The FT Word
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Welcome to the January 2005 issue of the FT Word. Happy New Year! Please forward this issue to your colleagues. It’s a great way to touch base with acquaintances in a meaningful way.
In this month’s issue
· smooth handoffs for Follow-The-Sun support
· can support emails violate the anti-spam laws?
Handoffs for Follow-The-Sun Support
Thanks to Martin Messer for suggesting this topic.
Follow-the-Sun support is a wonderful method to leverage existing support teams worldwide to provide support in shifts. The standard method is to use three centers: one in Europe, one in (North) America, and one in Asia that handle support for the entire world during their business hours (while the sun is shining there.) There are many variations of Follow-The-Sun. In particular, similar techniques can be used with only two centers, either by using extended hours or by handling the off-hours through a pager system.
While I’m a great fan of Follow-The-Sun, there are some challenges associated with it, most notably handoffs: what to do with customers whose issues are not completely resolved by the time the next support center takes over. Here are experience-proven techniques to ensure that no customer gets dropped.
Define intake queues properly
The best set up is to create one queue per geography and to ensure that off-hours cases go to the queue in the proper geography. For instance, a case from a European customer that arrives at 2pm Eastern Time (US) would go to the US queue to be handled by the US support center if it’s an emergency from a customer covered by your 24×7 agreement, but would go to the European queue, to await the next European business day, if it’s not an emergency.
If your tracking tool just cannot handle the time- and priority-based workflow you have two alternatives.
One is to set up one queue per geography and to ask the on-duty center to monitor all geographical queues for P1s (or whatever other criteria you use for off-hours support). I don’t like this setup because it’s prone to failure as multiple queues need monitoring. You should be able to set up automatic alerts to help, however.
The other alternative is to maintain one worldwide queue for all cases. The problem with this setup is that it makes for an enormous queue and lots of finger-pointing when something sits too long. However, if the system correctly ranks cases in order of response time, it’s not so bad since the urgent issues rise to the top and the non-urgent sink to the bottom, awaiting the next business day for their geography. This method is the one to use if you don’t have the notion of a “home” geography for customers and for cases.
Make each center responsible for all new cases during their shift
For simplicity, have each support center meet response time for all incoming cases that need a response during their time slot. At the end of the shift the incoming queue should be completely clear of cases that need response time that day (cases that can wait until the next business day can stay, of course).
Should any urgent cases be left unanswered (in other words, the rule failed, perhaps because a new case was logged minutes before the end of the shirt), they should be moved to the intake queue of the next support center. Since no real handoff can occur (as no work was done on these cases) I recommend simply moving the cases without making a live handoff. A quick email or IM to confirm the next shift can see the cases may be appropriate, however.
Hand off active cases “live”
At the end of each shift, there will be a few cases that are being worked and need continued attention. If it’s a matter of a few more minutes of work, or even a couple hours, I would aim to finish working a case without handing it off, considering the loss of productivity associated with a handoff. If that’s not possible, do a live handoff: call the next shift and hand off in a live conversation, perhaps with the customer if appropriate.
Move open cases to the home geography
A silent handoff is enough for issues that are open but not actively worked. Ensure that the case is clearly documented in the system and move it to the incoming queue of its home geography. There’s no need to signal the next shift unless it’s likely that the customer may need additional help soon (and, in that situation, you may want to do a live handoff, as described above.) Note that it’s always possible for any support center to retrieve a case that suddenly turns into an emergency, so it’s fine if a case that was not handed off requires work unexpectedly.
If you have a worldwide concept rather than a home geography concept and you choose for the next shift to work open cases, place them in their incoming queue.
Monitor multiple handoffs
Most Follow-The-Sun organizations find that few cases require handoffs, only dire emergencies that could not be tackled during a given shift. Carefully monitor cases that are handed off more than once. Are they so hot that no one is taking responsibility for them? At a minimum, the home geography should check that each critical case it receives is making progress and has a workable action plan.
Can support emails violate the anti-spam law?
I hate spam, and your customers do too. Are you worried that you may (unwittingly) violate anti-spam laws every time you send them a support email? It’s unlikely if you manage your support emails in a reasonable way. Here’s why.
The anti-spam law specifically allows so-called “transactional” or “relationship” messages. So if you are emailing customers about an existing support case, asking them to fill out a customer satisfaction survey, sending a bug alert, or letting them know it’s time to renew their support contract, you’re in the clear.
If you are sending an email to sell a product, it’s considered a “commercial” message and as such falls under the anti-spam rules. This means you must allow customers to opt out, you must maintain a company-wide opt-out list, you must include your address in the message, etc.
Bottom line: stick to transactional messages and don’t mix the two.
Actually, the real issue for support centers may be getting around anti-spam software. You may need to specifically ask your customers to allow communications from your support-tracking system and other generic email addresses you use.
FT Works in the News
Are you proud of your support web site? Enter the annual Ten Best Web Support Sites competition sponsored by the Association of Support Professionals. I will once again be a judge this year and I look forward to innovative submissions. (To avoid conflicts of interests, I won’t review the web site of my customers.) More details at http://www.asponline.com/05entry.pdf
SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Time Management for Support Staffers: 8 Steps to Bring Order to a Chaotic World. SSPA News 12/22/04 http://www.thesspa.com/sspanews/122104/article1.asp. Ask me for copies if you are not an SSPA member
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.
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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.
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