The FT Word – October 2010

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the October 2010 edition of the FT Word. Please forward it to your colleagues. (They can get their own subscription here.)

Topics for this month:

  • Tracking support time – an implementation challenge
  • No more delights – why a good, steady performance beats service heroics
  • As always, an invitation to attend the upcoming the Third Tuesday Forum breakfast, which will welcome Sallee Peterson of SupportSpace on November 16th.

Tracking Support Time

A big thank you (or arigato) to Roger Meunier for suggesting this topic.

It is my experience that few support organizations track the time spent resolving customer issues carefully or exactly, mostly because existing case management tools lack robust time-tracking mechanisms. That’s too bad since there’s much to be learned by a careful examination of case effort: what products are most troublesome, what staffing levels are required, what knowledge base documents are missing.

If you decide to track time spent resolving cases, you will likely have to expand some effort on your tool. But you will also face some challenges getting the initiative accepted by the team, who is likely to react negatively to what may be perceived as a Big Brother intrusion in the day-to-day life of each team member. Here are some suggestions for a successful implementation of case time logs.

1. Make it very easy to log time. Ideally the tracking system should allow automatic and transparent time logs. That is, the timer starts by itself when I open a case screen and stops automatically when I close the case screen – and the system should also allow me to override the automatic settings. For instance, if I open the case, work on it, and leave it open by mistake, I should be able to quickly adjust the 8 hours (or whatever) it logged to a more reasonable manual estimate of 10 minutes. Same thing if I somehow forget to open the case and realize my mistake some time later: I should be able to retroactively add the missing time to the log. Keep in mind that support engineers often keep multiple cases open at the same time and multitask. Individual timers must be available for each case.

2. Consider sampling instead. Most tracking systems have very poor time-logging functionality. If tracking time means that support engineers have to enter time manually for each transaction, I would strongly suggest ditching the grand time-logging scheme and conducting small-scale surveys instead, repeating them from time to time, perhaps every three to six months. For the surveys, select a few individuals to track their times manually, or semi-manually, on all their cases for a few days to a week. That will give you the data you need to figure out average effort time per case, hence validate your staffing model and other essentials.

3. Use the data constructively. Big Brother concerns will be most acute when you first launch the program so stick with uncontroversial, obviously productive purposes such as building a staffing model. Don’t use the data to conduct witch hunts against people who “only” logged 3 hours of work yesterday. If you do, you will see swift increases in time logged as everyone pads hours to avoid becoming hunt targets, but data reliability will sink. Don’t publish reports of who logged the most hours this week. Only speak in aggregates, as in “on average, it takes 43 minutes to resolve a case”.

4. Enlist the thought leaders. The real power in the support organization doesn’t rest with managers but with the informal leaders whose titles belie their influence. If you win them over you will likely convince everyone to get with the program.

5. Point to other professionals. It may be helpful to remind doubters that other highly-compensated professionals log their time, in particular lawyers (they log every 6 minutes!) so it’s not shameful to have to do so. Of course, lawyers get to bill their time, so that’s a powerful incentive!

6. Get the managers to encourage accurate time logs. My experience is that at first people will (genuinely, honestly) forget to log their time, so you will find individual totals that clearly don’t represent actual time worked. If Joe logged 15 hours yesterday chances are that it’s a mistake. And if Jane, a renowned hard worker, logged a measly one hour, it’s a mistake too! Once logging becomes a habit you will quickly settle to reasonable averages, that is around 6 hours a day or a little more in most support organizations (no one spends 100% of their time on billable work, and no one ever gets to 100% logging anyway).

7. Use the time logs as part of performance management, eventually . Once the program is established and well-accepted managers can (and should!) check that everyone is logging reasonable amounts of time. If the team average is 6 hours a day but someone is logging only 4, it might be an indication of poor performance. But don’t harp on small differences, and don’t harp much at all for the first weeks or months. And remember that other metrics are better performance indicators. Someone who resolves lots of issues and gets positive satisfaction ratings is on the right track, even with measly time logs.

No More Delight – Just Get the Job Done

The July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review included an article that I just had to read: Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers. I just never warned up to the trendy “delight” meme, especially when it is illustrated with strangely convoluted tales of agent heroics (you know what I mean, driving to the customer’s house in a blizzard to pick up the unwanted tires claimed to have been bought in an apparel store). The point of the article is to show that while customer loyalty may or may not be achieved through heroic behavior, it can easily be lost by failing to deliver basic service. So for us in the customer service trenches the most important goal is to ensure good, solid service quality on every interaction. According to the research cited in the article, over half of the (75,000) customers surveyed has to re-explain their issue and over 60% had to contact the vendor more than once. A simple prescription would be to make it easy for customers to get help – and to use data mined from customer requests to fix problems at the source.

If you have become allergic to delight, you can feel secure with a good, solid job.

  • When was the last time you recognize a solid contributor rather than a one-shot hero?
  • Are your metrics and award structure geared towards heroics or everyday solid contributions?

FT Works in the News

Going to TSW Las Vegas?

I won’t be there but go listen to Rob Shapiro, senior director of Global Customer Services, Strategic Programs at Oracle, who will present a talk entitled Communities that Give Back: Best Practices for Hundreds of Communities that he and I wrote together and which highlights Oracle’s support communities and our attempts at measuring their success. Rob’s presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, October 19th, at 2pm. For more information, see

And as a precursor to the talk TSIA published an article I wrote entitled Community Metrics: Why Page Views Fall Way Short in the October issue of Inside Technology Services. You can read it at

A Touch of Britain

Well, not exactly since it’s just me but the genuinely British Henry Stewart Talks has released a series of online seminars for contact center executives for which I presented a section entitled Preventing Agent Burnout. You can see a peek at

Third Tuesday Forum

Are you based in the San Francisco area (or will you be there on Tuesday November 16th)? That morning, David Kay and I will be hosting The Third Tuesday Forum, a roundtable for support executives to discuss the topics we embrace and wrestle with every day. The presenter will be Sallee Peterson from SupportSpace who will speak about The Expert Solution: Support and the Beauty Salon Meme, using a flexible, home-based workforce

To register or for more details, click here. Space is strictly limited to ensure an interactive session.

If you cannot make it this time but would like to be on the mailing list, sign up. You will be the first to know about new events. You can also join the Third Tuesday Forum groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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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