things to Try in 2002, highlighting some of my soapbox issues. You can read it at

And a special treat for Spanish speakers! The South-American chapter of the Help Desk Institute published a translated version of The Support Manager Test, first published by SupportWeek last month.  Check whether your high-school Spanish still works (and how many English words have crept into Spanish) at

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.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
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

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