The FT Word – June 2008

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the June 2008 edition of the FT Word. FT Works turns 10 this month! How far we’ve come…

Many thanks to all of you FT Word readers, clients, and especially repeat clients who have brought us to the ten-year mark. Help spread the word by forwarding this newsletter to your colleagues. (To subscribe, click here.)

This month’s topics:

  • Taking a fresh look at your customer satisfaction survey
  • News and numbers from the May, 2008 SSPA conference

Taking a Fresh Look at your Customer Satisfaction Survey

Feeling smug that your customer satisfaction survey is in place, working well, and giving you accurate information? It’s awfully difficult to revamp something that works well (if it ain’t broke…) but chances are you can improve it, and improve overall customer satisfaction while you’re at it.

To improve the survey itself watch for:

  • Length. While there’s no magic maximum number of questions on a transactional survey, fewer is almost always better, in particular because it makes for higher return rates, which in turn increase the reliability of the survey. Hint: if you have 10 questions that’s too many.
  • Focus. Yes, it’s tempting to ask just one little question about items other than the support interaction at hand – and perhaps you’re getting plenty of pressure from other groups in the company to do just that— but keep a strict focus on support. This will help keep the length reasonable.
  • Timing. Surveys should go out immediately after the case is resolved. How accurate would your recollection be for a service interaction that occurred two days ago?
  • Scale. Large tomes are produced by statisticians on how the choice of the scale influences the results. Don’t sweat it but be aware that the shorter the scale the more difficult it is to score very high. So if you are using the popular 1-5 scale, many customers will hesitate giving a 5 rating since they feel they can’t say the interaction was absolutely perfect. If you used a 1-10 scale instead the same customers would not hesitate to give a 9 rating for a very good case.
  • Important areas for customers. You may be surveying customers on speed of response, speed of answer, professionalism of the support rep, perhaps a slew of other items. You think there’re important, but what do your customers think? Have you ever asked them? It’s relatively easy: just gather a few customers (20-30 would do) and ask them to rate the importance of each aspect of a support interaction. If you find that no one cares much about the “attitude” of the support rep, remove the question.
  • Wording. Do your customers understand the questions you are posing? Do they interpret them the way you intend them to be? Again, with a small customer survey you can find out. Common issues include using double-headed questions (“Did the rep listen to you and understand your problem?” well, perhaps he listened but did not understand…) and using jargon (“Are you satisfied with response time?”, which most customers will interpret as resolution time, that is time to an answer.) Reword the questions so they are clear and unambiguous.
  • Comments. Comments are wonderful! I don’t believe you should mandate comments. (I’ve seen surveys that mandate comments with low ratings, guaranteeing that some percentage of dissatisfied respondents won’t bother. Wait! There was a strategy there, perhaps not the one you should be using though…) Do encourage comments without mandating them.

And now for the fun part: how to use the survey to deliver better service to customers.

  • Focus on the important items. From your customer survey you will know what items are most important for customers. Plot importance against ratings and you will get a quadrant chart (more important/less important vs. more satisfied/less satisfied.) Focus on the more important/less satisfied quadrant. It contains those items where performing better will make a difference. And don’t worry so much about the less important/more satisfied quadrant: you are over-performing in that area already.
  • Analyze the dissatisfiers. Analyze the questions with the lowest ratings (e.g. 1-5 if using a 10-point scale). What areas create the most problems? Focus on those areas to raise satisfaction; don’t bother with areas where you are already performing well.
  • Focus on the low scores. What’s killing your customer satisfaction ratings are not the customers with the middle scores, but the ones that are giving out the 1s and 2s (and 3s and 4sif you’re using a 10-point scale). Train all managers to specifically focus on the low-rated surveys. Are they associated with any particular product? Any particular support rep (probably yes)? Focus on those products or those reps.
  • Read the comments. Much can be learned from reading comments (also called “verbatim”). They can often illuminate not just where the problems lie but also potential solutions. So perhaps you can go from a low score in the customer empathy question (problem, no solution) to “we need to show reps how to express concern for the customer’s problem before starting the resolution process” (well-defined and relatively easy task.)
  • Share the analysis with all the managers. Not all support managers are comfortable creating quadrant charts, nor do they have the time to identify dissatisfiers. Make it easy for each manager to pinpoint the weaknesses for his or her group.
  • Make it stick. Are you allowing staff (reps or managers) to “suspend” surveys for individual cases without constraints? Chances are that surveys are lifted for the most painful cases. Make surveys automatic and place them out of the control of the line managers. And everyone should carry the survey ratings for the cases s/he is responsible for as part of their objectives.

Tweak your satisfaction survey to make it work harder for you.

News and numbers from the May, 2008 SSPA conference

I spent a lot of time at the conference reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, but also managed to jot down a few notes I thought would be useful to share.

Organizational Structure

  • Offshoring is real. SSPA members report 20% of their support staff is offshore for hardware support and 14% for software support.
  • Most Professional services organizations report into the Sales team, while most Tech Support organizations report into a centralized Support team. While we may all wish for a global services team that’s not a common model these days.


  • Wikis are hot: 25% of members use wikis (in my experience, much of the usage is internal, but still that’s a big number!)
  • 39% of members have customer forums versus 36% last year. Since 18% of members said they would purchase forum technology last year a few are still mulling it over…
  • 30% of members use their CRM tool for knowledge management rather than a purpose-built tool. So if you are suffering with a less-than-stellar tool you are not alone.

Customer Forums

  • 1 in 10 invitee to a customer forum will access it within the first month. The number climbs to 3:10 in 3 months.
  • 1 in 10 visitors registers to post in a forum.
  • The average thread depth is 2.5 posts.
  • Target 5 new posts per day per forum or the forum will look dead (so don’t create too many sub-forums)

Knowledge Management

  • To minimize and eliminate duplicates: make internal solutions visible immediately (to avoid two people unknowingly working on the same issue); ease off on productivity quotas that encourage thoughtless writing; and leverage case reviews and quality reviews to highlight duplicates and coach reps
  • Search idea: as customers type search keywords offer searches performed by other customers so that customers can reuse them and avoid free-form searches that may not work as well
  • Most organizations create a knowledge base article to match each bug, updating the knowledge base when the bug is updated. Customers can subscribe to the article and get automatic updates as the status changes

FT Works in the News

Last month was a busy month with 4 articles or presentations:

  • I presented A KCS Voyage: Achieving KCS with Limited Resources with Don Frye of The MathWorks at the SSPA Conference. If you’d like a copy of the presentation just ask.
  • Customer Management Insight published an article I wrote entitled Preventing Agent Burnout: A Manager’s Handbook. Click here if you’d like a copy.
  • Sbusiness published an article I wrote about defining support processes entitled Doing it Right – From Process Design to Implementation. It’s in their Spring issue and I’m happy to email it to you if you’d like.
  • And SSPA News published an article entitled The Seven Skills of Highly Effective Support Staffers. You can read it at

Also, the ASP Web Awards winners for which I was a judge were announced. You can see the list at Congratulations to Mentor Graphics (FT Works customer for self-service) and the other winners.

The first session of Marketing Wise (everything you always wanted to know about support marketing) went well and the workshop is now available for delivery at your site. More details here. Thank you to the hardy pioneers who attended the debut session. You can also check out my support marketing blog.

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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