The FT Word – June 2011

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the June 2011 edition of the FT Word. Please forward it to your colleagues.

Topics for this month:

  • June’s number of the month – 35%
  • Backlog Management – a key to customer satisfaction
  • Not-so-random notes from the TSW conference – a highly opinioned list from yours truly
  • Our first open-registration training event ever! Register for the Tech Support Skills workshop in Santa Clara, CA on September 12-13.

The Number of the Month: 35%

From the always interesting “Heat Map” session at last month’s TSW conference, TSIA members now report that 35% of them use Salesforce for case tracking (and 8% use Siebel/Oracle). Just five years ago, in 2006, 33% of members reported using Siebel and 8% used Salesforce. Interesting reversal, huh? And this is very much what I’m seeing with my clients, who are switching to SaaS solutions in droves rather than pay for costly upgrades – and struggle to get appropriate IT support for in-house solutions. The main concern reported about SaaS solutions in the TSW survey is with reporting, probably because of the same IT resource gap that caused the switch in the first place, I think.

By the way, the same survey shows 18% of members using a homegrown tracking system, which is the very same number as in 2006. Are you using a homegrown solution? Unless it’s your own, in which case it’s understandable and even laudable, I would think that the wealth of commercial solutions, especially SaaS solutions, will seduce you into finally moving into the mainstream.

Backlog Management

Many thanks to Bruce Middendorf for suggesting this topic.

Bruce asks about the wisdom of setting ceilings for open cases so that the team can focus on executing a backlog management plan when and if it reaches the ceiling. Go for it! Backlog management is an essential practice for successful support.


Backlog management matters because each open case means a waiting customer. Customers highly value expedient issue resolution, which makes it a critical component of customer satisfaction. The size of the backlog provides a handy leading indicator for customer satisfaction, so it’s an ideal way to get a quick read on customer satisfaction.

Measure backlog

The first step is to measure the backlog. Keep it simple and keep is scalable: simply compute the ratio of open cases to average new cases to get a number in days or weeks:

  • Include all open cases, regardless of their status. For instance, you may have a “resolved” status that captures the idea that the customer was given a solution but has not yet confirmed closure. Do not exclude such cases from the calculation since you are trying to capture all outstanding issues from the customer’s perspective.
  • Use a ratio rather than just a number so it can scale regardless of new products, acquisitions, or whatever other changes may befall your organization. Using the average number of new cases for the past few months (a rolling average) should work well.

Set a target

So what’s a “good” backlog number? Depending on product complexity, it could be a couple days’ worth for a low-complexity environment to a couple weeks’ worth for a high-complexity environment. You can easily create your own benchmark by running retrospective numbers on your own data: when customer satisfaction is good, where’s the backlog?

Note that the backlog target is there to make it easy to perform backlog management. It should not be used as a performance objective.

Highlight exceptions

Once you have a target, create working reports for the managers. The reports are not metrics per se, they are working lists of cases that are candidates for backlog management. For instance, if your target is two weeks of backlog you may want to report on cases that are either (a) older than two weeks or (b) inactive for more than a week. It’s important to review cases that are older than the target even if they are being actively worked because it’s too easy to simply “touch base” with customers daily but not make any measurable progress.

With the exception report in hand, the managers need to check with the case owner to ensure that appropriate progress is being made, either by the case owner, if the issue is within the technical skills (s)he possesses, or by requesting appropriate technical assistance.

Case blitzes, anyone?

Is it useful to hold so-called “case blitzes”, during which all hands are on deck and cases get pushed to completion? Perhaps. I’m a great fan of continuous, steady work on backlog management but if a case blitz is a better motivator for the team, why not hold one. Don’t wait months to hold a blitz, though. It’s so awkward to contact customers on ancient, neglected cases…

Resolution time metrics

I’m a great fan of setting objectives based on customer satisfaction, but it’s useful to add an objective for resolution time, especially if resolution time is a concern. For instance, for a high-complexity support organization closing 80% of cases in 2 weeks would be appropriate (note that it’s 80%, not 100%, since you never want to push support engineers to close cases before they are appropriately resolved). A bonus of this type of target it that it subtly highlights the idea that it’s great to close cases in fewer than two weeks – and that, by itself, should help expedite resolution.

For more about support metrics, see Best Practices for Support Metrics.

Not-so-random Lessons from the TSW Conference

As I attended sessions at the TSW conference last month, I jotted down some good ideas I thought should be disseminated. So here they are for your reading enjoyment:

  • Consumption drives revenue. This is true for the cloud, obviously, but it’s always been true of packaged software, for which “shelfware” means a vulnerable support annuity. What are you doing to ensure that customers are actually using your products?
  • Look at outcome-based services, for instance 99% uptime on customers’ environment. This would clearly require some kind of upfront certification plus account management, but what a good way to justify the price of services!
  • A support blog is pretty easy to sustain – and customers love it.
  • Hold a services kickoff yearly to align the team worldwide. (I know it’s hard to do that, but I agree that the payoffs in terms of lower turnover are huge.
  • Educate first-level agents on the financials of support. Yes, please!

FT Works in the News

Finally – A Tech Support Skills workshop with open registration!

Over the years I have received many requests for an open-registration version of the popular Tech Support Skills workshop – and yes, it’s coming to Santa Clara, CA on September 12th and 13th. The workshop is for support engineers and reps and covers all aspects of working with customers, from picking up the phone or the electronic case all the way through resolution. With an open registration you can easily sample the workshop to decide whether to bring it in-house, or train just a handful of support engineers.

You can find a full description of the workshop and register here. Book now to ensure you get a seat. Attendance is strictly limited to ensure a highly interactive experience.

Third Tuesday Forum – July 19th

Are you based in the San Francisco area (or will you be there on Tuesday July 19th)? That morning, David Kay and I will be hosting The Third Tuesday Forum, a roundtable for support executives to discuss the topics we embrace and wrestle with every day. The presenter will be Lala Mamedov of Juniper Networks, who will speak about supporting version 1 products, products for which you have no track record to plan from. You can register here. The full calendar is here. You can also sign up for the mailing list. You will be the first to know about new events. You can also join the Third Tuesday Forum groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Social CRM Webinar

Thanks for all of you who attended the CustomerThink virtual summit about Social CRM Best Practices on Thursday May 12th. The recording and slides are now available at and (my presentation is the second half).

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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