The FT Word – February 2012

By Technical Support


Welcome to the February 2012 edition of the FT Word. Feel free to forward it to your colleagues. (They can get their own subscription.)

Topics for this month:

  • The FT Works indicator – 58%

  • Can we have more fun? Using gamification for routine support work

  • Up! Supporting the cloud

  • FT Works at the TSIA Spring conference in Santa Clara: support website design, metrics fest, and a booth!

The FT Works Indicator: 58%

58% of adults between 23 and 31 have a smartphone. Only 49% of adults between 35 and 46 do, despite presumably a better financial situation. Are you working on mobile solutions for customers and staff?

(Source: Forrester Research, as reported in CRM Magazine)

Can we have more fun?

A big thank you to Michael Blume for suggesting this topic – and a shout-out to Catherine Aurelio, who gave an inspiring presentation at the Third Tuesday Forum just in time for me to respond to Michael’s query.

Support work can be tough and just a tad depressing. In complex-support organizations it’s not unusual for a support engineer to work very hard on troubleshooting a couple of situations and yet at the end of the day have no solutions to show for the hard work, and certainly no closed cases. So what can we do to inject a feeling of accomplishment, even fun, into every day? Enters gamification, the idea that the same fun factors that make human beings crave games can be harnessed for other pursuits, including, gasp, real work.

I now see that I got a glimpse of gamification many years ago, back when I had a respectable real job managing a support organization. Faced with no budget for incentives, we had hit upon the apparently lame idea of distributing Hershey’s Kisses to anyone who got a perfect 10 on a transaction survey. One 10, one Kiss. It was hard to get a 10 so we could make a bag last several weeks. I had thought that the Kisses would make a tasty snack, but pretty soon it became clear that they were instead destined to be lined up on top of the monitors (this was a long time ago: we had large desktop systems on our desks, with a wide ledge at the top suitable to host said kisses, assorted Lego figures, and whatever else was deemed to be worth cube decoration material) and they were never, even meant to be eaten. A long row of shiny Kisses silently signaled that the inhabitant of the cube was a support demigod, revered by customers. One of the managers once absent-mindedly ate one while discussing an escalation and was harshly reprimanded by the owner, who would not be mollified by the offer of a replacement, and who insisted on refashioning the leftover foil in a sorry-looking, but authentic tiny ball to be lined up with the uneaten Kisses… Good times.

Going back to gamification and to Catherine’s talk, I now know that games can fulfill six basic human needs:

  • reward

  • status

  • achievement

  • self-expression

  • competition

  • altruism

By chance, our Kisses giveaway met at least four of the six needs (reward, status, achievement, and competition), and perhaps self-expression as well since recipients did not simply line up the Kisses but arranged them in thoughtfully designed, showy pyramids once they had acquired more than a few.

So how can we use similar ideas to make support work more appealing? In Catherine’s talk, she suggested the following approaches, each of them, like the Kisses, potentially meeting a variety of needs:

  • points

  • levels

  • challenges

  • virtual goods

  • leaderboards

  • gifting and charity

It is somewhat of a mystery as to why our fine CRM vendors don’t provide any functionality around these concepts, so here’s a list of possible enhancements that would support gamification in support – all of them based strictly on data already captured (or easy to capture) in a CRM system. There must be oodles of other ideas if we extend the concept to other data.

  • Show a running total of lifetime cases resolved

  • Integrate “accelerators” once we get past a certain number of cases

  • Ditto for knowledge base documents or contributions to the customer forums

  • Add points for specific contributions such as grabbing a case in an area outside one’s specialty, or after hours

  • Display a quality badge if the rep meets certain thresholds for quality or monitoring surveys

  • Allow avatars for reps who exceed certain thresholds of productivity or quality

  • Allow reps to dispense “thank you” points to others who help them

  • Offer to redeem points for gift cards (I’m not inspired by this but I bet others would) or, better for me, for charitable contributions

  • Display top scores

  • Capture the same ideas by teams or regions

So on those days when the head has been beaten against the wall a bit too much, we can see that nice gleam of our “super-rep” badge and feel a little better. And as a bonus, designing the point system would encourage the management team to think through what is really important. I’m now very glad that we thought of giving the Kisses for perfect customer surveys rather than cases closed, if you see what I mean… And it would also be important to stir things up every once in a while. How about points or badges for learning new products, or using new tools?

At this point, implementing gamification would require combining a gamification solution sitting on top of a standard tracking system. (See, for instance, I hope we will soon see solutions integrated into the tracking systems.

Up! Supporting the Cloud

I like to recognize the readers who suggest topics for the newsletter but for this one it will need to be an anonymous group – suggesting that many vendors are exploring the idea of providing cloud services, at least behind the scenes. So the focus will be on transforming support from supporting on-premise solutions to supporting hosted or cloud solutions.

Question #1: Do we need to change our support programs?

Maybe. Often. But not necessarily.

  • If you are reaching new customers with the cloud solution, they will have different needs for support. If your traditional customers are all large companies with sophisticated needs, you built accordingly rich support offerings to serve them, including account managers and designated support consultants. If you will be reaching out to much smaller companies that have basic support requirements and do not have the deep pockets that funded all the goodies, you will have to create offerings that are more basic, less expensive to deliver, and still serve the needs of the new customers.

  • If you need to support end users rather than IT, you will need to cater to them. If you currently provide support to skilled IT staff but you now want to support end users you will need to redefine the scope of your support to allow how-to questions and provide some best practice recommendations on, for instance, setting up a general ledger if you work with accountants.

  • The definition of support releases may become obsolete. If you push code upgrades out automatically, as many vendors do, you no longer have to contend with the arcane definitions of supported releases. (That’s nice!)

  • 24×7 support may be required more readily. The same customer that had passed on off-hours support from the vendor, relying instead on its own IT resources, may well expect the cloud vendor to be available around the clock. Do validate this point, however.

  • Integrated support and availability commitments may be required. This is a more complex aspect of cloud support: since you, the vendor, control most of the setup, customers may well expect uptime commitments with their serving of support.

  • Pricing strategies may need to change. Almost all cloud vendors bundle a basic level of support into the cost of the subscription, which is something on-premise vendors rarely do. This does not mean that support is “free” per se, only that it’s not broken out separately. Higher levels of support are often, but not always, priced separately (the alternative is to bundle them in ever higher levels of service, which may include both support and availability upgrades). When you get past the bundling issue, support packages for cloud vs. on-premise can be eerily similar, with the same ol’ account management, dedicated access, onsite presence available at the high end.

Question #2: Do we make process changes?

It all depends on how customer requirements are changing, so homework needs doing to answer question #1.

  • Plan for operations issues and product issues. Some issues will be strictly operational: a down server, a database that’s offline. Others will be product-related. The support team can serve as a channel into both Operations and Engineering, or Operations can be the gateway into Engineering.

  • Think through initial rollouts. If they are essentially the same as for on-premise, with a hands-on implementation team, your current process is probably fine. Otherwise, plan for a structured methodology to get customers started – else they will consume plenty of bandwidth in the early weeks.

  • Beef up the knowledge base. Your cloud customers may have more basic questions and more how-to questions, both categories that fit well with a higher use of a knowledge base..

  • Ongoing proactive management should be very much the same. Customers are customers. Large enterprise customers’ needs are remarkably stable whether the solution is on premise or in the cloud.

Question #3: Do we create a new organization?

Here again, it depends, and mostly on whether you will be providing end-user support. If you provide end-user support, you will need to make changes:

  • The technical skills required to provide end-user support are much less than for supporting help desk or IT staff. This means that your current staff members may move to a backline role, leaving the direct interface with customers to a separate frontline team.

  • On the other hand, you may need to increase the domain expertise on the front line. You will need accountants for accounting applications, nurses for healthcare applications, etc.

  • Overall, you may find that you have to split your team in two, domain experts and technical experts.

You can find more information about setting up offerings for cloud support in Selling Value.

Are you moving to supporting the cloud? What changes are you making?

FT Works in the News

Mark your Calendar: May 7-9 in Santa Clara, CA (TSW)

FT Works will have three events at the upcoming TSIA conference. Hope you can join us!

1. We will have a booth in the expo hall.

2. I will present a pre-conference workshop on Monday 7th entitled “Winning Support Websites: From Assessment to Customer Love”. If you’ve always wondered why your website doesn’t work as well as you’d like, join me. Registrations will be up shortly online but let me know if you are interested and I’ll save a seat for you. John Ragsdale has a nice write-up about the workshop here

3. I will have a joint presentation with Scott Sieper of Autodesk on Tuesday 8th entitled “Measure Twice: Cut the Useless Metrics” in which we will present a comprehensive support dashboard. No need to register for that one, just show up!

The details of the schedule are taking shape at

Third Tuesday Forum Lunch – March 20th

The next Third Tuesday Forum breakfast is on March 20th and will feature David Kay and me. The same people who brought you Collective Wisdom are teaming up for a romp through support measurements and metrics. For variety’s sake and just because, we will meet at lunchtime rather than breakfast, so all you sleepyheads just lost your excuse for not coming.

You can read more here and register. Space is limited so we can bring you an interactive experience – guaranteed to be PowerPoint-free.

ASP’s 10 Best Web Support Sites Nominations – I’m a judge!

Sixty days left to apply to the Association of Support Professionals (ASP) Best Web Support Sites award and entries can be submitted starting now at The awards are wonderful recognition to the winners, of course, but all participants receive actionable advice from industry practitioners, including yours truly, so it’s a great learning tool as well. You can read more about the awards 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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