The FT Word – May 2002

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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

·          Increasing your leadership quotient

·          What’s a “normal” turnover rate?

·          A few days left for special pricing on the latest FT Works booklet, “Best Practices in Support Metrics”


Do you think we could use more leadership in the world? (I also vote for less whining, more teamwork, and more tolerance…) Here are some thoughts on increasing our skills as leaders.

1) Anyone can be a leader. It’s not the title that makes the leader, it’s the attitude and behavior. We can be leaders for all the various roles that we play in life.

2) Leaders know themselves well. They understand their strong points as well as their weaknesses. They often have strong emotions, but they know not to be controlled by them.

3) Leaders take the time to understand others. They are careful about assumptions, beliefs, and mental models that would limit their thinking.

4) Leaders know that they can consciously change their assumptions and their thinking to achieve different results. They don’t bang their heads against the wall expecting different results from the same old strategies.

5) Leaders speak openly. They don’t have secrets (they know how to keep things confidential, but that’s a different kettle of fish.)

6) Leaders treat everyone as a respected peer. No chip-on-the-shoulder for them, and no subservience either.

7) Leaders are action-oriented. They take the initiative.

8) Leaders have a positive attitude towards change. They don’t pretend things are not changing when they are. They don’t get paralyzed because things are changing too fast. They stay flexible, anticipate change, and take responsibility for the change curve.

9) Leaders deliver results, foster a culture of responsibility and accountability, and create a good place to work. (It’s doing all three at once that’s hard.)

10) Leaders don’t have power “over” others in a traditional, centralized way of thinking. Their power comes “through” others.

Heavy topic. We’ll go back to something more tactical next month.

Am I losing too many people?

If you just lost a good support staffer, the answer is yes!  But what’s a “normal” turnover rate for support?

It’s hard to find good benchmarks because the support industry is so varied. Typically so-called “low-complexity” support centers, the ones that handle straightforward issues, see high turnover rates of 50% or more a year. On the other hand, high-complexity support centers enjoy much lower turnover rates, but since the requirements to work in such centers are high it’s also harder to recover from high turnover there.

To complicate matters, there are many ways to compute turnover rates and different people prefer different formulas depending on what they are after. The formula I like to use is

        # departures/ # people on staff at the middle of the period

So if this month 10 people left and 100 people were on staff on the 15th the turnover rate is 10% (that would be high for a monthly rate!)

Some people use this formula instead:

        # “avoidable” departures/ # people on staff at the middle of the period

where “avoidable” departures does not include individuals who left because of outside causes such as a relocating spouse. I don’t like to do that because it’s a slippery slope. Yet other folks do not count internal transfers as departures.

So what’s a “good” turnover number? Well, it depends a lot on local conditions. In an overheated market such as Silicon Valley in 2000, it was very hard to hang on to people and several of my clients in the very-high complexity arena reported turnover rates well over 30%, some as high as 50%. This year, the same clients are not seeing many departures at all. That’s the effect of the local market.

Ignoring short-term variations, support centers are doing well if they stay below a 15% turnover rate. If your rate is very high, hold exit interviews. Why are people leaving? Are they not getting along with their manager? Is the work thankless? Is the pay too low? Departing individuals are usually quite open so ask them to respond to a frankly worded survey. Once you know why people are leaving, take corrective action. Replacing departing staff can cost as much as a year’s salary, so retention is a good business move.

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. To order, go here.

FT Works in the News

SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled Search Engines don’t Work that discusses the limits of traditional search engines for support and how certain vendors are leveraging AI techniques to bridge the gap. You can read it at

Next month, I will be teaching again at San Jose State University a course on Online Customer Service. Maybe you want to join us, or know someone who would like to? It’s described 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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