The FT Word – December 2002

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the December 2002 edition of the FT Word. Please pass it on to a colleague or two so they can have a chance to keep up with the wonderful world of support.

In this month’s issue:

·         auditing your support tool

·         the three “big goals” of support

·         a new booklet: Best Practices for Quality Monitoring

Auditing your Support Tools

I am regularly asked by clients to recommend a “better” support tool than the one they have in place. Since tool implementation projects require lots of time and resources, I always start with an audit of the current tool to make sure that a change is really needed. And more often than not, I find that the current tool is not bad and that the perceived problems come from other causes. So if you’re thinking of switching tools, do yourself a favor and conduct a quick audit. Here are the key questions to ask.

Question #1: Could the problems be caused by a poor process?

Many times, problems are blamed on the tool when they really stem from process issues. For instance:

  • No tool can ensure that support staffers shepherd issues to resolution properly and swiftly if the process is not clear, is not documented, or is not understood by everyone on the team. Yes, a solid tool would include a process workflow to help the support staffers move the issues to resolution, but even a basic tool can perform well as long as there is a clear and effective resolution process in place.

  • No tool can guarantee that the other departments your team depends on to resolve issues will respond promptly to your requests. I’m talking here about Engineering, Repair, Accounting, and so forth. You can track their response time with a tool, but if you need to increase responsiveness, you must put on your diplomat’s hat and get to work.

If you find that the issues are process issues, address them first before even thinking about changing tools. Properly implementing any new tool requires well-defined processes, so even if you end up deciding you need to change tools, the process work will be a prerequisite. Pay particular attention to transitions between individuals or groups since transitions are where most process problems occur.

Question #2: Is it the tool, or is it the way it’s implemented?

Many support tools are customizable and many tool problems can be traced back to the implementation rather than to the tool itself. It can be difficult to separate customization issues from issues with the tool itself, since (I hope) everything will be integrated seamlessly on your screen. If you need help, the tool vendor should be able to provide assistance.

Are you running on the current release? Some of the problems you are experiencing may be addressed in it. Many times, I find that customers delay upgrades because they are complicated, especially when many customizations need to be ported over. If you are in that situation and you decide to keep the tool, seriously consider drastically simplifying the customizations.

Question #3: Is the tool too slow or is it the infrastructure?

Tool complaints often include performance issues. Step one is to define what “too slow” means. Don’t bother with fancy benchmarks at first. What really matters is how long it takes the users to accomplish basic tasks. Does it take more than a few seconds to paint a new screen? Does it take more than a minute or two to enter a new case? Does it take more than 5 minutes to create a new users? These benchmark numbers, not technical stuff like the latency on database access are what’s important to the support staff,

Determine whether performance problems can be traced to network or server problems. If you have staff members working from home or from small offices, upgrading their network connection is usually your best bet to improve performance.

Some performance problems are related to the particular implementation of the tool. I once worked with a client that required such elaborate root cause categorization at case closure that it took several minutes to close each case. Way too long for me! This was a customization issue, not a problem with the tool per se.

Question #4: Can staffers access the data they need to do their job?

On the issue of access to information, does the information exist and is it reliable? For example, you can’t expect your knowledge base searches to be very successful if no one is taking care of the content of the knowledge base in the first place. This is a process issue, not a tool issue. Is the inaccessible information stored in another tool? Can support staffers get access to that other tool? Yes, you may need a full-blown (and costly) integration between the tools, but often a simple lookup is enough. Don’t overbuild!

Is the information missing because it has no home within the tool? It shouldn’t be too hard to add the appropriate fields. If it is too hard, a tool change may be warranted.

Question #5: Do you get the metrics you need?

Most tools don’t make it easy to create tailored metrics so if your problems are solely metrics-related you may want to look for a good reporting tool to extract data from the support tool. You may find few benefits if any with a different tool.

However, most metrics issues are not tools-based but process-based. Have you defined a small, yet comprehensive set of metrics? Is all the data you need reliably collected in the tool? If not, address the process issues before worrying about the tool.

Question #6: Do you need a new tool, or you just want the new, cool technology?

Even support managers can succumb to the lure of new, cool toys. Be honest with yourself: if your support-tracking tool is basically working well for you and your only reason for a change is to be able to brag that you have the latest technology, find another way to satisfy your toy envy and leave your support-tracking tool alone. Cool tools do not

Still convinced that your tool is weak after going through all 6 questions? You probably need a replacement. More on how to select a new tool in a future newsletter.

(This topic and more are included in Just Enough CRM, the book Prentice-Hall is planning to publish for me in January.)

The 3 “Big Goals” of Support

Thinking about the year ahead? It’s a good time to go back to basics: what is support all about?

All support operations have three big goals:

1) customer satisfaction and loyalty: making customers happy

2) money: bigger profits (if you charge for support) or lower costs

3) customer feedback to the organization: being the voice of the customer

The three goals have different weights depending on the environment. In a startup company getting good, quick customer feedback is often the main function of support, whereas with a very established product creating revenue and profits becomes more important.

How would you rank the 3 “big goals” for your team? How well are you doing on each of them? What does your boss think about this?

Best Practices for Quality Monitoring – NEW

The latest FT Works booklet is out. Best Practices for Quality Monitoring gives you a simple, yet complete blueprint to implement a successful quality monitoring program (you may think of it as “call monitoring”, but with more and more communications being electronic you want to include them in the monitoring effort). 18 pages of solid recommendations help you start or restart your program for $40.

A full description and order information can be found here.

FT Works in the News

SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled Beyond a Well-modulated Voice: Call Monitoring for Grown-up Support Centers, an overview of best practices in quality programs. You can read it 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

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