The FT Word – October 2002

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the October 2002 edition of the FT Word. In this month’s issue:

· Disaster planning

· Support contacts: does it make sense to set limits?

· New Managing Support Escalations, the latest FT Works booklet and practical guide to taming support escalations

Disaster Planning

We know we should have a disaster recovery strategy, but it’s hard to make it a priority when so many other tasks crowd our to-do list. Here are ten easy steps to overcoming the procrastinating gremlins and finally create that disaster plan.

1. Do it now

Don’t wait: a disaster could happen tomorrow and you would not be ready. Waiting just increases the chance of being caught flat-footed.

2. Don’t go overboard

One of the reasons for procrastinating on disaster planning is thinking of it as a huge job. It doesn’t need to be! Start with small, practical steps and build up.

I remember an ambitious project I worked on a long time ago in which the team started by inventorying all the possible disasters that could befall us. We had gotten all the way to a toxic leak from a truck on the freeway in front of the office (some team members had robust imaginations!) when we had a simple fire drill. I found myself in the parking lot with my cell phone, but minus the phone numbers of the other support centers that could have helped our customers while we were out, wishing that we had concentrated on the easy stuff…

3. Start with common issues

Work on the fire drills rather than the toxic leaks. Concentrate on the most likely problems and in particular problems that have happened before such as power and phone outages and down systems and networks. Most disasters are mild and very few disasters are completely unpredictable.

4. Plan short-term and long-term solutions

Many disasters are short-lived: you have a fire drill, the network needs to be rebooted, there’s a temporary power outage. Simple strategies work well in most environments if they only need to be sustained for a few minutes. For example, using a paper logging system is usually appropriate if the support-tracking tool is down. Make sure everyone has a paper pad, though.

Some disasters require longer-term, more permanent solutions. What would you do if you could not use your building for instance? (This is not a crazy thought in earthquake-prone California).

5. Plan a backup for the backup

Disasters can happen at any time. How will your neat strategy work in the middle of the night? Or while the manager is at lunch? Don’t assume that everyone will be in the office when disaster strikes.

6. Make it a joint effort with IT

The IT group probably had to think about disaster-recovery for the technical infrastructure, so invite it to the planning meetings. You will benefit from their experience and improve their ability to respond to your needs.

7. Admit you can’t plan for everything without a large $ investment

You can handle minor disasters with modest resources, but if you want a completely disaster-proof environment you will need to invest in extra machines and backup facilities, and that will mean a significant investment. Weigh your needs against the price tag.

8. Think of the message to customers

When disaster strikes, especially something that is considered under your control such as the support portal being down, what will the support staffers tell customers? If you don’t want customers to get the unvarnished truth that the darn web server is down again, refine the message beforehand.

9. Document and train

I’ve had more than one client with a great disaster-handling plan that’s stored in the knowledge base with not one hard copy available (after all, hard copies do get out of sync, right?) Others limit the distribution of the plan to the top support executives, because it contains sensitive information.

What if disaster strikes when the execs are off to a support conference? What if it’s a power outage? Make sure everyone knows what to do without having to look it up.

10. Use each disaster as a rehearsal

Brave souls actually schedule mock disasters. I find it very hard to do that in a busy support center, but here’s something we can all do: learn from actual disasters. After the next power or tool outage, hold a post-mortem review. What went well? What did not go well? How can we prevent such a disaster from happening again? How can we improve our response? Update your plan accordingly and print new hard copies. You’ll be glad you did.

Support Contacts

If your support center supports corporate customers, chances are that you know about support contacts. Most likely, not every employee of BigCompany gets to talk to you, only a handful that are specially designated as “support contacts”. Why is that done? And how can you use this concept to the mutual benefit of your customers and your support operation?

Almost all support centers that serve corporate customers place limits on who can get help from them. The restrictions are almost always numerical (for instance, no more than two contacts are allowed) and sometimes include training requirements (for instance, the contact must be trained on administering the product).

Why do they do that? A common reason is that support centers with corporate customers do not provide end-user support and instead require customers to staff their own end-user help desk, escalating only the truly difficult questions to the vendor. Also, limiting the number of contacts means that the individuals with the best training and experience on the product will be the contacts. More knowledge means fewer issues get opened with the vendor.

Most support centers use some preset number for contacts, usually 2 for basic support and 4 for 24×7 support (and higher for premium offerings). Very few centers peg the number of contacts to the size of the support contract, although I think that would be a natural thing to do.

Finally, there is a benefit for the customer of designating support contacts in advance. Suggestions and fixes supplied by the support group may have serious consequences for production environment, and designated contacts will help contain potential problems.

Hot off the Press

The latest FT Works booklet, Managing Critical Situations is here! It’s a practical guide to minimizing and managing support escalations to a successful conclusion for support managers and executives. Makes a nice learning opportunity for non-support executives, too. To order and for more details, click here

FT Works in the News

Want to hear about “Best Practices in Self-Service Support”? You missed the live show but the recording is at

SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled Delivering Bad News: a practical guide for support staffers and managers. You can read it at

A progress report on the upcoming Just Enough CRM, to be published by Prentice Hall in January. The manuscript went to the editor today and I’m so happy to get it off my desk! Now comes the tough job of turning it into readable language…

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

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