The FT Word – July 2002

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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

·         Justifying staffing in a multi-product environment

·         Options for 24×7 support

·         Still on – the summer reading fest

Justifying Staffing Requirements in a Multi-Product Environment

Getting enough support staff is hard. The basic tool for justifying staffing requests is a good staffing model, which we described in this very newsletter over a year ago, as long-time readers may recall. In a nutshell, you start with 3 numbers:

  • The volume of customer requests

  • The effort time required to resolve the average request

  • The utilization ratio of support staffers (how many hours per day are available to work cases, excluding days off and time devoted to other tasks)

Then, you use a simple formula to determine the staffing required:

headcount = volume * effort time / available time

For instance, if you get 100 requests a day, each request takes 30 minutes, and support staffers work on customer requests 5 hours per day, you would need:

100 * .5 / 5 = 10 people

The formula works well with large numbers. With smaller numbers, you will need to do manual adjustments to make sure you do have enough staff to cover all hours (for instance, if you got just 10 requests with the example above, it’s clear that one person cannot cover extended hours, and of course vacations would be problematic).

How does this approach change if your support center is responsible for widely different product lines? Well, you can continue to use the same formula, but you need to apply it to each independent subgroup of support staffers that support each set of products. Let’s take an example to see the impact of this strategy.

Using the same numbers as above, imagine that the support center actually has two product sets: Product A gets 15 requests a week and Product B gets 85, and they are different enough that you need separate support staff for them.

Product A needs 15 * .5 / 5 = 1.5 people

Product B needs 85 * .5 / 5 = 8.5 people

Most support centers can’t hire half people (certainly not with relatively complex cases that take 30 minutes to resolve) so you need to round up, leaving you with 2 + 9 = 11 people (and this is assuming you can cover all your hours with just 2 people on the Product A team), not the 10 people that you got with the global formula.

Bottom line: if you support products that require different skill sets, use the staffing formula on each subset. (This has little impact on large centers, where the round off errors are negligible).

Options for 24×7 Support

Here’s another staffing headache: round the clock support. Here are suggestions for coping:

1) Use Follow-The-Sun

Follow-The-Sun in its glory means having 3 support centers around the world (Americas, Europe, and Asia), each of which is responsible for all support calls while awake (while the sun is shining on that region of the world — look at a globe for a quick check.

But Follow-The-Sun can also be a great help if you only have 2 centers. I used it for years with just two centers, one in Europe and one on the West Coast of the US. It was wonderful never to get middle-of-the-night calls, even if we had to cover evening calls from here.

FTS requires that the support centers involve work closely to re-route phones and hand off hot issues. It also means that regional support centers be open on regional holidays. Again, I’ve found that it’s easier to do that than to have to provide nighttime support.

2) Use pagers

If you get few off-hours calls and you don’t have the luxury of a remote center to do FTS, then using pagers is probably the best option. Note that I say pagers and not cell phones, because pagers have proven to be more reliable than cell phone at receiving the in-bound calls. The sequence is as follows:

  • customer calls the hotline; leaves a message

  • the voicemail system pages the duty pager (most voicemail systems can page out; if yours cannot, you can ask your local phone company to set up a voicemail box on their system that pages out — the cost is very small)

  • the duty staffer gets the page, calls the voicemail system (using a cell phone; you do need one!), then calls the customer

If you have to use pagers, be sure to recruit widely for pager duty. Nothing increases support turnover more than having to carry a pager every other week!

3) Use in-office staff

If you get lots of off-hours calls and are not using FTS, then it makes sense to ask staffers to work from the office. I’ve found it difficult to recruit and even more to retain staffers that have to work off-hours, but some labor markets may be more hospitable. If you choose this route, be sure to think through the management of off-hours people: who will be there to orient them? Help them? Recognize them?

You can also use a mix-and-match approach, with in-office staff for busier times (evenings or Saturdays, say) and pagers at other times.

4) Pay for off-hours work

A big help in finding and retaining off-hours staffers, whether for pager duty or in-office work, is to pay them. How much?

  • Off-hours shifts typically receive a shift differential ranging from about 5% for a 6am start to 15% for the graveyard shift.

  • Pager duty can be compensated either with a flat fee (regardless of the number of calls handled) or a per-call or per-hour fee. I much prefer a flat fee since it’s a lot easier to administer, but that won’t work if the number of calls received varies a lot. A few hundred dollars a week is a good target. Don’t try to push a policy of no pay if no calls are received: carrying a pager means a definite restriction of movement and should be compensated even if the pager never goes off.

  • Informal swaps can work well as well. We used a “time-and-a-half” swap formula for holidays that worked well for staffers who liked to observe different holidays and did not mind getting a 1.5 day credit for working Thanksgiving. Check with HR to make sure there are no obstacles to your creative solutions.

Welcome to the summer reading fest – 50% off!

It’s a great time to expand your support library with a special discount on all the FT Works booklets. Buy 2 and get 50% off the second one (the discount applies to the cheaper booklet). There are seven to choose from.

·          The 10 Commandments of Support Pricing ($40)

·          20+ Ways to Cut Support Costs ($40)

·          Best Practices for Support Metrics ($40)

·          Best Practices for Self-Service ($40)

·          The Complete Guide to Hiring Great Support Reps ($200)

·          The Complete Guide to Hiring Great Support Managers ($200)

To order, click here. Special pricing is available to newsletter subscribers only and ends on 7/31, just in time to take your favorite booklets on vacation.

FT Works in the News

SupportWeek published an article I wrote entitled “Coaching to Make Training Stick that discusses how to take training from listening to doing, thereby getting much more value from training events. You can read it 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

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