The FT Word – April 2002

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome

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

·        support metrics dashboards

·        how much should I be spending on support?

·        a new FT Works booklet, Best Practices in Support Metrics, at a special price for newsletters subscribers

Support Metrics Dashboards

One of the big problems I see with support metrics (beyond the obvious “we don’t have any”) is that they can be cumbersome. Having to wade through many different charts and graphs is a challenge, and by the time you get done it’s hard to have a clear mental picture of what’s really going on in support. The solution is to create a concise yet complete dashboard where all the important information is available at a glance, ready to inspire action.

So what makes a good dashboard?

1. It’s short

That is, it fits on one page. If you need to create metrics books to contain all the detailed metrics you run, fine (although is anyone really reading the book, interpreting the results, and translating them into appropriate actions?). But make the dashboard just one page long. Nothing like brevity to catch people’s attention.

No cheating by using minuscule 6-point type either. Be serious about enforcing the discipline of minimal but key information.

2. It’s meaty

The dashboard should give you a complete picture of what’s happening in support. Would you drive a car that has a speedometer but not gas gauge? (I used to; I ran out of gas more than once). So you must go beyond response time and dig out truly meaningful metrics to cover productivity, customer satisfaction and financial performance.

For example, a support center for enterprise software might measure: volumes in/out, backlog, response and resolution times, cases closed per support engineer, new knowledge base documents, customer satisfaction ratings, and revenues, expenses, and profits.

3. It shows performance against targets

Metrics are not very meaningful when not compared to targets, so create a target for each metric and clearly show performance against the target. Targets may change over time to reflect, I hope, improvements in performance rather than declining standards. But targets are useful, especially for outsiders (just think of how you would interpret a sales forecast if you didn’t know what the sales quota was).

4. It shows a time progression

Experienced support managers actually do well with snapshot data because they have completely internalized the workings of the support center and they can tell immediately from a single number whether the trend is up or down. For everyone else, time progressions are very useful. It’s positively uplifting to see that response time performance is inching up every week, even if you are still below the target. And it’s instructive to spot a downward trend in customer satisfaction, even if you’re still above target.

Looking back 4-6 time units is usually enough (and should still fit in the one-page standard).

5. It’s timely

I like weekly dashboards, available on the dot every Monday morning, but monthly dashboards may be more meaningful and practical when communicating outside the support operation. They should be published on the first of each month. Old news is incredibly less useful than new news.

I hear the groans of “my tracking system can’t do something that complex automatically!”. So you may need to do some cut and paste, although if you design the dashboard well it is worth automating the content gathering since it’s the same structure week after week.

6. It’s visual

A one-page format (#1) with targets (#3) and a time progression (#4) makes a dashboard easy to read. To further improve its readability, add visuals if possible. Try a red light/green light format to show whether you are hitting targets, or even better show the time progressions with charts that include the target. If a picture tells a thousand words, five pictures on your allotted one page tell a long story.

7. It’s widely available

What do you have to hide? Secret metrics generate only suspicion and bad feelings. If the contents of the dashboard are well thought out, then everyone should be able to see it. This means everyone in the support center and outside. You may even inspire other departments to create their own informative dashboards, who knows?

I consider support dashboards to contain confidential company information, however, so don’t forget to label them as such. That being said, if you are particularly proud of your dashboard and would like to share its structure with other subscribers (sans data, to protect your anonymity), let me know and I will happily publish it in an upcoming newsletter.

How much should I be spending on support?

In times of budget cuts, many of us feel that the right answer is “more than today”, although CFOs seem to think the opposite, unfortunately. Are there general guidelines that you can use to justify investments (and cuts)?

Having worked with dozens of support teams, I’m afraid that the answer is “not really”, but here are some guidelines:

1) In non fee-based environments, support expenses are a few percentage points of company revenues.

2) In fee-based environments, they range from a few percentage points to about 25%. Why such a large range? There are clues below.

3) Support profits are negative in smaller, younger companies, as large investments are required to get started (e.g. tools) and the customer base is small. As a general rule, don’t expect to make money on support for the first 2-3 years.

4) Support margins (profits/revenue) for established companies range from 50 to 90%, depending on the size of the install base  (bigger is better), the quality of the products (bugs of course but also the general ease of use of the products), and what exactly is counted in “expenses”. Many support centers don’t account for the cost of tools, for instance, which is instead lumped in with the IT group.

Most high-complexity support centers do not do well in the high portion of the range, that is, customer satisfaction suffers if you can’t invest enough. I feel 60-70% is a great place to be if you are including tool costs.  As a comparison point, other services do not even approach those levels. Consulting, for instance, does well around 30%.

New booklet: “Best Practices for Support Metrics”

Get practical ideas to select, run, organize, and use support metrics that truly represent the performance of the group and allow you to make business decisions for the support team and beyond. The special introductory price of $25 for newsletter subscribers is valid until 5/31/02. To order, go here

FT Works in the News

SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled 10 Predictions for 2010, a light-hearted view into the future. You can read it at http://www.supportgate.com/supportweek/20020305/article3.html

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.

Regards,
Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
www.ftworks.com
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 www.ftworks.com.

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